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CN ON: Court Expedites Appeal Of Teen's Pot Acquittal
Pubdate: Wed, 11 Jun 2003
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2003 The Toronto Star
Author: Canadian Press


Crown Sought Stay Of Ruling That There Was No Legal Basis To Ban Simple Possession

The appeal of a precedent-setting marijuana acquittal should be rushed through the justice system so the courts can have a clear answer on the drug's legality, a judge ruled yesterday.

Ontario Court of Appeal Justice Louise Charron expedited the appeal of a teenager's pot acquittal but refused a federal Justice Department request to stay the May 16 court decision.

The stay would have prevented judges in Ontario and perhaps judges across Canada from following a new precedent set by Superior Court Justice Steven Rogin.

"It wasn't the acquittal we were seeking to have stayed so much as the effect of Justice Rogin's order, which has been interpreted by many ( to suggest ) there is no prohibition against possessing marijuana ( in Ontario ),"said Justice Department spokesman Jim Leising.

"We were hoping a stay would clarify the situation and have the effect of ensuring that our view is correct, namely that there still is a prohibition against possessing marijuana."

But Charron said she was "baffled" by the "unprecedented" motion by the Crown and said she lacked the jurisdiction to block the precedent set by Rogin's verdict.

The teen's drug charges were thrown out of court on Jan. 2 when Ontario Court Justice Douglas Phillips ruled there was no legal basis to ban simple possession of the drug, since Ottawa failed to comply with a July 2000 order to create a new law dealing with marijuana.

The Crown appealed but Rogin upheld the ruling, effectively taking marijuana laws off Ontario's books.

"Today is a clear signal that Justice Rogin's decision is, for now, the law of the province, which judges in trial courts have to apply," said Brian McAllister, the lawyer representing the Ontario teenager.

"I think a lot of judges were hesitant to throw out charges in anticipation of this hearing, but today's decision should certainly have an impact on what people do from now on."

Following Rogin's decision, judges and justices of the peace dropped marijuana possession charges or adjourned trials until the Crown's upcoming appeal could be heard. Police in Ontario also said they would not lay any charges for possession under 30 grams until the legal situation could be clarified.

Leising said today's motion and the Crown appeal are less about going after pot users and more about clarifying the courts' take on the law.

"Our worry is that there is going to continue to be inconsistency, which is always an undesirable thing," he said. ``What we've seen is that a judge sitting in one courtroom will adjourn or allow ( marijuana possession ) cases to be stayed, while judges across the hall will refuse to do anything . . . and essentially have them thrown out."

But McAllistor said granting a stay would have "created a more chaotic situation" and further complicate all the case law involving marijuana.

"This is sort of part and parcel of the Crown's strategy, putting arguments before the court that are absolutely unprecedented and I think ( Charron ) saw that quite clearly."

No appeal date for the teenager's acquittal has been set but late July is the target to have a panel of judges assembled and begin the proceedings.

The teenager is not being named under provisions of the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

Rogin's verdict came about two weeks before the Liberal government announced it was moving to eliminate criminal penalties for simple possession of marijuana, hoping to have the legislation passed by the end of the year.

Under the proposed new laws introduced by Justice Minister Martin Cauchon, possession of up to 15 grams of pot enough to roll about 15 or 20 joints would be a minor offence that carries no criminal record.

Violators would be ticketed and ordered to pay fines ranging from $100 to $250 for youths and from $150 to $400 for adults.

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