Pubdate: Mon, 20 Jun 2016
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Page: GT1
Copyright: 2016 The Toronto Star
Author: Jacques Gallant


It would appear no amount of weed is too small for the federal 
government to prosecute as it works toward legalizing the drug for 
recreational use.

Brandon Richards was pulled over after leaving the parking lot of a 
Guelph strip club shortly after 1 a.m. in October 2014 for a sobriety 
check. He passed, but the officer said he detected the odour of marijuana.

The big discovery: 1.15 g of pot. A street value of about $10.

Richards was charged with simple possession and the Public 
Prosecution Service of Canada (PPSC), the federal agency that handles 
drug crimes, chose to take the matter to court, where Richards was 
found guilty and ordered to pay a $100 fine in April 2015.

The Liberals, with their promise of legalization, were elected to 
power a few months later.

Richards appealed his conviction and the PPSC fought him there as 
well. But late last month Superior Court Justice Casey Hill 
overturned Richards' conviction, saying the police officer failed to 
advise him of his right to a lawyer after asking him if he had any marijuana.

The case is one example for why Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould 
should order the PPSC to stop prosecuting individuals for simple 
possession of marijuana while it works on legalization, Richards' 
lawyer told the Star.

"Nobody knows what's going on, nobody knows who to ask what's going 
on and we're in this very strange position where marijuana is still 
illegal, but it's been announced that it's going to be legal," said 
Benjamin Goldman.

"I think the message sent to the public is that there is no 
consistency and no predictability in the system. This might not have 
happened with a different Crown attorney, with a different police 
force, in a different jurisdiction."

Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott announced in April that the 
government intends to legalize pot for recreational use by next 
spring. A task force is expected to present its recommendations on 
legalization later this year.

In the meantime, it's business as usual at the PPSC when it comes to pot.

"The cannabis-related offences contained in the Controlled Drugs and 
Substances Act have not been amended and continue in force," said an 
agency spokeswoman.

The decision to take individuals to court - an exhausting and costly 
experience - for such small amounts of marijuana and then slap them 
with criminal records "seems inappropriate" given that legalization 
is imminent, said criminal defence lawyer Daniel Brown, who was not 
involved in the case.

"There are serious cases being stayed or thrown out of court because 
of delay when the courts are clogged up prosecuting relatively minor 
marijuana charges and it's important to prioritize matters to ensure 
that the serious cases are the ones being prosecuted," he said.

Richards is black, but the judge at his trial dismissed his lawyer's 
argument that there was racial profiling. Goldman said he accepts the 
judge's ruling.

"Do I have my suspicions that there was a possible racial element in 
this? Yes, I have my suspicions," he told the Star.

On appeal, Hill ruled that the failure of the Guelph police officer 
to immediately advise Richards of his right to counsel was serious.

"Traffic stops are a routine feature of the duties of uniformed 
patrol officers. There should have been no legal uncertainty as to 
the officer's obligations," Hill wrote. "This is hardly a trivial, 
technical or inadvertent breach."
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