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In a Haze

By Hempology | October 8, 2003

It’s illegal. Or is it? Even the cops want some clarification on marijuana laws.

From Moday Magazine, October 8th, 2003

By Adrienne Mercer

When it comes to possession of marijuana, the times could be a-changin’ in the
province of British Columbia. On September 4, provincial court judge Patrick
Chen ruled that there’s no law stopping us B.C. residents from keeping a bit of
bud handy.

While some cheered the new lack-of-law, the Crown is appealing Chen’s ruling. For now, that
means outdated or not, pot laws will stick, especially after an Ontario court ruled Tuesday
that it’s illegal to possess marijuana except for medicinal use.

“Possession of marijuana is still a criminal offence in British Columbia, that’s the bottom
line,” says Lyse Cantin, a spokesperson for the federal department of justice, B.C. region.
“While the law is still the law, it has to be enforced. I can’t speculate on what will
happen after the [Chen] appeal.” She explains the federal Crown decides whether or not to
charge people with possession based on evidence police bring forward to prosecutors.

Victoria resident Todd Horn thinks police should back off, at least while the courts are busy
working out the best way to look at the issue. “Technicalyl, there shouldn’t even be
confiscation happening,” he says. “Simple possession is no longer recognized.” Horn says it
doesn’t make sense to keep charging people for carrying pot around, given the changes pending
at the federal level. “The Canadian Senate wants it legalized, the House of Commons wants it
decriminalized,” he says.

For 25 years, the Canadian Bar Association has maintained that simple possession of cannabis
needs to be decriminalized – not just for the convienence of pot smokers, but basically, for
the greater good of the nation. In a 1978 CBA resolution, the association recommends that
Canada decriminalize “simple possession and cultivation of cannabis for an adult’s own use
[and] the non-profit transfer of small amounts of cannabis between adult users.” Today, the
association views laws against possession as “expensive, ineffective, and counter productive.”
In a recent press release, CBS president Simon Potter said putting pot smokers in jail doesn’t
help to reduce crime or drug use in Canada. Instead, taxpayer dollars pay to keep people
imprisioned for minor offences, instead of supporting health care, say, or legal aid. Horn
wishes more people could see the costs associated with prosecuting for possession.
“It costs the state in court time, then there’s costs for public defenders, costs to
feed and house [prisoners]. It’s a huge expense.”

In his September 4 decision, Chen refers to the 2000 Ontario Court of Appeals decision that
threw out the federal marijuana law because it didn’t allow for citizens’ access to medical
marijnuna. “[T]here is no offence known to law at this time for simple possession of marijuana,”
Chen wrote.

Chen’s decision may not have changed B.C. law yet, but in three other provinces – Ontario,
Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia – similar court decisions tha rules against the marijuana
possession law are now binding.

Inspector Bill Naughton, who runs the Victoria department’s core unit, says police would welcome
clearer direction from the federal Crown on how to proceed with possession charges. “From a
law enforcement perspective, we’d like clarification on a number of issues relating to
marijuana,” he says.

Right now, because the Chen decision is in appeal and is not binding, Naughton says it’s
business as usual in terms of enforcement. But, he says, simple possession charges
just don’t happen that often – since the start of 2003, the core unit has laid about
70 simple possession charges, most of which were for possession of cocaine or other
hard drugs. Naughton estimates only about 20 people have been charged with possession of
marijuana so far this year.

“In the core unit, we do more drug charges than any other unit,” he says. “Since the
beginning of the year … in nine months, I would say we’ve laid very few. It’s just
not or focus. Our focus is on trafficking.”

Like Cantin, Naughton points out that possession of marijuana is still a criminal offence.
But, he says, police need to stick to priorities. “A 300- or 400-plant grow, that’s a big
issue,” he says. “Someone with a joint just isn’t. As you’e trying to make decisions based
on resources … [simple possession cases] aren’t an effective use of resources.”

Naughton says he hasn’t heard much reaction from the public since the Chen decision came
down. “I’m actually surprised at how muted the reaction has been,” he says.

A few people have made a point of telling police that they are now free to spark up openly
on city streets, Naughton says, then adds, “I wouldn’t recommend that.”

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