HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Change The Marijuana Law
Pubdate: Wed, 02 Aug 2000
Source: Edmonton Journal (CN AB)
Copyright: 2000 The Edmonton Journal


A court in Ontario has done more about Canada's draconian marijuana laws in 
one ruling than decades of dithering and hand-wringing by federal politicians.

The Ontario Court of Appeal, the province's highest (no pun intended) 
court, has struck down prohibitions on marijuana use in the Controlled 
Drugs and Substances Act, saying it makes criminals of those who smoke pot 
for medical reasons. The court has given the federal government a year to 
amend the act or it will become "of no force and effect." In other words, 
simple possession of marijuana will be legal.

It is about time someone did something about Canada's outdated marijuana 
laws. The politicians wouldn't, so thankfully the court did.

The notion that the criminal sanctions against marijuana use are extreme 
and counterproductive has been around since the LeDain Commission in 1973 
recommended decriminalizing simple possession. The royal commission found 
that use of the non-addictive "soft" drug was widespread, the punishment of 
having a criminal record far outweighed the crime and that marijuana 
possession cases were clogging courts that should have been dealing with 
real crimes.

Despite those arguments, politicians chose to sit on their hands, treating 
the issue with a wink and a nudge. Many of our current crop of political 
leaders, including Ralph Klein and Stockwell Day, admit to having smoked 
pot. For the most part, police ignore simple possession infractions, and 
the courts let off minor offenders with a discharge or minimal fine.

If that's the case, then why not change the law to fit the crime? Simply 
put, the answer is that it has been easier to do nothing.

But the medical use of marijuana forced the courts to face the issue. The 
weed has been found to be effective in treating glaucoma, relieving the 
nausea from chemotherapy, easing the pain of AIDS sufferers and controlling 
epileptic seizures. But to benefit from marijuana's medicinal properties, 
users have to break the law.

The Ontario court ruled that contravenes the Canadian Charter of Rights and 
Freedoms. It threw out cultivation charges against Terry Parker of Toronto, 
who grew his own marijuana to help control his epilepsy. The three-judge 
panel said the prohibition "deprived Parker of his right to security of the 
person and his right to liberty in a manner that does not accord with the 
principles of fundamental justice."

The court made a fair and reasoned ruling. It gives the federal government 
time to change the law. If Ottawa wants, it can allow for the sale of 
government-inspected marijuana through prescription at the local drugstore. 
Or it could let people grow cannabis for their personal use, just like 
people are now allowed to brew their own beer and wine. It can still place 
restrictions on lighting up in public, just as open liquor in a public 
place is now met with a ticket and a fine, but not a criminal record.

The ruling leads one to wonder where marijuana research would be today if 
it hadn't been for the ham-handed criminal sanctions. We would know a lot 
more about its medicinal benefits, it might be available in more 
user-friendly pill form and there would have been less suffering by those 
who could have used it to ease their pain.

The Ontario court has spoken volumes with its ruling. Now it is time for 
the politicians to respond.
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