Pubdate: Tue, 04 Oct 2016
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2016 Times Colonist
Author: Louise Dickson
Page: A1


People who buy pot from medical marijuana dispensaries can still be
charged criminally, even though the City of Victoria has implemented
regulations for the storefronts, warns a local defence lawyer.

Last month, Chantelle Sutton represented a Victoria man who bought
marijuana at a local dispensary in August 2015. After a brief trial,
Leslie Ian Hall was convicted of possessing marijuana.

But Hall was handed an absolute discharge when the judge found Hall
honestly believed he could legally buy marijuana with a doctor's
prescription and his membership with the Vancouver Island Compassion

The court is sympathetic to the "current state of affairs where
businesses may be acting contrary to the law and, in doing so, lull
some customers into thinking they are acting according to law,"
Victoria provincial court Judge Christine Lowe said at Hall's
sentencing on Sept. 16.

What Hall, 53, didn't know is that the law requires individuals to
apply to Health Canada for an exemption to possess medical marijuana.

"This case is a warning to people - even though the dispensaries
appear to be operating a legal, legitimate business, it's an
individual's responsibility to get the proper certification from
Health Canada," said Sutton.

"Judge Lowe's decision shows ignorance of the law is not a defence,
so, therefore, my client was guilty. But in the circumstances, she
didn't impose any punishment."

Victoria police are still selectively prosecuting people for
possession of marijuana and Crown prosecutors are still approving
charges and taking them to trial, said Sutton. "You can be charged.
And you will have to retain a lawyer, run a trial and face other
financial repercussions."

During the hour-long trial, court heard that Hall was arrested on Aug.
9, 2015, outside the B.C. legislature for being intoxicated in a
public place. During the arrest, a 15-gram bag of marijuana fell to
the ground. Hall testified that he told the arresting officer, Const.
Callum Campbell, he had a licence for marijuana. The officer advised
Hall that he would be charged with possession.

Hall, who has been diagnosed with hepatitis C, testified that a doctor
at the Cool Aid Medical Clinic had given him a prescription for
medical marijuana. Prescription in hand, he went to the compassion
society and told them he wanted marijuana to help increase his
appetite. He was given a membership card with his photo on it.

"For me, it's a membership to a dispensary, which is a storefront
sanctioned by the city," Hall testified. "I thought it was legalized.
I had my doctor's prescription, which got me my membership and it was
all good."

During final submissions, Sutton told the court that drug trafficking
is going on in plain view, but the traffickers are not being
prosecuted. Instead, people who buy marijuana are being charged with

"It's quite clear police are aware this is going on. The businesses
are in existence and police are not doing anything about it," said

A statement from the Public Prosecution Service of Canada said
cannabis-related offences in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
have not been amended and continue to be in force. Their records show
charges for these offences have declined from 18,470 in 2012-2013 to
13,343 in 2015-2016.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt