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March 15, 2001
Toronto Star

Highest court to hear pot law challenge

Hemp shop owner says marijuana is harmless

OTTAWA (CP) - Canada's highest court agreed today to hear a convicted pot smoker's claims that federal marijuana laws are unconstitutional because the drug is harmless.

Chris Clay, 30, the former operator of a hemp boutique in London, Ont., was convicted in 1997 of drug possession and trafficking charges for selling cannabis to an undercover police officer.

In Clay's original trial, Ontario Superior Court Justice John McCart admitted he was convinced marijuana was harmless and caused no serious mental or physical damage.

But the judge ruled it would be up to Parliament to determine what's illegal and said the drug charges didn't infringe on Clay's constitutional rights.

That prompted Clay and lawyer Alan Young to seek leave to appeal their case to the highest court in the land. As is customary, the Supreme Court gave no reasons for its decision.

The case has become a flagship for marijuana users - many of whom sing the praises of the drug's medicinal qualities - who want to see pot legalized.

Throughout their case, which was rejected by the Ontario Court of Appeal in October 1999, Young has argued that marijuana has no more ill health effects than many of the foods people eat.

Crown lawyers have countered that the absence of scientific proof of marijuana's harmful effects does not mean the drug can be considered completely safe.

Nonetheless, since Clay first launched his challenge, Ottawa has implemented extensive testing on the medicinal effects of marijuana, including allowing a host of Canadians with serious illnesses to use the drug for medicinal purposes.

The federal government first gave permission for the cultivation and use of marijuana for medical purposes in June, granting special exemptions to Jim Wakeford of Toronto and Jean-Charles Pariseau of Vanier, Ont., both of whom have AIDS.

Supporters of Clay's case hope Canada will eventually adopt the same policies that exist in some parts of Australia, where people caught with small quantities of marijuana pay a fine, but get no criminal record.


March 16 2001
Toronto Star

Supreme Court to hear appeal of decision saying pot is harmless

Ontario court judge wanted to leave decision to Ottawa

OTTAWA (CP) - Canada's highest court agreed yesterday to hear a convicted pot smoker's claims that federal marijuana laws are unconstitutional because the drug is harmless.

Chris Clay, 31, the former operator of a hemp boutique in London, Ont., was convicted in 1997 of possession and trafficking charges for selling cannabis to an undercover police officer.

At Clay's original trial, Ontario Superior Court Justice John McCart admitted he was convinced marijuana was harmless and caused no serious mental or physical damage.

But the judge ruled it would be up to Parliament to determine what's illegal and said the drug charges didn't infringe on Clay's constitutional rights.

That prompted Clay and lawyer Alan Young to seek leave to appeal their case to the highest court in the land. As is customary, the Supreme Court gave no reasons for its decision.

The case has become a flagship for marijuana users - many of whom sing the praises of the drug's medicinal qualities - who want pot legalized.

``Finally, we're going to get the highest court in the land to rule on whether or not Parliament has the constitutional authority to prohibit harmless conduct on pain of criminal sanction,'' Young said.

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`The implications extend far beyond marijuana.'- Alan Young
Chris Clay's lawyer
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Throughout their case, which was rejected by the Ontario Court of Appeal in October, 1999, Young has argued that marijuana has no more ill health effects than many of the foods people eat. Crown lawyers have countered that the absence of scientific proof of marijuana's harmful effects does not mean the drug can be considered completely safe.

The Supreme Court also agreed to hear appeals of:

The case of David Hall, a 29-year-old supermarket meat-cutter who was denied bail in 1999 after his arrest on a second-degree murder charge. Hall was denied bail by a Superior Court judge despite the judge's own confidence Hall would not flee or pose a public risk, but rather because of public perception, said lawyer John Norris.

A Communist party challenge of federal election rules forcing political parties to field 50 candidates to qualify for the perks that come with registered status.

A 1998 ruling that blocked three generic drug manufacturers from selling their version of AZT, a promising AIDS treatment. Despite the original Federal Court ruling in March, 1998, the companies have been selling generic AZT in Canada thanks to a stay from the federal appeals court.

A case of a woman who broke her leg on a Thunder Bay sidewalk but failed to notify the city within the required seven days.

The marijuana appeal could touch on a host of other criminal activities - gambling and prostitution, for instance - that Young maintained are illegal simply because they're considered socially unacceptable.

``The implications extend far beyond marijuana, but marijuana is the best-case example,'' he said.

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