On December 13, Canadian cannabis activists suffered a delay in their quest for freedom, as Canada’s Supreme Court put off hearing a major constitutional challenge until the spring of 2003.
The Supreme Court had been scheduled to hear arguments as to whether the prohibition on cannabis violates Canada’s Charter of Rights. Yet because of recent media comments by Canadian Justice Minister Martin Cauchon, the Supreme Court decided to wait and see if the government would make any changes to the nation’s marijuana laws before hearing the challenge.
The nine judges on the Supreme Court started the day scheduled for the hearing by asking the assembled lawyers whether they thought the hearing should continue, considering what looked like an impending change to Canada’s pot laws. Yet despite the fact that every assembled lawyer from both sides of the case wanted to move forward, the court still decided to put off their hearing until their next session in Spring 2003.
The legal challenge is based on three cases which have been working their way through Canada’s legal system for years.
The three cases cover all aspects of cannabis prohibition. Chris Clay was charged with cultivation and trafficking in 1995, after putting up for sale a small selection of cannabis clones at his London, Ontario shop The Great Canadian Hemporium (CC#09, The trial of the century). Randy Caine was charged with simple possession in 1993, after being caught smoking a joint with a friend in White Rock, BC (CC#01, Voyages). David malmo-Levine was charged with trafficking in 1997, after openly selling pot through his Harm Reduction Club (CC#09, Heaven with an eagle feather).
The lawyers and activists involved in the combined legal challenge had anticipated having their hearing on December 13, as scheduled, followed by the release of a hopefully favourable decision in the spring of 2003. Now the hearing will be delayed for at least six months, perhaps longer.
Cannabis law reform has become a hot topic among Canadian politicians. In September of this year, Canada’s Senate issued a report which strongly recommended the complete legalization of marijuana for anyone over 16 years of age (CC#40, Canadian Senate recommends legalization). This has been followed by a report from a special Parliamentary Committee, which recommends making possession of up to 30 grams of bud into a ticketing offence, punishable only with a fine.
In response to the Parliamentary report, released only a week before the Supreme Court hearing was scheduled, Justice Minister Cauchon told the media that Canada would soon move to change the law. “If we’re talking about the question of decriminalizing marijuana, we may move ahead quickly as a government,” he said. “I don’t want to give you a date or a time frame, but let’s say the beginning of next year. Give me the first four months of next year.”
Lawyer John Conroy, who has spearheaded many legal challenges to Canada’s pot laws, and who represents Randy Caine in the cannabis challenge, scoffed at the Justice Minister’s claims. “The statements by Mr Cauchon are merely the same meaningless political prattle we’ve heard for the last thirty years,” said Conroy in an interview with Cannabis Culture. “The Canadian government has been promising cannabis decrim since 1971!”
“This is the first time I’ve heard of the Supreme Court putting off a hearing on a major constitutional issue because of political statements they heard on TV,” added Conroy.
Read mainstream media articles about the Supreme Court delay here:
Supreme Court Delays Pot Appeal:
The Left Hand and The Right Hand: