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Judge's Death Puts Pot Trial In Jeopardy


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The death of B.C. Supreme Court Justice Robert Edwards has jeopardized a lengthy and costly criminal trial involving an important constitutional challenge of the marijuana law.

In most criminal cases, when a judge is unable to follow through to judgment, a mistrial is declared.

In this case, a rare hearing has been scheduled in Vancouver tomorrow to see if there is a way to save the huge expense incurred and the evidence already presented. "We don't want to see the incredible effort by the chronically ill patients who have supported and testified in this case lost," defence lawyer Kirk Tousaw said yesterday.

"We're hoping to find a way to move forward because this case has such widespread repercussions for the tens of thousands of terminally ill and ailing Canadians who get therapeutic help from marijuana."

Michael Swallow, 41, and Mat Beren, 32, both were charged with producing and possessing marijuana for the purpose of trafficking in May 2004 after the RCMP raided a house used by the Vancouver Island Compassion Society.

The club provides cannabis products and other health services to roughly 600 members.

Tousaw and colleague John Conroy argue the criminal law is constitutionally invalid because the federal government has failed to provide adequate access and supply of medical marijuana as required under the prevailing 2003 Supreme Court of Canada decision about the criminal prohibition.

In that case, the court decided sick people should not be forced to go to the black market for medication. It said the criminal prohibition was constitutional only if Ottawa provided an adequate medical program.

Health Canada decided the sick can obtain marijuana in three ways: obtain a permit to grow it themselves; get permission to obtain it from a designated grower; or buy it from the government.

But patients complain that obtaining and maintaining the necessary permits from Ottawa is too bureaucratic, and that the quality of the federal pot isn't very good.

Two recent Ontario court judgments accepted similar arguments, but the Conservative government is pushing to stiffen the criminal penalties for cannabis offences as part of its vaunted law-and-order legislative package.

Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2007 Times Colonist
Contact: letters@tc.canwest.com
Website: Victoria Times Colonist
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