HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Pot Charges On Hold In 80 London Cases
Pubdate: Thu, 29 May 2003
Source: London Free Press (CN ON)
Copyright: 2003 The London Free Press a division of Sun Media Corporation.
Author: Jennifer O'brien, Free Press Reporter 
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)


A day after Ottawa introduced its new marijuana law, a lower court ruling on
Canada's pot laws lit up the London courthouse yesterday -- with drug
charges stayed against dozens of people. 

In a day unmatched in any other court in Ontario, a federal prosecutor
stayed charges against more than 80 people facing counts of possession of
less than 30 grams of pot. 

"What happened in London is unusual because there were a number of charges
put over (for months) en masse," said Jim Leising, a Justice Department
official responsible for drug prosecutions in Ontario. 

"This is part of the fallout from a (court) decision, but to my knowledge,
London was the only place where they were being saved up in one block." 

The stays -- they deactivate charges for one year, when they'll be dismissed
if prosecutors don't reinstate them -- are based on a May 16 Windsor court
decision when Superior Court Justice Steven Rogin said simple pot possession
is no longer against the law. 

Several London cases had since been stayed. But the onslaught came yesterday
during a scheduled drug court, coming coincidentally one day after Ottawa
introduced a bill to decriminalize possession of 15 grams or less of
marijuana, making it a minor offence punishable by a fine. 

London lawyers had been adjourning possession trials as they awaited the
Windsor decision, said Jack Hardy, president of the city's Criminal Lawyers'

"We've been putting all the simple possession (charges) over to the same
date, some of them have been going for months," Hardy said. 

"From a defence point of view, if you've got a person guilty of the offence,
why plead him guilty to it when a court says it doesn't exist any more," he
explained. Hardy said yesterday's events were "a big deal," especially in
light of U.S. border crackdowns since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11,

"If you have a conviction for simple possession, you will not be able to get
over to the States," he said. 

Outside the courtroom, London artist Derrick Bell, 29, said he was "so
relieved" to have his charges stayed. 

"For someone who is not a criminal, it is a life-altering experience to be
charged . . . and treated like a criminal," he said. "It's a really scary

Bell said he'd been smoking pot with some students while giving painting
lessons at his home, when police knocked at the door in February 2002. 

"It was just a little bit of pot. We're artists," he said. "It's better than
alcohol, I think." 

Leising however, said prosecutors "do still think there is a prohibition
against using marijuana," and plan to appeal the Windsor decision. 

But when asked whether prosecutors will reactivate charges on all the stayed
cases in the event of an appeal, Leising said they will be dealt with on a
"case-by-case approach."
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