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Court decisions on pot won’t affect police tactics

By Hempology | January 16, 2003

From the Victoria News, January 15, 2003

By Don Descoteau

Medical marijuana advocates in Victoria are enthusiastic that a pair of rulings brought down in Ontario
last week will pave the way for a relaxing of possession enforcement here.

But the Victoria police department isn’t about to change its approach simply because judges in that
province not only threw out a simple possession charge against a Windsor teenager on a technicality,
they for all intents gave the government six months to re-write the law.

“The bottom line is, it’s a case which has occured in Ontario and while it may be persuasive to
B.C. courts, I wouldn’t say they have to follow suit,” says Victoria police Deputy Chief Geoff
Varley. He adds that since the laws on the books have not changed, the department is under no
obligation to change the way it does things.

“Unless we hear something different from the B.C. courts or the Crown, it’ll be business as usual.”

In ruling on a class action suit last week, Ontario Superior Court Justice Sidney Lederman said that
Canada’s medical marijuana access regulations were unconstitutional because they, in effect, force
people with Health Canada exemptions to use marijuana to get their pot from “drug dealers”. He gave the
federal government six months to fix the regulations to make it easier for patients to secure medical

In the case in Windsor, Ontario, Provincial Court Justice Douglas Phillips accepted a defence argument
that the federal government failed to comply with the stipulations and set out in a 2000 Ontario Court
of Appeal Ruling – which went in favour of epileptic marijuana for Terry Parker – that called for it to
re-write its possession law within a year to allow for medical exemptions.

Rather than pass a new law through parliament, however, the government chose to institute the Medical
Marijuana Access Regulations. While Health Canada continues to issue exemptions for medical marijuana
use, the regulations have been the subject of much controversy, given the fact no amount of the substance
has been made legally available through government sources.

In recent months, federal politicians – including Justice Minister Martin Cauchon – have voiced
interest in legalizing simple possession. But with the government backpedalling on its plans to
supply medical marijuana and Prime Minister Jean Chretien encouraging a cautious approach to
the whole matter, the federal government’s position on the matter remains unclear.

While the police are virtually ignoring the decisions, people such as Phillipe Lucas figure
there is cause to celebrate.

“There are so many court cases leading toward the same decision,” says Lucas, spokesperson for the
Vancouver Island Compassion Society, which supplies marijuana for patients from a shop in downtown
Victoria. “I think this is just the Canadian courts sasying ‘you’ve had your chance and you haven’t

Lucas says if the personal possession laws were struck down, it would make hundreds of members of
his society feel a little more comfortable when they come to purchase marijuana products or
use them at home.

Varley admits the Victoria police don’t process a lot of simple possession charges in general and
aren’t about to engage in a campaign to determine which compassion club members have legal
exemptions to use marijuana and which don’t.

“Our focus remains people who are trafficking and supplying people, mainly because of their links
to organized crime,” he says.

Varley adds that while many people might think simple possession is “no big deal”, it’s a
simplistic argument to say that it stops there.

“Simple possession means that somebody has to provide it and somebody has to grow it and the
people who are mainly involved in growing right now are organized crime.”

Ted Smith, co-founder of the Victoria-based Cannabis Buyers’ Clubs of Canada – the downtown shop
that has been raided by police and trafficking charges sought on several occasions over the past
couple of years – says he can see compassion clubs being licensed by the government to provide

It would mean the government would be in charge of regulating the distribution, he says, but even
that would be better than living in fear of arrest by the police.

“We’ve almost been worried about how tightly regulated they might make things,” he says, “but we hope
they would use our expereince in setting their policies.”

Smith says he wouldn’t have expected police to change their tactics when it comes to simple possession.

He doesn’t disagree with Varley’s claim that police don’t often arrest people on charges of simple
possession, given the amount of police and court time it takes to process charges.

Smith says for members of his club, that philosophy doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be left alone,
since police sometimes use the threat of possession or trafficking charges as leverage to gain
information about the source of the pot.

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