Crown Abandons Appeals Of Five Possession Cases Slated For Tuesday

An appeal of a Nova Scotia judge's decision that questioned the validity of
charging someone for possessing under 30 grams of marijuana has gone to pot.

Instead, the federal Justice Department has decided to let Parliament
handle the issue.

David Schermbrucker, a federal prosecutor in Halifax, was instructed Monday
afternoon that the department no longer wishes to pursue appeals in five
Dartmouth pot possession cases. The appeals were to be heard Tuesday at the
Nova Scotia Court of Appeal.

"I think the why is a political matter and it goes right up to the highest
level of government," Mr. Schermbrucker told reporters outside court.

"I'm just a lawyer down here carrying out instructions. A decision was
made, as I said earlier the marijuana laws are an issue of national
importance to all Canadians.

"So I think the issue is taken very seriously."

Meanwhile, local police continue to charge people with possessing small
amounts of the drug.

"We're still working under the existing laws, it's business as usual for
us," spokesman Sgt. Don Spicer of Halifax Regional Police said Tuesday.

It's unfortunate that the Crown couldn't make a decision to abandon the
appeal until the last minute, but it could have been worse, Mr.
Schermbrucker said.

"It could have been that we had argued the appeal and left it with the
court and government had made a decision while the court was under reserve."

Canada's proposed bill that would decriminalize marijuana for small-time
users caught with less than 15 grams and fine them $100 to $400 technically
died when Parliament shut down this month.

The bill is expected to be reintroduced later.

In early October, the Ontario Court of Appeal struck down parts of the
federal government's medical marijuana access program, thereby making the
program - in the court's eyes - constitutionally valid.

"As a result, in Ontario the law is: it's an offence to possess marijuana
(but) if you are somebody who has demonstrated medical need to have access
to marijuana, you should be able to get it," Mr. Schermbrucker said.

"I think a judge in this province could well look at that judgment from
Ontario and say: that's persuasive, that's going to be the law here."

In March in Dartmouth provincial court, Judge Flora Buchan stayed a
possession charge against Paula Clarke of Minesville, Halifax County. Judge
Buchan followed the lead of judges in Ontario and Prince Edward Island who
had granted similar stays, arguing the country's marijuana laws are unclear.

In her decision, Judge Buchan questioned whether it is an abuse of the
court process to permit the federal Crown to prosecute drug matters that
had been stayed in three provinces. She subsequently stayed at least five
similar cases - including one the Crown was going to send to an adult
diversion program.

Pubdate: Wed, 26 Nov 2003
Source: Halifax Herald (CN NS)
Copyright: 2003 The Halifax Herald Limited