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NEWSHAWK: Maritimers Unite for Medical Marijuana
PUBDATE: March 31, 2003
SOURCE: Halifax Herald
AUTHOR: Louise Elliott

Rulings could put pot charges across country on hold

OTTAWA (CP) - Criminal charges for possessing small amounts of pot could be put on hold in provinces across the country following court rulings in Ontario and P.E.I., says a prominent legal expert.

A provincial court judge in P.E.I. ruled this month that an Ontario court decision which prompted the adjournment of all simple possession charges in Ontario should be binding in other provinces as well.

He was referring to the Parker case in Windsor, Ont. - now under appeal - which saw charges thrown out against a 16-year-old boy on the argument that the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act no longer effectively prohibits possession under 30 grams.

It led the federal Justice Department to ask its Crown attorneys to seek an adjournment or stay of all simple possession charges in Ontario.

Justice officials last week similarly stayed all pot possession charges in P.E.I. as a result of the ruling there.

Alan Young, a professor at Osgoode Hall law school in Toronto, said judges in other provinces may also follow suit out of sheer frustration with Ottawa's sluggishness in dealing with marijuana possession laws.

"Really, I think people are fed up and I would think that pretty much across the country, with the exception of possibly Alberta, most courts would be more than happy to start staying marijuana prosecution."

Young said many lawyers may not realize the charges in Ontario and P.E.I. have been stayed pending the results of the Parker appeal, but judges would not hesitate if lawyers point out the law is vulnerable.

"If raised, I can't imagine many courts wanting to proceed with these minor cases knowing that they may be imposing criminal records on people who effectively have done nothing criminal."

In an interview, Justice Ralph Thompson of P.E.I. provincial court said he'd received several requests for a copy of his ruling from other provinces.

Adding to the law's vulnerability is the fact Justice Minister Martin Cauchon has promised to introduce new legislation to decriminalize marijuana.

The legislation, originally promised by the end of April, could now take until the end of the session in late June, Cauchon said recently.

Three key cases now before the Supreme Court involving simple possession, trafficking and a marijuana "club," also hang in the balance, and have been put off until May 6.

But Thompson said he didn't take into account Cauchon's promised new law in making his decision.

"Basically what I determined was that it would be an abuse of process to permit the charge to proceed here when charges weren't proceeding in Ontario," he said.

"Until such time as the law can be uniformly applied across the country in such a way that 12 million people in Ontario are not subject to prosecution, then that charge will not proceed here."

Young argued the P.E.I. ruling should prompt the Justice Department to stay possession charges countrywide.

"Why they wouldn't give an instruction like that across the country is puzzling considering that we have national criminal law," he said.

"My explanation is that they never go out of their way to move this issue in a progressive way. They do as little as possible and they wait until they're pushed again."

Cauchon has said he will continue to defend the current law until it is changed.

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