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City Leads Nation In Pot Arrests

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EDMONTON - Nearly one-quarter of the estimated 4,000 marijuana
possession charges stayed by the federal department of justice this
week were laid in Edmonton.

Police say heavy drug use and tough law enforcement explain the high

"This is no surprise to us at all," said Edmonton Police Service
spokesman Wes Bellmore.

"We have a huge drug problem here."

But an activist for marijuana legalization says the numbers show
enforcement is excessive in Alberta.

"There's not that much difference between Edmonton and Calgary or
anywhere else in the country," said Kevin Stewart, owner of the True
North Hemp Company.

"We're all victims of a wrong view and a wrong policy, and statistics
like this just bear that out."

All possession charges laid between July 31, 2001, and Oct. 7, 2003,
were stayed this week because of a three-year-old Ontario Court of
Appeal ruling that found medicinal marijuana users had the right to
possess less than 30 grams of pot.

The ruling rendered Canada's possession laws unconstitutional, because
there was no exemption for medicinal use.

The legal bind applied to Ontario only, but the Justice Department
felt it had to take the step nationwide.

"Since Ontario was invalid, and people there would not have been
charged during this period, everybody in the country would not be
charged during this period," said Justice spokeswoman Pascale Boulay.

"Otherwise, it would not be fair."

Of the estimated 4,000 stayed charges, 890 were laid in Edmonton.
That's more than in all of B.C. (717), or in the four Atlantic
provinces combined (859).

Calgary had 458 charges -- giving Alberta the highest provincial
total, at 1,348.

The number of charges doesn't reflect the number of people charged,
since the same person could be caught for marijuana possession several

Though police officers have the discretion to refrain from charging
people caught with marijuana, Bellmore said the numbers show Edmonton
police take marijuana possession seriously.

The story is much the same with RCMP officers in the province, said
Const. Al Fraser.

He said RCMP officers have not lightened up on possession charges and
have no plans to do so. Bellmore partly attributes the high number of
charges to ignorance of the law.

"People, including young people, are very confused about what is
illegal and what is not. Kids are bringing marijuana into school and
thinking that's not a criminal offence."

On Monday, Health Minister Anne McLellan said the federal government
had amended regulations to provide reasonable access to a legal source
of medicinal marijuana.

Those found guilty of marijuana possession during the designated
period can now appeal. Those who have exhausted their appeal options
will have to ask for pardons. After a year, if the stayed charges are
not lifted, they will be dismissed automatically.

The decision does not affect possession charges laid before July 31,
2001, and after Oct. 7, 2003.

The maximum penalty for marijuana possession in Canada is six months
in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

Pubdate: Wed, 10 Dec 2003
Source: Edmonton Journal (CN AB)
Webpage: http://www.mapinc.org/cancom/29A6DF53-2B91-4CA6-B046-24D8C6746D27
Copyright: 2003 The Edmonton Journal
Contact: letters@thejournal.canwest.com
Website: http://www.canada.com/edmonton/edmontonjournal/