HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Judge's Death Puts Pot Trial In Jeopardy
Pubdate: Thu, 29 Nov 2007
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2007 Times Colonist
Author: Ian Mulgrew, CanWest News Service
Cited: Vancouver Island Compassion Society
Bookmark: (Vancouver Island Compassion Society)
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal - Canada)


The death of B.C. Supreme Court Justice Robert Edwards has jeopardized
a lengthy and costly criminal trial involving an important
constitutional challenge of the marijuana law.

In most criminal cases, when a judge is unable to follow through to
judgment, a mistrial is declared.

In this case, a rare hearing has been scheduled in Vancouver tomorrow
to see if there is a way to save the huge expense incurred and the
evidence already presented. "We don't want to see the incredible
effort by the chronically ill patients who have supported and
testified in this case lost," defence lawyer Kirk Tousaw said yesterday.

"We're hoping to find a way to move forward because this case has such
widespread repercussions for the tens of thousands of terminally ill
and ailing Canadians who get therapeutic help from marijuana."

Michael Swallow, 41, and Mat Beren, 32, both were charged with
producing and possessing marijuana for the purpose of trafficking in
May 2004 after the RCMP raided a house used by the Vancouver Island
Compassion Society.

The club provides cannabis products and other health services to
roughly 600 members.

Tousaw and colleague John Conroy argue the criminal law is
constitutionally invalid because the federal government has failed to
provide adequate access and supply of medical marijuana as required
under the prevailing 2003 Supreme Court of Canada decision about the
criminal prohibition.

In that case, the court decided sick people should not be forced to go
to the black market for medication. It said the criminal prohibition
was constitutional only if Ottawa provided an adequate medical program.

Health Canada decided the sick can obtain marijuana in three ways:
obtain a permit to grow it themselves; get permission to obtain it
from a designated grower; or buy it from the government.

But patients complain that obtaining and maintaining the necessary
permits from Ottawa is too bureaucratic, and that the quality of the
federal pot isn't very good.

Two recent Ontario court judgments accepted similar arguments, but the
Conservative government is pushing to stiffen the criminal penalties
for cannabis offences as part of its vaunted law-and-order legislative
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