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Court Strikes Down Marijuana Possession Law
Toronto Star
by Tracey Tyler, Staff Reporter
July 31, 2000

Ontario's top court has struck down the law making marijuana possession a crime.

In a long-awaited set of rulings, the Ontario Court of Appeal said Monday that the law is unconstitutional because it fails to take into account the needs of sick and dying Canadians who use the drug as medicine.

But the law will remain on the books for another 12 months, during which time Parliament will have the option of rewriting the law.

If Ottawa fails to do so - as was the case after the Supreme Court of Canada struck down a criminal ban on abortion in 1986 - the area north of the 49th parallel will become a ''marijuana-free'' zone, according to a lawyer involved with the case.

''We will be in a marijuana-free country if Parliament does nothing in the next 12 months,'' Osgoode Hall law school professor Alan Young told reporters outside court after the decisions were released.

His client, Chris Clay, who was appealing 1997 convictions for possession and trafficking, argued a blanket ban on marijuana was unconstitutional, but wasn't able to persuade the appeal court that there is no rational legal basis for prohibiting its recreational use.

However, lawyers for Torontonian Terry Parker, an epileptic who smokes marijuana to control seizures, successfully countered the crown's appeal of a trial judge's decision to toss out charges against him in 1997.

''It went so far beyond what we hoped for,'' Parker's lawyer, Aaron Harnett, said of yesterday's decision that found the government's current process for exempting medical marijuana users from prosecution to be flawed.

The problems, said Young, include the fact that the criteria for exemptions is arbitrary and even those who get them have no guaranteed access to a safe and legal supply of marijuana because people selling them the drug can still be charged, he said.

''This exempting process is somewhat silly, where they say okay, here's an exemption, now go off and get your medicine,'' he said. ''It's like telling people if you want penicillin, get some bread and let the mould grow and then you'll have your medicine.''