Pubdate: Fri, 06 Mar 1998
Source: Toronto Sun
Author: Jeff Harder, Queen's Park Bureau
Section: Top Stories


First-time marijuana offenders are being smoked out of the courts.

Federal justice officials at Old City Hall are sending dope smokers to do
community work instead of hitting them with criminal records. There are
about 10 diversions a week in Toronto, says Croft Michaelson, the justice
department's senior lawyer in Toronto.

"This way they can put something back into the community," Michaelson said
yesterday. "The formal criminal process is an expensive process. This
allows us to focus our resources on serious crime."

A typical first-time offender busted with small quantities of hashish or
marijuana will do 25 hours of community service under the program, which
started in October 1997.

Drug laws are a federal responsibility, but Ontario Attorney General
Charles Harnick is an advocate of diversion programs for minor offences.

"Generally, we are supportive of community justice programs," Harnick aide
Barry Wilson said.

Commissioner Jim Brown said drug smokers should be fined instead of jailed.
"I think it should be a $1,000 fine for the first offence and $5,000
thereafter. If they can afford to buy the weed, they can afford to pay the
fine," said the MPP for Scarboro West.