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Source: Windsor Star (CN ON)
Author: Ellen van Wageningen, Star Justice Reporter
Published: June 05, 2003
Copyright: 2003 Windsor Star
Contact: [email protected]
Website: http://www.canada.com/windsor/

High court asked to end drug dismissals.

Responding to the dismissal by judges of hundreds of marijuana possession charges, the federal government is asking Ontario's highest court to temporarily declare the law valid.

Lower court judges are citing a ruling by Superior Court Justice Steven Rogin, of Windsor, declaring the law invalid as they quash charges for possessing less than 30 grams of marijuana.

On Monday, Ontario Court Justice Micheline Rawlins, also of Windsor, dismissed an unprecedented 22 charges in one sitting -- part of a backlog that had been building since January.

"It's really the events of the last few days" that have led the Department of Justice to ask the Ontario Court of Appeal to stay Rogin's May 16 ruling, said Jim Leising, head drug prosecutor in the province.

June 10 hearing

A stay would mean Rogin's decision would be suspended until the appeal court makes its ruling on the matter. Leising said the stay application is to be addressed in the appeal court June 10.

"I just think they're desperate to do something," said Windsor lawyer Brian McAllister, who convinced a lower court judge and then Rogin to find the law prohibiting marijuana possession invalid.

Now the matter is back before the court where it started. Rogin's decision is based on a ruling the appeal court made almost three years ago to strike down the current marijuana possession law because it violated the constitutional rights of those who used the drug for medical reasons.

The appeal court gave the government until July 31, 2001. The government responded by passing the Marijuana Medical Access Regulations, which Rogin found wasn't adequate to comply with the appeal court's ruling.

If the appeal court won't stay Rogin's ruling, the government is asking it to extend the deadline for changing the law, Leising said.

"That would be without precedent because the deadline expired two years ago," McAllister said.

Meanwhile, police across the province are grappling with the uncertainty.

"We still believe it's illegal to have (marijuana) in your possession," said Windsor police spokesman Staff Sgt. Ed McNorton. "Obviously, we'll use some discretion when we come upon it.... We can always lay a charge at a later date."

The OPP is holding back on some charges because justices of the peace won't endorse them, said Det. Supt. Jim Hutchinson, director of the force's drug enforcement section. But investigations will continue when officers find small amounts of marijuana, which remains a prohibited substance, he said.

DID YOU KNOW?

Police can lay a charge for possessing less than 30 g of marijuana up to six months after seizing the drug from someone.


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