Canada Kicks Ass

Ontario Pot Laws Are Back in Effect
Date: Thursday, October 16 2003
Topic: Canadian Politics

The glory days for Ontario marijuana-smokers are over, at least for now, with police laying possession charges again after months of turning a blind eye to public toking when pot laws were temporarily loosened.

Ontario Provincial Police officers have been advised that they can now enforce Canada's laws against pot possession after a court ruling last week clarified that those laws were constitutional.

Supt. Bill Crate, director of corporate communications for the force, said Thursday that officers have been told that they can now enforce the law - which had been suspended since earlier this year due to a previous court ruling.

''What the ruling means for us is it's basically clarified that simple possession ... is constitutionally valid and now subject to the full force and effect of the law.''

''We can now as police in Ontario enforce that law accordingly,'' he said.

Ontario's pot-possession laws were called into question earlier this year by a case in which an Ontario Court judge in Windsor threw out a marijuana-possession charge against a 16-year-old boy.

The boy's lawyer successfully argued that since there was no effective program for sick people to possess medical marijuana without breaking the law, then the law didn't prohibit possession. That ruling was upheld on appeal in May.

But an Ontario Court of Appeal ruling on Oct. 7 struck down parts of the federal government's medical marijuana access program, thereby making it - in the court's eyes - effective and constitutionally valid. By fixing the medical-marijuana program, the court ruling made the pot-possession laws constitutionally valid again.

That ruling effectively sealed a legal loophole.

''They've now been given a green light,'' said Alan Young, a lawyer and longtime legalization advocate who represented medical marijuana-users in the most recent case.

Although police officers are only doing their jobs in upholding pot-possession laws, Young said that some enforcement agencies have voiced dissatisfaction with the law and have suggested it's a burden on their resources.

''This is an ideal occasion for them to make their political views clearer and actually tell the government that they're not interested in enforcing the law anymore,'' Young said.

The advisory was sent out to provincial police officers last week after the ruling, Crate said, but information wasn't readily available Thursday about the number of pot-possession charges laid since then.

Sgt. Jim Muscat, a spokesman for the Metro Toronto Police Department, the province's largest municipal police force, was also unable to provide numbers on how many pot-possession charges have been laid since last week, but said his officers would uphold the law.

''We're treating it the way we treated it before,'' he said. ''The law is in effect.''

York Regional police, north of Toronto, also said they would start laying possession charges but wouldn't investigate any possession incidents before last week's ruling.

The pot-smoking climate already appears to have changed in Toronto - at a Radiohead concert at SkyDome on Wednesday night, security guards were seen escorting some concert-goers out of the venue after they were spotted smoking up, in marked contrast to the summer months.

However, those apprehended by police for possessing pot during the time when the law was in question may get a break.

While the validity of the law was in doubt, provincial police officers were told in a June 6 advisory that in cases of simple pot possession, they should seize the marijuana but not lay charges.

Now, officers are being told to ask the Crown's advice regarding laying charges for any of those instances, Crate said.

''It means they may or may not prosecute.''

The Ontario Court of Appeal's ruling effectively nixed the attempt to strike down Canada's pot-possession laws based on deficiencies in the medical access program, Young said.

But Young added: ''It's not over yet. But with limited resources, there's only so much that we can do.''

No decision has been made yet about an appeal, he added.

In addition, it's expected that by the end of the year, the Supreme Court of Canada will release its decision on a case that directly challenges the laws prohibiting pot possession.

This article comes from Canada Kicks Ass

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