Court hears appeal that could alter pot possession and distribution laws
Tuesday, July 29, 2003
CREDIT: (CP /Jonathan Hayward)
Don Appleby, a marijuana prescription holder, smokes a joint on Parliament Hill as he protests the government's restrictions in its proposed marijuana legislation. (CP /Jonathan Hayward)
TORONTO (CP) - A battle to determine whether the federal government should be required to provide medicinal marijuana began Tuesday, proceedings that could alter Canada's pot possession laws.
Crown lawyer Croft Michaelson argued in the Ontario Court of Appeal that a ruling by an Ontario Superior Court justice that the federal government is required to set up a distribution scheme for medicinal marijuana should be overturned. He said Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees one's right to life, liberty and security of the person, does not require the government to dispense pot.
"Section 7 does not require the government to establish a legal source of unproved drugs because individuals choose to use them," Michaelson told a panel of three justices.
"There's a real possibility that at the end of the day, there's going to be a vacuum that the government is going to have to fill," he added, referring to the 400-plus federally approved marijuana users.
In January, Ontario Superior Court Justice Sidney Lederman ruled it was unfair for the federal government to allow people to smoke medicinal marijuana but put them in a position where they have to buy it from drug dealers because Ottawa provides no legal access to cannabis. He gave the government until July 9 to fix the regulations or supply the pot itself.
"He's erred in requiring the government to establish a safe, legal supply," Michaelson told justices David Doherty, Stephen Goudge and Janet Simmons.
"This case is not about deprivation."
He also said Canada's global reputation is at stake.
"The consensus in the international community is that marijuana should not be used as a therapeutic product," he said.
Outside court, lawyer Alan Young, who is arguing for the appeal, said such a notion should be dismissed.
"The international community is yawning through our Canadian debate," he said. "Medical marijuana is not an issue in most of the western world because they have decriminalized marijuana."
Young cited the Netherlands, Australia, Switzerland and England as examples of countries where criminal sanctions against pot users have been lifted.
"You can only have a recreational prohibition if you take care of sick people," he said. "We're here today to tell the court they're not taking care of sick people properly."
In court, Young said the manner by which medicinal marijuana users have to obtain the drug is "Kafka-esque" because of the difficulty some have in finding two specialists willing to approve of the use of pot.
"The Crown is trying to defend forcing people into the black market," Young said.
He said the federal government needs to take the initiative because the private sector isn't yet involved in distributing marijuana.
"Physicians aren't interested because most of medicine in this country involves pharmaceuticals, synthetic products and not plant products," he said.
"No one wants to get involved because no one's figured out how to make money yet."
The hearing continues Wednesday.
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