HALIFAX (CP) - The federal Crown is appealing a Nova Scotia judge's ruling
that there is no valid law in place governing simple possession of
marijuana.

A spokesman for the federal Justice Department said Tuesday that
adjournments would also be sought in pot possession cases in Nova Scotia and
Prince Edward Island, where a similar ruling was recently made, until the
appeal is heard. "As far as the Crown is concerned, the law remains as it
always was," said spokesman Glenn Chamberlain. "It's appropriate that we
appeal the decision and it's appropriate in the meantime that we don't go
forward with other cases. Otherwise, they'd be in the same position."

Last month, a provincial court judge in Dartmouth, N.S., stayed charges
against Paula Clarke, who was accused of possessing a small amount of pot.

Citing similar stays in Prince Edward Island and Ontario, Judge Flora Buchan
said citizens in Ontario and the Island are unlikely to be convicted of
simple possession, so people in Nova Scotia deserve equal treatment.

The controversy began in 2000 when the Ontario Appeal Court ruled that
federal drug laws violated the rights of a man who smoked pot for medical
reasons. The court gave Parliament one year to revamp the law.

A Commons committee recently recommended that people be allowed to possess
up to 30 grams of marijuana without risking criminal penalties.

Federal Justice Minister Martin Cauchon welcomed the recommendation by
saying he intends to decriminalize simple possession, but many are skeptical
of actual reforms.

Chamberlain said that unless the law changes, it is business as usual for
police and prosecutors.

"The Crown's position is that this provision of the Controlled Drugs and
Substances Act remains in effect and is enforceable," he said.

"That's the principal thing we want people to know. Our contention is that
the law remains in effect and is enforceable."

Chamberlain said about 400 marijuana possession cases are heard in Nova
Scotia each year.

He said the Nova Scotia and P.E.I. stays were based on an Ontario ruling
that is under appeal and has no jurisdiction elsewhere. The two Maritime
provinces are the only provinces to issue stays since the Ontario ruling.

"In our view, the law remains in effect," Chamberlain said.

A date for the appeal has yet to be set, but Chamberlain hopes it will be
dealt with quickly because of the volume of cases it will affect.


STEVE MACLEOD
Canadian Press

Tuesday, April 08, 2003