Possession of Marijuana Remains Illegal

Possession of Marijuana Remains Illegal
Posted by CN Staff on December 23, 2003 at 14:15:16 PT
By The Canadian Press 
Source: Canadian Press 
Ottawa -- There is no free-standing right to get stoned, Canada's top court ruled Tuesday. Tokers hoping for relaxed marijuana laws instead got a lump of coal as the Supreme Court of Canada upheld 6-3 a federal law banning possession of small amounts of pot. "I'm bummed out, man," said David Malmo-Levine, a self-styled pot freedom crusader in Vancouver. "It's a bit of a kick in the nuts." 
Malmo-Levine, 32, and two other men failed to convince a majority of the top judges that pot penalties are out of whack with constitutional guarantees of fundamental justice. The ban on possessing even tiny amounts does not violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, said the court of last resort. It also unanimously upheld the law prohibiting possession for trafficking. It's up to Parliament to decriminalize the drug, says the 82-page ruling - something Prime Minister Paul Martin has signalled could happen with a bill to be reintroduced next year. "I'm very glad to see the Supreme Court has sustained the government's position," Martin said in an interview Tuesday. "And we will be proceeding with the marijuana bill as planned." The bill, first proposed under Jean Chretien, would wipe out criminal penalties - including potential jail time and lasting records - for those caught with small amounts of pot. The legislation died when Parliament was shut down last month to give Martin a fresh start in January. It made possession of less than 15 grams of pot - roughly 15 to 20 joints - a minor offence punishable by fines of $100 to $400, much like traffic tickets. Critics said 15 grams is too much to equate with casual use. They also questioned how police, with no equivalent of an alcohol breath test, would assess those who drive while high. And they warned that increased pot use would play into the hands of biker gangs and other shady suppliers. Martin says a parliamentary committee could review the 15-gram limit and proposed fines. "Perhaps they should be stiffer," he said Tuesday over a cup of coffee at a Montreal deli. The proposed pot bill did not legalize the drug, and maintained or increased penalties for large-scale growers and traffickers. Ottawa should act with caution, said Tony Cannavino, president of the Canadian Professional Police Association. The group represents 54,000 rank-and-file members. "Police officers across Canada don't have the tools and don't have the proper training to face this legislation," he said. A national strategy to deter drug use is needed first, he stressed. The high court punted the hotly debated issue straight into Parliament's zone. It's up to elected lawmakers to decide whether to criminalize possession of pot, wrote Justice Ian Binnie and now retired Justice Charles Gonthier for the majority. "Equally, it is open to Parliament to decriminalize or otherwise modify any aspect of the marijuana laws that it no longer considers to be good public policy." Dissenting justices Louise Arbour, Louis LeBel and Marie Deschamps said a law that threatens casual pot users with potential jail time is like killing flies with a sledgehammer. Charter guarantees of fundamental justice are undercut by a law that can convict people "whose conduct causes little or no reasoned risk of harm to others," wrote Arbour. The high-court majority disagreed. Parliament acted to limit pot use out of a valid state interest in stemming related harms that are not "insignificant or trivial," it said. The federal government filed a report to the court linking pot use with car crashes, respiratory cancer, addiction and other hazards. In any case, there's no consensus that proof of harm is a prerequisite for creating a criminal offence, ruled the court majority. At issue were a trio of cases involving two self-described marijuana activists and one man who was caught toking up. All three had also failed to persuade lower courts that the pot law is unconstitutional. Malmo-Levine, the most colourful of the three, donned hemp clothes and took a hit of hash last May before arguing his case in person at the high court. He once ran the Harm Reduction Club, a non-profit co-operative in East Vancouver that promoted safe pot use while supplying it to some 1,800 members. He served a two-year conditional sentence after being busted in 1996. Malmo-Levine was defiant Tuesday. "I'll sell pot right in their face and say: 'How dare you even touch me until you have evidence that it's hurt anybody?' "Where are the marijuana victims?" Lawyer Alan Young, a University of Toronto professor who has led the charge to reform pot laws, says Parliament has never proven that recreational use causes anything more serious than bronchitis. A summary conviction of simple possession carries a penalty of up to six months in jail, a $1,000 fine or both for a first offence. Those convicted of a more serious indictable offence, which is rare, face up to seven years in prison. Complete Title: Possession of Small Amounts of Marijuana Remains Illegal, Says Top CourtSource: Canadian Press Published: Tuesday, December 23, 2003Copyright: 2003 The Canadian PressRelated Articles & Web Site:Cannabis News Canadian Links Supreme Court Upholds Legal Ban on Pot Ban is Constitutional, Supreme Court Rules Rules Marijuana Possession Illegal
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