Pubdate: Fri, 06 Mar 1998 Source: Toronto Sun Author: Jeff Harder, Queen's Park Bureau Section: Top Stories contact: http://www.canoe.ca/TorontoSun/home.html COURTS WEEDING OUT MARIJUANA OFFENDERS 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.