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More MS news articles for January 2003

Crown appeals Ontario marijuana ruling amid 'uncertainty' over drug law

Jan. 3, 2003
Canadian Press
Marlene Habib

The federal government is moving quickly to quell uncertainty over Canada's drug laws by appealing an Ontario Court ruling that threw out a marijuana charge on a technicality. "We were aware of the uncertainty the decision created so we thought we'd move as quickly as possible," federal Justice Department spokesman Jim Leising said Friday.

Leising said the appeal was "expedited" following the decision Thursday by Justice Douglas Phillips to side with the teen's lawyer, Brian McAllister, who argued that the law that makes possession of marijuana a criminal offence is effectively invalid in Ontario.

Notwithstanding the ruling, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act is still the law of the land in Canada and police will proceed as usual with laying charges, Leising said.

But he conceded the Ontario judgment has created "potential for it to be followed" by enforcement officials and the courts.

Leising said McAllister was served Friday with the government's intention to appeal; The case will likely be heard in Superior Court in Windsor within the next 30 days, he added.

In the meantime, Crown prosecutors handling similar cases - those involving possession of 30 grams of marijuana or less - should consent to delaying court hearings until after the appeal is heard, he added.

But he disagreed with the suggestion that the pursuit of drug offences involving marijuana is on hold in Canada.

"We haven't given any direction to police to not continue to enforce the law," Leising said.

"What we've put on hold is proceeding with trials where people want to rely on the same defence raised by (McAllister). Hopefully, by prosecutors agreeing to adjournments, nobody will be jeopardized by the uncertainty."

McAllister did not immediately return phone calls Friday.

The ruling involving the 16-year-old - who can't be named because he's a minor - was hailed Thursday by some legal and justice experts as another sign that Canada's pot laws are relaxing, and the beginning of the end for Canada's prohibition against possessing small amounts of the drug.

In defending the 16-year-old, who was on probation when he was arrested last April, McAllister sought to have the charge dropped on the grounds that Ottawa has not yet adequately dealt with a ruling two years ago from the Ontario Court of Appeal.

In that landmark decision, the appeals court sided with marijuana user Terry Parker, who argued that the law violated the rights of sick people using the drug for medical reasons. Parker, an epileptic, said he needs marijuana to control his seizures.

The federal government's response to the Parker ruling was its now-infamous Marijuana Medical Access Regulations, which are supposed to allow marijuana use for medical reasons under certain circumstances.

Those regulations have been widely criticized for being cumbersome, unfair and loaded down with bureaucratic red tape. They are also the subject of a separate constitutional challenge in Toronto by a group of marijuana users who say their rights to choose their own form of medical treatment are being violated.

© 2001