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Reefer Sadness As Pot Law Valid Again

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Appeals court ruling makes possession illegal again, but opens door to
creation of massive, legal grow operations

The party's over. The province's short-lived flirtation with wide-open
marijuana use ended yesterday when the Ontario Court of Appeal
restored a federal narcotics law making marijuana possession a
criminal offence.

While the decision was a setback for recreational pot smokers -- and a
political defeat for those fighting to reform Canada's drug laws --
many medical marijuana users were treating it as a major victory.

The court made it easier for medical users to obtain a reliable supply
of the drug by allowing licensed growers to produce plants for more
than one person, work in common with other growers, potentially
through large-scale farming operations, and to be compensated for
their labour.

The decision also removes a requirement that would-be medical users
need a second medical specialist to support their application.

Existing federal rules governing medical marijuana use were
unconstitutional because they forced people with serious illnesses to
turn to illicit black market sources, in violation of their right to
life, liberty and security of the person, the court said yesterday in
a decision written collectively by Justices David Doherty, Stephen
Goudge and Janet Simmons.

"Requiring law-abiding citizens who are seriously ill to go to the
black market to fill an acknowledged medical need is a dehumanizing
and humiliating experience," the court said. "Equally, driving
business to the black market is contrary to better narcotic control."

The decision upholds a ruling made by Mr. Justice Sidney Lederman of
the Ontario Superior Court last January in the case of 11 people who
wanted Ottawa to supply them with the drug.

However, while Lederman struck down the existing rules, the appeal
court decided instead to fix the problem by rewriting the regulations
governing the possession and growing of medical marijuana in a way
that removes barriers to the drug and makes the scheme
constitutionally valid.

As a result, the law making it a crime to possess marijuana for any
other purpose -- invalid since July 31, 2001 -- went back on the
books, effective yesterday.

Changes to make the drug more accessible to medical users also take
immediate effect.

"Some of these people are terminally ill" and it would be
"inconsistent with fundamental Charter values" if they were to die
while waiting for the changes to be made, the court said.

The decision opens the door to medical marijuana users from coast to
coast getting cheap drugs from "compassion clubs," which, to date,
have been considered part of the black market.

It's ironic the government has told medical users to turn to the black
market, yet shut many compassion clubs down "presumably because they
contravene the law," the court said, dismissing the government's
appeal of Lederman's ruling.

"The best thing that comes out of this is that it's a green light for
rebuilding and expanding compassion centres across Canada," said law
professor Alan Young, who represented several of the litigants.
"They're giving us an opportunity to ... create an underground
economy, which we couldn't do before."

"We can, if we play this right, set up warehouses with thousands and
thousands of plants for ourselves and the prices should come right
down," he explained to clients who gathered at the court to obtain a
copy of the 98-page ruling.

In an interview later, Young said he can easily envision at least 50
of the 500 Canadians currently licensed to grow marijuana getting
involved in perfectly legal, large-scale grow operations, which could
yield between 3,000 and 5,000 plants. The number of plants they are
allowed to grow is based on the user's prescribed dosage.

Alison Myrden, 40, who has multiple sclerosis, is an authorized user
entitled to 12 grams of pot per day. The Burlington woman was one of
eight medicinal users party to the appeal.

"I'm happy that people who are sick will have better access to
therapeutic cannabis, especially because we'll be able to set up
collective grows. That will make the medicine more available and give
those of us who are sick more strains to choose from," she said.

The court also confirmed that, prior to yesterday's ruling, the law
prohibiting marijuana possession had been "of no force or effect since
July 31, 2001" -- leaving a big question mark as to what that means
for charges still in the system or those that have already resulted in

The legal battle isn't quite over. The Supreme Court of Canada could
rule soon on a challenge to the laws banning recreational pot smoking,
brought by Christopher Clay, who owned a hemp products store in
London, Ont.

Pubdate: Wed, 08 Oct 2003
Source: Hamilton Spectator (CN ON)
Copyright: The Hamilton Spectator 2003
Contact: letters@hamiltonspectator.com
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