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Appeal Clouds Grits' Pot Stand



Source: Calgary Herald (CN AB)
Author: Janice Tibbetts, Calgary Herald 
Published: Saturday, January 04, 2003
Copyright: 2003 Calgary Herald
Contact: [email protected]
Website: http://www.canada.com/calgary/calgaryherald/

Court fight contradicts desire to soften possession laws.

Canada's hazy position on marijuana grew foggier Friday when the federal government said it will fight a court ruling that permits pot smoking just as the Justice Department is making plans to decriminalize simple possession.

The government, already reprimanded by the Supreme Court of Canada for its mixed messages, rushed to file an appeal of a court decision this week that threw out a possession charge against a 16-year-old boy from Windsor, Ont.

Federal lawyer Jim Leising also instructed Ontario Crown prosecutors to suspend all marijuana trials in which people want to use the court ruling as a defence.

Police are still expected to lay charges against people caught with marijuana.

The landmark ruling effectively legalized marijuana possession on the technical grounds that the federal government did not fill a void created by an earlier judgment.

"Our hope is that this appeal will go quickly because it is in the public interest that this occurs," said Leising.

The expedited notice was filed in the Superior Court of Justice in Windsor, Ont., and the government hopes the case will be heard within 30 days.

Brian McAllister, the lawyer for the unidentified 16-year-old boy, said that the appeal makes him suspicious about Justice Minister Martin Cauchon's stated intention to introduce legislation by April to decriminalize marijuana.

"It makes you wonder," said McAllister, who called on Ottawa to clarify its position.

"It seems like every time there's a court challenge to marijuana laws, there's rumblings out of Parliament about decriminalization and it's almost as though they're trying to influence the courts."

The muddy federal stand has not escaped notice of the Supreme Court of Canada, which adjourned a constitutional challenge to marijuana laws last month, saying that Cauchon was giving conflicting signals by stating he will decriminalize pot while his staff lawyers tried to argue that smoking the drug is dangerous.

Prime Minister Jean Chretien further confused the issue just before Christmas when he contradicted Cauchon by saying that the marijuana debate should continue and that the government will have to make a decision "one day."

Despite the prime minister's retreat, Cauchon's spokesman, Michael Murphy, said Friday that "nothing has changed" in the minister's decriminalization plans.

Leising defended the government for appealing the latest court ruling, maintaining that the federal position is consistent inside and outside the courtroom.

Cauchon does not want to go further than decriminalization, so that people caught with marijuana would still be penalized, but they would not have a criminal record, Leising said.

The Windsor ruling, on the other hand, legalized possession so that people possessing less than 30 grams would not be sanctioned at all.

"There is a continued and consistent government view that there needs to be a prohibition against possession of marijuana," Leising said.

The government will argue in its appeal that Justice Douglas Phillips was wrong in ruling that Canada's law against marijuana possession is invalid because of a legal technicality.

Douglas declared that Ottawa's anti-possession law is invalid because of an Ontario Court of Appeal ruling two years ago in which Terry Parker, a severe epileptic from Toronto, was given the right to smoke marijuana to control his pain.

Although the ruling dealt with the medical use of marijuana, Justice Marc Rosenberg warned that if Ottawa did not craft new legislation within one year, the blanket prohibition on marijuana possession in the Controlled Drug and Substances Act would be nullified.

Ottawa responded with new regulations applying to the sick. But Phillips ruled that the regulations fell short of actual legislation, therefore rendering the current law meaningless across the board.

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