PM To Move on Decriminalizing Marijuana
Source: National Post (Canada)
Author: Janice Tibbetts and Shannon Kari, Southam News
Published: Saturday, January 11, 2003
Copyright: 2003 Southam Inc.
Contact: [email protected]
Reluctance denied: 'The government is determined to addresses this issue'.
After appearing hesitant before Christmas, Jean Chrétien is now ready to move quickly to decriminalize possession of marijuana.
"The PM is strong on this," said a spokesman from the Prime Minister's Office. "The government is determined to address this issue."
The spokesman, who did not want to be named, denied that Mr. Chrétien has changed his mind since he said in an interview with Global TV last month that there would have to be a full debate on the issue and that the government would make a decision "one day."
"I don't think he has ever had a change of heart," said the spokesman. "I just think that he really wanted to make sure that before legislation is introduced, that caucus and Cabinet and everybody who is involved in this have their opinions expressed before moving ahead."
In the Christmas interview, Mr. Chrétien went out of his way to say that he has never tried marijuana and that he does not even know what it smells like.
In an offensive move to show that Mr. Chrétien and Martin Cauchon, the Minister of Justice, are in sync, the Prime Minister's Office supplied transcripts yesterday of a justice committee hearing in 1980, when Mr. Chrétien, who was then justice minister, said that he supported decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana so that young people "will not have a stigma for the rest of their lives."
But he stressed at the time that he did not think the government should legalize marijuana, so that people caught with pot would receive no penalty at all.
Despite his stated intentions, marijuana possession has remained a criminal offence. Decades of failed government promises has sparked criticism from marijuana enthusiasts who say they are skeptical that the law will ever change.
Yesterday a second Ontario Court judge ruled that there is currently no law prohibiting the possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Justice John Moore threw out marijuana possession charges against Martin Barnes, a 40-year-old Toronto man who was arrested last summer by police with the equivalent of one joint, or about $5 worth of marijuana, in his coat pocket.
"Mr. Barnes was charged with an offence not known to law," Judge Moore said as he quashed the charges.
The judge said he arrived at the decision by following a "common sense" path in the wake of a number of recent court rulings.
"The marijuana laws as they pertain to possession have completely fallen apart," said Mr. Barnes's lawyer, Aaron Harnett. "Anyone charged with simple possession of marijuana should be on the phone to their lawyer immediately to launch a similar application" he added.
Police allegedly found a gram of marijuana in Mr. Barnes's possession after he was charged with dangerous driving while stuck in gridlock on a downtown Toronto street one day after work last July.
Mr. Harnett said his client is a "working guy," a computer technician with no criminal record who should not have been charged with a drug offence. "How much more money are they going to waste?" said Mr. Harnett about police and prosecutors who use up valuable resources prosecuting people for possession of small amounts of marijuana.
In Windsor last week, Ontario Court Justice Douglas Phillips ruled there was no law prohibiting the possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana as a result of a July, 2000, ruling by the Ontario Court of Appeal.
The province's high court found that the blanket prohibition against marijuana possession was unconstitutional. It gave the federal government one year to bring in a new law that did not violate the Charter of Rights, or the ban on possession of small amounts of marijuana would be invalid.
Instead, the federal Cabinet enacted the marijuana medical access regulations, which set out the guidelines to apply for a medical exemption to possess or grow marijuana.
The judge in Windsor found that this did not satisfy the Court of Appeal requirement to bring in new legislation.
Mr. Cauchon, 40, has made no secret of his belief that people caught with less than 30 grams -- about 25 or 30 cigarettes -- should be fined rather than criminally charged.
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