HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Marijuana Law 'Unconstitutional'
Pubdate: Tue, 01 Aug 2000
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Copyright: The Vancouver Sun 2000
Contact:  200 Granville Street, Ste.#1, Vancouver BC V6C 3N3
Fax: (604) 605-2323
Author: Lindsay Kines
Bookmark: additional articles on cannabis are available at and articles on Canada are available at


The law prohibiting possession of marijuana was declared unconstitutional 
Monday by Ontario's top court -- a decision hailed by some as a step toward 
decriminalizing the drug across the country.

In an unanimous decision, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled the possession 
law violates Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms because it fails to 
make exceptions for people who require marijuana for medicinal purposes.

But rather than strike down the law outright, the court gave the federal 
government one year to rewrite its legislation to comply with the 
Charter.  Possession will remain a criminal offence for 12 months, but if 
the government fails to act in that time, the law will cease to exist and 
simple possession will become legal in Canada.

Marijuana activists called the ruling a major breakthrough.

"If they make amendments ... to include the medicinal use of cannabis, 
that's an amazing victory," said Hilary Black, founder of Vancouver's 
Compassion Club, which distributes marijuana for medicinal uses. "If they 
don't make amendments and [the law] becomes stricken, that's even more of 
an amazing victory. So it really is a win-win situation."

The Ontario Court of Appeal ruling upheld a decision by a judge who stayed 
possession charges against Terry Parker, a 44-year-old Toronto man who 
smokes marijuana to control his epilepsy. The judge had concluded, and the 
appeal court agreed, that Parker requires the marijuana for health reasons, 
and that the possession law infringed his Charter rights.

"I have concluded that forcing Parker to choose between his health and 
imprisonment violates his right to liberty and security of the person," 
Justice Marc Rosenberg wrote in the Ontario Court of Appeal decision.

The federal government recently instituted an exemption from the marijuana 
provisions in the Criminal Code of Canada for people who could prove they 
needed the drug for medicinal reasons, but the Ontario appeals court found 
that was unjust.

"I have concluded that the possibility of an exemption ... dependent upon 
the unfettered and unstructured discretion of the Minister of Health is not 
consistent with the principles of fundamental justice," Rosenberg said.

Simon Fraser University criminologist Neil Boyd said the appeal court 
decision clearly puts the onus on federal politicians to act.

Most of the changes over the past three decades have been initiated by 
police and the judiciary, Boyd said. "And politicians who are really 
supposed to exercise moral leadership on these kinds of contentious moral 
issues have been sitting on their hands, not wanting to alienate their 
constituents -- regardless of which side of the fence they come down on."

Boyd said the government could respond to the court ruling in a number of 
ways: It could craft an exemption in the possession law for medical use; it 
could wait for the matter to go to the Supreme Court of Canada; or, it 
could sit back, do nothing, and let the law die, as happened after Canada's 
abortion legislation was struck down.

Health Canada officials declined to comment on the ruling, and would not 
say whether the matter will be appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Police officials, meanwhile, said the decision is unlikely to change law 
enforcement. Vancouver police rarely process possession of marijuana 
charges, so the ruling likely won't affect law enforcement in the city, 
media liaison Constable Anne Drennan said Monday.

"We tend not to want to waste a lot of time on simple possession charges, 
and are very much aware that Crown feels the same way," she said. "We tend 
rather to go for the grow-ops, in terms of marijuana investigations, or 
target dealers."

For years, officers in the Downtown Eastside and other parts of Vancouver 
have confiscated joints from people smoking pot in public, but have 
generally avoided laying charges.

However, both Vancouver police and B.C.'s Organized Crime Agency have been 
targeting the region's burgeoning marijuana-growing industry.

Police maintain the money made by large-scale marijuana dealers funds other 
criminal activity in the city, including organized crime and gangs.

In another ruling Monday, the Ontario appeal court rejected an appeal from 
Chris Clay, a former London hemp store owner who was seeking the general 
legalization of marijuana. 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Thunder