Crown attorneys will still pursue marijuana possession cases, despite
recent legal decisions, a senior member of the federal prosecution service
said Tuesday. Paula Taylor, the Halifax-based supervisor of legal agents
for the Department of Justice, works with the private-sector lawyers who
prosecute federal cases such as those involving the Controlled Drug and
Substances Act.

Marijuana is a banned substance under the act but the legal waters around
the drug have become murky.

The federal government has been talking for months about the possibility of
decriminalizing possession of small amounts of cannabis and of allowing
consumption of marijuana for medical reasons.

Ontario courts have used the lack of clarity and action on marijuana policy
as rationale for throwing out some cases of simple possession.

In March, citing those precedents, Provincial Court Judge Ralph Thompson
stayed a case in Summerside in which a young male was charged with
possession of under 30 grams of cannabis.

This month, Charlottetown police said they will hold off laying new
possession charges until the legal situation is cleared up. Police said
they will still seize drugs and gather evidence, but won't lay charges
until an appeal of Thompson's decision has been heard.

Charlottetown's deputy police chief Richard Collins said they will still
have time to lay possession charges in coming months.

In an interview, Taylor said her office still takes simple possession cases
seriously but that both prosecutors and police always have the right to
reserve their efforts for cases that they consider to be in the public

"The law is the law, the prosecution service has a mandate to uphold the
law as it exists," she said. "To date there has been no change to the law
on cannabis possession."

But Taylor said the prosecution service and police alike have a
responsibility to use their resources in ways that will serve the public

"I don't think there's a citizen out there who doesn't have some experience
of the police using their discretion not to lay charges; maybe it's when
someone is jaywalking and the officer tells them they should be crossing at
the corner," she said.

"We have to ask ourselves the same question, whether a prosecution is in
the public interest. There are a lot of cases that are resolved through
other measures."

Taylor said that discretion also means police and the Crown are free to
aggressively pursue simple possession charges in key areas, such as
drug-impaired driving or possession of drugs in a school area.

"Certain circumstances of possession are going to be in situations where
the public interest is such that it is very important for these cases to
proceed," she said.

Taylor said the situation on Prince Edward Island should be clearer once
the Supreme Court Appeal Division rules on an appeal of Thompson's decision.

That appeal is scheduled to be heard Sept. 3.

She said the legal precedents on possession charges have not all fallen in
the same direction as Thompson's ruling.

"In Saskatchewan and British Columbia the courts have take positions that
are quite contrary to that," Taylor said.

"We have an ongoing appeal in Nova Scotia where the provincial judge relied
quite heavily on the Prince Edward Island ruling."

Pubdate: Sat, 02 Aug 2003
Source: Guardian, The (CN PI)
Copyright: 2003 The Guardian, Charlottetown Guardian Group Incorporated