Marijuana will be decriminalized in an unexpected way. Unexpected, but not unforeseen. It will come as a surprise to many Canadians but marijuana possession has already been virtually decriminalized in Ontario unless the feds do something.
It all started in July of 2000 when the Ontario Court of Appeal struck down a federal law prohibiting the possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana. The court ruled that the legislation violated the rights of sick people who use pot for medical reasons. The case centered on a Toronto epileptic, Terry Parker, who uses cannabis to ease his condition.
At the time, law professor Alan Young predicted that unless the federal government closed the loophole that marijuana possession would become legal by default.
All the Government of Canada had to do was nothing. He predicted that the law would be similarly challenged in other provinces and eventually possession of small amounts of marijuana would be legal – – simply because it’s not illegal.
That’s the way that abortions became legalized in Canada. When the supreme court struck down the laws that criminalized abortions the federal government did nothing, and viola, abortions were legal.
So, what have the feds done since 2000 to prevent decriminalization in Ontario? Almost nothing. They did enact Marijuana Medical Access Regulations which went into effect July 31 of last year. But the although the new rules address the medical use of marijuana, they don’t address its recreational use.
Young’s prediction seems to be coming true. On January 2 of this year, the law was challenged again. A different Ontario judge came to the same conclusion as the first. Justice Douglas Phillips dismissed two drug charges against a 16-year-old local boy.
“Parliament has failed to address problems with Canada’s marijuana laws,” Phillips said in his ruling. Another step towards decriminalized in Ontario.
Then a week later, the same thing. This case involved a Toronto man who was stopped by police while driving a motorcycle downtown last summer. Police found the butts of two marijuana joints on him, and charged the man with possessing less than a gram of marijuana.
The second court agreed with the first. The defence lawyer successfully argued that if Canadians can legally possess pot for medical reasons, then criminalization of possession for all Canadian is inconsistent and invalid. It’s “another stake in the heart of marijuana laws,” said defence lawyer Aaron Harnett. The trend grows.
The more the feds delay, the more I wonder if this isn’t a strategy of the federal government. Governments are not suspicious when they do nothing. If marijuana becomes decriminalized, the feds can shrug and say “we didn’t do anything.”
Most Canadians have consistently supported decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana for decades. In May of 2000, a survey done for Compas research found that 65 per cent of Canadians favoured decriminalization and 22 per cent opposed. Politicians have been consistently in favour decades as well.
In 1978, I wrote Prime Minister Trudeau and opposition leader Joe Clark for their opinions. Trudeau wrote back that “In 1974, we initiated in the Senate a cannabis bill, Bill S-19.” Conveniently, the bill died on the order paper before Parliament ended.
Clark replied “I my view, a drug education programme would be far more beneficial and economical in attacking the problem than using law enforcement agencies and the courts.”
So, the response to Robert Koopman’s editorial against relaxation of marijuana laws (Why Add To Woes By Legalizing Pot? Dec. 29) in The Daily News was quite predictable. A.C. Brumell said in his letter to the editor “Decriminalizing would also release huge law enforcement resources so that they could be used for other purposes, such as prosecuting all those newly criminal gun owners” (Decriminalizing Will Scare Away Organized Crime, January 3, 2003).
If so many Canadians have been so much in favour of decriminalization for so long, why hasn’t it happened? Look south. Uncle Sam wouldn’t like it, that’s why.
“Canada’s softening stance on marijuana and hard drugs will provoke a backlash in the U.S. Congress that would lead to harsher border measures on Canadian travelers and cause serious economic consequences for the economy” warned Stockwell Day, the Canadian Alliance foreign affairs critic.
Are we afraid of the U.S.? No! What will the government have to do to decriminalize marijuana? Nothing.