- 74 years of cannabis prohibition
could end here!
??? Experts in marijuana and the
law predict that this is the case that could really do it. The wall of
misinformation and misunderstanding may come tumbling down, and Cannabis
Canadians are looking forward to that happy day!
??? It all started on May
17, 1995, when Hemp Nation proprietor Chris Clay was arrested for selling
viable cannabis seeds and cuttings from his store in London, Ontario. Clay
got together with Osgoode Hall law professor Alan Young and his partner
Paul Burstein to launch a constitutional challenge to Canadian cannabis
laws. Professor Young had been planning and dreaming of such a case for
over ten years.
Clay and Young prepared for the trial
in the months that followed, carefully enlisting expert witnesses and publicizing
their efforts through the media and on their website. As the trial date
approached, the powers-that-be apparently began to become concerned about
the seriousness of Young’s case. The Crown offered to drop all charges
against Clay if he would plead guilty to simple possession, but he refused.
On December 6, 1996, in an obvious effort
to put pressure on Clay to plea bargain and drop his court challenge, RCMP
and London police raided Clay’s office, warehouse and the retail outlet
of Hemp Nation. Police confiscated about $40,000 worth of seeds and paraphernalia
along with the store’s computers and financial records. They simultaneously
raided Chris’ home. “I was just waking up and heard a loud banging at the
door; once I opened it, the police poured into the house and searched it,
finding a gram of marijuana. I was placed under arrest and taken to jail,
where I remained for four days.”
??? The police had purchased
seeds in June of 1996, but had waited until the store received its Christmas
stock before making the raid. They deliberately busted Clay on a Friday,
forcing him to spend three nights in jail before he could seek release
on $10,000 bail the following Monday. “While the raids took place a man
robbed a bank a block from our store, then had some drinks at a bar two
doors down before escaping on foot.” remarked Clay.
??? After the December
raid Clay re-stocked Hemp Nation with only hemp products, such as paper,
clothing, soap, and food, avoiding seeds and paraphernalia for the time
??? The trial extended from
April 28 to May 14, and received a fair amount of media coverage in Ontario,
including an introductory story in the Toronto Star, occasional articles
in the Ottawa Citizen and almost daily coverage in the London Free Press,
as well as a spot on the CBC news program The National. Brief trial accounts
were also made on many local radio and TV stations across Canada, but the
trial garnered no comprehensive national coverage.
hemp or marijuana
???? Alan Young began
the trial on April 28 by clarifying the difference between industrial hemp
and marijuana. Young argued that Clay’s seeds and cuttings had not been
tested for THC content, and that had they been tested, they would not have
exceeded the internationally accepted 0.3% THC hemp/marijuana threshold
established by defense witness Ernest Small of Agriculture Canada.
??? Young pointed out that,
under the Narcotic Control Act, the hemp tie Chris Clay was wearing to
look properly respectful and spiffed-up for the trial would likely test
positive as “cannabis marijuana”.
??? Gordon Scheifele, a
former agronomist who grew licensed plots of cannabis plants in Ontario
and plans to grow more, told the court he sees great potential for hemp
as an alternative cash crop. Scheifele testified that hemp can be used
for paper, fabric, building materials, automobile interiors, seed oil,
and binding material.
driving & social skills
??? Expert psychiatrist
Heinz Lehmann testified that a driver talking on a cellular phone is more
of a menace on the roads than one who has just smoked a joint. Lehmann
has treated nearly 20,000 patients in his long career. He squelched theories
of developing tolerance from marijuana use, and the idea that marijuana
use leads to the use of other drugs.
??? Lehmann cited a study
which found that youths who have experimented with cannabis are better
adjusted and have superior social skills than teens who “just say no”.
costs of prohibition
??? Eric Single, preventive
medicine and biostatistics professor at the University of Toronto, testified
that the total financial cost of all substance abuse in Canada was $18.5
billion. Illicit drugs accounted for only $1.4 billion, with alcohol and
tobacco costing Canadians over $17 billion.
??? Single also cited a
1994 Health Canada poll which found that 69.1% of Canadians do not support
criminal punishment for cannabis possession.
tool of oppression
??? On May 12, Simon Fraser
University criminology professor Neil Boyd discussed the history of Canadian
cannabis laws. Boyd told the court that cannabis laws were quietly enacted
without informed debate as a tool to oppress Canada’s Asian minority.
