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Top Court To Rule On Clay Pot Case

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A former Londoner who defied marijuana laws from his Richmond Street
store will have his challenge decided Tuesday by the Supreme Court of
Canada. Chris Clay, who sold marijuana seedlings from his downtown
Hemp Nation store, has asked the court to strike down laws that
criminalize pot possession, one of three related cases the Supreme
Court will rule on next week.

Clay has argued laws that criminalize pot violate the Charter of
Rights because using pot for recreation is harmless.

But his argument was rejected by a trial judge in London and the
Ontario Court of Appeals, which ruled the use of pot was not of
sufficient importance to trigger protections in the charter.

The lower courts also decided that harm caused by marijuana was not
trivial, even though it was less than harm caused by legal products
such as alcohol and tobacco.

Police raided Clay's store in 1995 and 1996, charging him with drug
trafficking and possession. He was convicted, fined $750 and placed on

At a trial in London, Clay's defence team flew in experts from across
the continent who said marijuana was less addictive than caffeine and
caused less impairment than over-the-counter antihistamines.

Clay now lives in British Columbia.

The resolution of his court case comes at a time when the future is
uncertain for laws that criminalize marijuana possession.

A bill that would decriminalize small-scale possession was proposed
last year in Ottawa which would have meant fines of $100 to $400 for
small-time users caught with less than 15 grams.

But that bill did not pass before former prime minister Jean Chretien
left office, leaving its fate in the hands of his successor, Paul Martin.

The Supreme Court will also rule on the case of David Malmo-Levine,
who argued in person at the high court in May, dressed from head to
toe in hemp clothing and fortified by a hit of hash before he entered
the courtroom.

He used to run the Harm Reduction Club, a non-profit co-operative in
East Vancouver that offered advice on moderate and safe marijuana use
and supplied pot to about 1,800 members.

The third man is Victor Caine, who was arrested by a police officer
after lighting a joint in a van in a parking lot in White Rock, B.C.
He had 0.5 grams of pot in his possession.

Trafficking issues were part of the Malmo-Levine and Clay cases, but
the central issue before the Supreme Court was whether possession for
personal use should be a crime.

Federal lawyers argued there is "no free-standing right to get stoned"
and said Parliament must be free to legislate against drug offences
unfettered by constitutional fences.

Defence lawyers contended that criminal penalties for minor drug
offences were disproportionate and violated the guarantee of
fundamental justice in the charter.

Pubdate: Fri, 19 Dec 2003
Source: London Free Press (CN ON)
Copyright: 2003 The London Free Press
Contact: letters@lfpress.com
Website: The London Free Press
Details: MAP: Media Directory
Author: Jonathan Sher, Free Press Reporter