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Marijuana Advocates Get Day in High Court


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Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Author: Shannon Kari, CanWest News Service 
Published: Monday, December 15, 2003
Copyright: 2003 Vancouver Sun 
Contact: [email protected]

Supreme Court to rule on appeal by three over possession of small amount of pot.

Toronto -- The recently restored prohibition against marijuana possession could be thrown out again in a matter of weeks, depending on the outcome of a widely anticipated case heard by the Supreme Court of Canada last spring.

The court must rule by Jan. 31 on an appeal by two British Columbia men and an Ontario resident, who argued potential criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana are unconstitutional. The three said the ban violates charter rights to life, liberty and security of the person by criminalizing activity that does not cause harm. "There is no free-standing right to get stoned," responded the federal government in documents filed before it heard oral arguments in the case in May.

The Supreme Court decision follow a series of rulings this year that resulted in a nearly five-month period during which marijuana possession was legal in Ontario and forced the government to amend its medical marijuana policy. However, advocates of less restrictive marijuana laws in Canada say that an easing of the rules is unlikely now Paul Martin is prime minister. They also criticize the justice department for its increasingly hard-line attitude in marijuana prosecutions and Health Canada for failing to comply with court rulings in medical marijuana cases.

"It is overly optimistic to think that the Martin government is going to re-introduce Bill C-38," said Paul Burstein, a Toronto lawyer who represented Christopher Clay, one of the appellants in the Supreme Court case. 

"It goes a long way to score points with the United States government," if the bill is not re-introduced, said Burstein. 

Bill C-38 would have provided for fines instead of criminal charges for people possessing small amounts of marijuana. The bill died after Parliament recessed last month.

The justice department is also in the process of staying nearly 4,000 marijuana possession charges laid between August 2001 and October 2003, to comply with a recent Ontario Court of Appeal ruling. But defence lawyers in Ontario and B.C. say Ottawa is increasingly seeking jail sentences for first offenders who are low-level participants in marijuana growing operations. 

The Ontario appeal court ruled in October there had been no valid ban against marijuana possession in the province for the past two years, because the federal government failed to comply with an earlier ruling to introduce legislation with an exemption for authorized marijuana users.

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