??? Lester Grinspoon, a
psychiatry professor at Harvard Medical School testified there is no justification
for prohibiting cannabis for medicinal use. The professor concluded that
cannabis is the safest of all intoxicants, on a level with caffeine, yet
beneficial for alleviating pain and other discomforts.
Grinspoon emphasized that it is impossible
to overdose and there have been no deaths from cannabis intake. “In the
future, marijuana will be recognized as a remarkable medicine” Grinspoon
told the court. He said cannabis should be legalized and controlled like
??? On May 13, two women
told the court that illicit cannabis smoking has been the only medicinal
relief they have found for their ailments. Lynn Harichy, who suffers from
multiple sclerosis, praised Clay for referring her to a London cannabis
buyer’s club. Brenda Rochford, a victim of Ehler Danlos syndrome, told
how smoking cannabis helps her cope with her constant pain and intense
??? Dr John Paul Morgan,
medical professor at the City of New York Medical School, has spent 21
years studying all facets of drugs, primarily marijuana. He testified that
smoking cannabis, even heavy smoking, is less harmful than alcohol and
tobacco. Dr Morgan also testified that the effects of cannabis are “low
level”, in the range of caffeine, and he challenged much misinformation
about marijuana, blaming the media for being biased to “show harm”.
??? On May 14, the Controlled
Drugs and Substances Act replaced the Narcotic Control Act of 1961. The
new law broadens police powers of search so that they can use a single
warrant to search every person in a bar or pub. It also allows for the
seizure of homes used to grow cannabis, and eliminates jury trials for
possession and trafficking in under 3 kilos.
??? Defense lawyer Alan
Young said he thought that the new legislation did little to improve the
acceptance of cannabis in Canada. “It gives the police the ability to do
reverse stings. In other words, they can sucker people in by trying to
sell them drugs.” said Young during a break.
??? Also on May 14, the
Crown presented their only expert witness, 76 year-old Dr Harold Kalant
from the Addiction Research Foundation. Under cross-examination, Dr Kalant
concurred with defense witness Dr John Morgan that there is no measurable
difference in the levels of tar in cannabis and tobacco smoke.
Saying he would not consider cannabis
use by his own children criminal behavior, Kalant called Canada’s treatment
of cannabis users “regrettable”.
??? The trial concluded
with Alan Young asking the court to right the wrongs that have been inflicted
on Canadian society, and change the cannabis laws. Mr Young said that if
politicians won’t change the law, then they must be prodded by the courts.
“I hope I’ve provided you with sufficient tools for this court to be a
vehicle for change.”
??? Crown attorney Kevin
Wilson disagreed, saying that this area is not up to the court, and should
be left to the legislature. “This is a policy issue and the Charter does
not empower the courts to take over policy making from Parliament.”
??? Wilson also cited the
recent Senate committee report on Bill C-8, which stopped short of recommending
that the House of Commons decriminalize marijuana. “Because they thought
it would be futile.” replied Justice John McCart, showing that he had been
paying attention, and hopefully betraying his sympathies as well.
??? According to Chris
Clay, “Judge John McCart seemed quite fair and had an open mind… he made
some very interesting comments that showed he’s absorbing the evidence.”
??? Judge McCart will take
more time to absorb the many thousands of pages of evidence. He is expected
to announce a date for his decision on June 24 and will likely render judgement
in the late summer or early fall.
University of Ottawa professor Joseph
Magnet, an expert in constitutional law, says Clay’s chances are credible.
“Young has made a very serious defence,” he said. Similar arguments succeeded
in overturning Canada’s abortion laws and almost succeeded in making prostitution
legal. If Judge McCart accepts Alan Young’s argument, then it could serve
as a precedent for courts across the country.
??? At a minimum, a verdict
in Clay’s favour will put cannabis laws in limbo until the Ontario Court
of Appeal renders a decision. Even if Judge McCart only partially agrees
with Clay, accepting the argument that Clay might have been selling industrial
hemp seeds and plants, the Crown will likely appeal the decision at their
own expense of around $10,000. If the decision goes against Clay then he
will have to pay the $10,000 for an appeal. For now the ball is in the
Judge McCart’s court.
For More Info
Contact Chris Clay at Hemp Nation: 343
Richmond St, London, Ontario, N6A 3C2; tel (519) 433-5267; email [email protected];