High Court Marijuana Case in Limbo
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Author: Janice Tibbetts, The Ottawa Citizen
Published: Friday, December 13, 2002
Copyright: 2002 The Ottawa Citizen
Contact: [email protected]
Justice Department ready to argue cannabis is a dangerous drug as minister seeks decriminalization.
The Supreme Court of Canada judges have written a letter questioning whether they should proceed with a federal government case against marijuana smoking today, given that Justice Minister Martin Cauchon says he is going to decriminalize the drug.
As soon as the judges read about Mr. Cauchon's announcement earlier this week, the court wrote lawyers for the federal government and three marijuana enthusiasts, asking whether the case should be put on hold in light of the developments.
At the same time that Mr. Cauchon is planning decriminalization, his own Justice Department lawyers are scheduled to argue in the Supreme Court today that marijuana is a dangerous drug that should be outlawed.
The government has filed a report with the court that connects marijuana use to driving accidents, upper-airway cancer, psychiatric problems and drug addiction, among other things.
"Marijuana is not a benign substance and potentially is more harmful than presently known," the Justice Department argues in a written submission.
Meanwhile, Mr. Cauchon is planning to accept a recommendation of a special parliamentary committee, which reported yesterday that people caught with less than 30 grams of marijuana -- the equivalent of 25 to 30 joints -- should be given a fine akin to a parking ticket rather than be saddled with a criminal record.
"There's a certain inconsistency in announcing decriminalization and going into court and saying this substance is sufficiently harmful to warrant a criminal sanction," observed Toronto lawyer Alan Young.
Three marijuana smokers --two from British Columbia and one from Ontario -- are challenging the government on constitutional grounds, arguing that outlawing marijuana is a violation of their right to life, liberty and security of the person.
Mr. Young is representing Christopher Clay, who owned a store in London, Ont., called the Great Canadian Hemporium, which sold marijuana paraphernalia and plant seeds.
The other two litigants are David Malmo-Levine, a Vancouver activist who formed the 1,800-member "Harm Reduction Club" for marijuana smokers, and Victor Caine, another British Columbian who was convicted of possession for sharing a joint with a friend in his car while parked at a beach near Vancouver.
Amid the confusion over the government's position, the court will hold a mini-hearing this morning asking lawyers from all sides whether they think the case should be postponed.
The concern is that Mr. Cauchon's revelation might have an impact on the case and that all sides might therefore need time to reconsider their arguments.
"The court is concerned that this development may impact on the appeals both in terms of the evidence and the position that may be taken by the Attorney General and other parties," court registrar Anne Roland wrote on behalf of the judges.
Justice Department lawyers argue that the case should go ahead, regardless of their minister's statements.
In a letter to the Supreme Court, they say that the precedent-setting appeal, in which three Canadians are seeking the constitutional right to get stoned, "transcends" Mr. Cauchon's plans to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana.
Under Mr. Cauchon's scheme, smoking marijuana still would remain illegal, but the punishment would change.
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