HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Reefer Madness Redux
Pubdate: Wed, 02 Aug 2000
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2000, The Globe and Mail Company
Author: William Johnson


The three judges of the Ontario Court of Appeal showed the wisdom of Daniel 
on Monday when they unanimously struck down as unconstitutional the law 
making the possession of marijuana a crime. They declared it unjust and 
unacceptable in a free and democratic society. It continues to be operative 
for 12 months so as to avoid a legislative vacuum, but the judgment will 
have far-reaching consequences beyond the issue of marijuana-as-medicine, 
on which the decision was based.

The judges have invited the government to rewrite the law. They've given 
our society an opportunity to rethink a blanket prohibition against 
marijuana that was first imposed in 1923 from ignorance and superstition.

Ottawa would be unwise and unjust to appeal the decision. That would only 
stall for time, postpone the inevitable reckoning with the law's 
irrationality. Justice delayed is justice denied.

The court struck down the law because it prevented an epileptic from having 
access to a drug whose medicinal properties have been documented for 2,600 
years and have been rediscovered despite the impediments to research 
created by the law.

"Based on the evidence adduced at trial, the trial judge found that the 
defence had established that smoking marijuana has a therapeutic effect in 
the treatment of nausea and vomiting particularly related to chemotherapy, 
intraocular pressure from glaucoma, muscle spasticity from spinal cord 
injuries or multiple sclerosis, migraine headaches, epileptic seizures and 
chronic pain."

Moreover, the court recognized that the prohibition of marijuana in our 
legal system was based, from the start, on false perceptions. "That history 
shows that, unlike the regulation of assisted suicide, for example, 
regulation of marijuana has a very short history and lacks a significant 
foundation in our legal tradition. It is, in fact, an embarrassing history 
based on misinformation and racism."

The court cited the origins of the law governing marijuana as established 
by Mr. Justice J. F. McCart in his 1997 judgment in the case of R. v. Clay.

"Although there was no evidence of a problem of marijuana use in Canada in 
1923, its inclusion in the Opium and Drug Act may have been influenced by 
the writings of Emily Murphy, a crusading Edmonton, Alberta, magistrate. In 
1920, she published a series of sensational and racist articles in 
Maclean's magazine on the horrible effects of drug use and the deliberate 
debauching of the young by evil, often alien, traffickers. The articles 
were later expanded into a book, The Black Candle,published in 1922."

Judge McCart gave a sample of her prose that led, a year after the 
publication of her book, to the inclusion of marijuana under the same 
strictures as opium:

"Persons using this narcotic [marijuana] smoke the dried leaves of the 
plant, which has the effect of driving them completely insane. The addict 
loses all sense of moral responsibility. Addicts to this drug, while under 
its influence, are immune to pain, and could be injured without having any 
realization of their condition. While in this condition they become raving 
maniacs and are liable to kill or indulge in any form of violence to other 
persons, using the most savage methods of cruelty without, as said before, 
any sense of moral responsibility. . . . If this drug is indulged in to any 
great extent, it ends in the untimely death of its addict."

Judge McCart then added: "There was absolutely no truth to any of those 
wild and outlandish claims. It was in this climate of irrational fear that 
the criminal sanctions against marijuana were enacted."

Recent judgments have established the absurdity of all those superstitious 
fears about marijuana. Judge McCart concluded, for example: "Consumption of 
marijuana is relatively harmless compared to the so-called hard drugs and 
including tobacco and alcohol. . . . Cannabis is not an addictive 
substance. . . . Less than 1 per cent of marijuana consumers are daily users."

He also noted that consumption of marijuana is no greater in countries that 
have ceased to enforce criminal laws against marijuana, such as the 
Netherlands, than it is in countries that prohibit it.

And yet, like the B.C. Court of Appeal in a June 2 judgment, the Ontario 
Court of Appeal refused Monday to overturn a conviction against possession 
of marijuana for recreational purposes. It judged that the Charter of 
Rights and Freedoms should only be invoked to overturn laws when 
significant issues such as life, liberty and security are threatened. It 
did not judge recreational marijuana to reach that threshold.

And so its up to Parliament to correct a 77-year-old absurdity that has 
given some 600,000 living Canadians a criminal record. The Senate could 
lead the way to enlightenment. In the fall, Senator Pierre-Claude Nolin is 
to hold hearings on our drug laws. He might at last exorcise the demons 
believed to haunt marijuana.
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