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Globe And Mail
Ottawa to appeal marijuana ruling


Tuesday, February 11, 2003 Print Edition, Page A5

OTTAWA -- The federal government will go to court to save its muddled marijuana laws even as it is promising to liberalize them.

Health Canada moved yesterday to appeal an Ontario court decision from earlier this month that strikes down Ottawa's refusal to release a cache of pot grown in a Manitoba mine for medicinal use.

At the same time, however, Justice Minister Martin Cauchon has said he plans to bring in legislation this spring that will decriminalize the drug.

Lawyers trying to get the cannabis released said the government appears to be in chaos on the issue.

"It's very schizophrenic," said Alan Young, a Toronto lawyer defending patients who want access to the drug. "They're trying to sustain a litigation strategy to support the law while at the same time a political strategy that brings it into question. They're two contradictory policies."

He said that the government is wasting time and money, but that eventually, the laws will be liberalized.

"Marijuana prohibition from its very beginning was a waste of money and what you're seeing now is that last bit of squandering. It's ridiculous."

However, Health spokesman Ryan Baker said the department wants to ensure that the courts have the opportunity to rule on the case. It will be heard in the Ontario Court of Appeal.

The latest development has its roots in a case brought by a man with epilepsy that forced government to liberalize the availability of pot to those suffering from ailments. The courts, at the time, ruled that Canada's possession law was discriminatory because it unfairly punished those who needed the drug for medical purposes.

The ruling led to a decision by then health minister Allan Rock to order that pot be grown at an abandoned Manitoba mine to be distributed for medicinal uses. The move would have allowed the offence of possession to stay on the books.

However, Mr. Rock's successor, Anne McLellan, has refused to distribute the drug, a decision that was struck down this month by the Ontario Superior Court. The court ruled that it is wrong to make the drug legal for sick Canadians and then not provide a legal supply.

Ms. McLellan, who visited The Globe and Mail editorial board yesterday morning, said plans are under way to use the government-sanctioned marijuana growing in Manitoba for "open" clinical trials.

People exempt to the country's laws would agree to be monitored by researchers running these trials, she said.

The government has become confident only recently that the cannabis grown under contract by Prairie Plant Systems is of a quality consistent enough to be used in medical trials, she said.

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