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Why Many Canadian Judges, Lawyers Don't Want To Prosecute Marijuana Offences Anymore

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau couldn't have been more clear when he told told a Vancouver radio station earlier this month, "The laws haven't changed yet. Pot is still illegal in this country and will be until we bring in a strong regulatory framework."

The week before, Liberal MP Bill Blair - the former Toronto police chief that will oversee the legalization process - said very much the same thing to CBC.

"I think it's really important that we continue to use the tools that are available to us to keep our communities safe," said Blair. "The only control that is currently in place is the criminal sanction and the laws...those laws must continue to be respected and upheld right across the country."

That should come as little surprise given that the country's chief law-makers would expect people to obey the law - even those laws that are going to be changing in the coming months and years. But some of the country's judges and prosecutors don't necessarily agree, according some politicians and legal experts who spoke at a House of Commons justice committee hearing yesterday in Ottawa.

People becoming emboldened, growing their marijuana

Former justice minister Rob Nicholson said he's hearing about "more and more instances" of people growing marijuana. The Conservative MP wondered whether federal prosecutors are seeing an increase in these types of cases across the country.

To Nicholson's point, marijuana activist Dana Larsen is actually openly offering to send Canadians marijuana seeds to grow "Victory Gardens" this summer in honour of the role civil disobedience played in pushing the government toward legalization.

"I myself pledge to grow a dozen big and beautiful cannabis plants in my yard this year, and I urge you to do the same," wrote Larsen on the web site offering free seeds. "Grow them on your balcony or your windowsill, grow them in your front yard or the back, but let us finally bring our plants out of the closet and into the fresh air where they belong."

In response to Nicholson, Brian Saunders, director of the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, said they are being questioned about why they should proceed with prosecutions, but he repeated the government line that they must enforce the laws until laws are changed.

"What we've heard occasionally from prosecutors, sometimes the courts are questioning why we're proceeding with these cases given the government has announced its intention in the future to legalize the possession of marijuana," he told the committee.

"The position we've taken is quite simply that until Parliament has enacted a new law, the current law remains in force and if cases are referred to us, we will conduct our usual assessment, and if it meets our threshold test for prosecution, we will continue to prosecute that case."

Judges show leniency toward cannabis offenses

George Dolhai, deputy director of prosecutions, noted one current case, "where the judge has indicated a concern that may (lead) to not proceeding." But he didn't have any more details.

Perhaps we'll see more judges following the lead of the Quebec judge who fined a man $1 for growing 30 marijuana plants for medicinal use when he was unable to secure a prescription. The lawyers for the province requested a sentence of $250 and 90 days in jail.

In explaining his sentence, the Judge Mario Larouche welcomed Trudeau's plan to legalize and regulate marijuana, remarking on the ubiquitousness of cannabis in Canadian society, as well as the archaic laws governing possession of the plant.

"We are in a society where people are accused of possession and use of marijuana while more than half the population has already consumed," he said. "These are laws that are obsolete and ridiculous."

h/t National Post, La Presse


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