Thanks to recent court decisions, the Canadian province of Ontario is now one of the world’s freest zones for marijuana users.
In 2000, Ontario courts gave the government one year to change the law to make marijuana available for medical use, or else the laws against cannabis would be struck down entirely. Yet the Liberal government didn’t change the law, they merely enacted new regulations, which are themselves being challenged in court.
So on May 16, 2003, Ontario’s Superior Court ruled that cannabis possession is “not an offense known to law,” because the government had failed to properly change the marijuana laws to allow for medical use.
Although the court decision striking down the pot possession law has been appealed to the province’s highest court, it is currently binding on Ontario police and all lower courts. Under Canadian law, no one can be charged for pot possession in Ontario.
In an open letter “to the citizens of Ontario,” the President of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police complained that courts “have, in effect, legalized the simple possession of cannabis in Ontario.”
The letter outlined what the police see as a shocking situation. According to the letter, voiding the possession law means that “while it is contrary to most city bylaws to smoke tobacco in public places, it is not an offense to smoke marijuana!”
The letter explained that now, “even a 12-year-old can possess and smoke marijuana, even within a school environment!” The police also complained that even toking while driving is not an offense.
Most Ontario police departments have reluctantly announced that no arrests will be made for pot possession of up to 30 grams. Yet many police departments, including Toronto’s, declared that they would continue to seize marijuana, and record the names of those found in possession for possible future prosecution.
The Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police sent out an advisory to their members, supporting this policy. They recommend that with a possession suspect, “if it’s under 30 grams, process them in accordance with your department’s policy procedure, lob the drugs in the vault, do up all the paperwork… then wait until we see what’s going to happen from the appeals court.”
Yet lawyers and activists disagree with the legality of these police tactics. Lawyer Brian McAllister, who argued the recent case which overturned the possession law, warned that police could face lawsuits for harassing people over pot possession. Some marijuana activists threatened retribution against police who continued to take people’s buds.
“This new policy could open the Toronto force to a wide range of liability for illegal search and seizure,” said Tim Meehan from the Ontario Consumers for Safe Access to Recreational Cannabis, adding that there could be “a financially painful lesson for the police” if they continue to harass pot-people and defy the court decisions.
In an effort to stand down the police and promote the fact that Ontario has become North America’s new cannabis capital, Cannabis Culture publisher Marc Emery flew out from his base in Vancouver to put on a special smoke-in in front of the Toronto police headquarters.
While police hid inside their offices, refusing to come out or make any comments to the media, Emery stood on police property, jubilantly smoked a pipe packed with buds, and handed out joints to the crowd gathered around him.
“With SARS and all the related difficulties we’ve had in Ontario,” Emery told the assembled journalists, “this is the ideal solution to bring hundreds of thousands of tourists here, for the fine Canadian marijuana that circulates throughout the province.”
Emery’s stunt got coverage in all major Canadian newspapers, as well as some US media, including CNN. “Tell everybody around the world to come to Ontario,” said Emery, “and celebrate a unique freedom available only here.”
Emery was pleased with the results of his event, explaining that he hoped the police would ignore other local pot puffers the way they had ignored him.
“I thought the most provocative place to smoke marijuana with others would be right in front of the police’s doorstep,” said Emery. “I trust if the police wanted to apprehend our pot they could’ve done so.”
Summer of Legalization tour
A few days later, riding the success of his Toronto protest, Emery announced that he would be having a “Summer of Legalization Smoke Out Tour” of Canadian police headquarters, hitting at least 16 cities across the country during July and August.
“Cannabis is legal everywhere in Canada,” Emery told Cannabis Culture before starting his tour. “Canadians need to smoke it openly in front of police to demonstrate and secure their freedoms!”
“The marijuana possession laws were deemed invalid in Ontario Courts, but the law struck down is one that affects all Canadians,” explains Emery in a pamphlet he printed to hand out at the rallies. “It is my belief that since a Court of Appeal has struck down the cannabis possession law, and that at the time of the verdict of the Court of Appeal in July 2000 the government did not appeal the decision, but agreed to abide by the ruling, then in fact cannabis possession is not an offense known to law anywhere in Canada.”
Indeed, some provinces have already shown that they agree with the argument that pot possession is now legal across the nation. Judges in the provinces of Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia have already dismissed some possession charges based on the Ontario decision, and similar cases are being argued in several other provinces.
The first stop on Emery’s tour was in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on July 9. Emery gave a stirring speech to the gathered crowd of about 50, then was arrested by police at 4:20 as soon as he tried to light up his treasured “Canucks Bong.”
Emery was charged for possession of the charred half-gram in the bowl and spent the night in jail. He was released the next day, but the judge warned Emery that continued pot protests could land him back in jail, where he would be held until his possession trial, scheduled for September. His protest and arrest was the top headline of both city newspapers.
Emery’s release was too late for him to make it to the next stop on his tour, Dauphin, Manitoba. So instead he spoke to the gathered crowd of 100 by telephone, with his words amplified through a bullhorn. Yet even without Emery’s direct presence, Dauphin police felt obliged to make arrests ? two of the rally participants were busted for possession.
The next rally was July 12, at the police station in Regina, Saskatchewan. Emery made a stirring speech to the crowd of about 70, and then was arrested again while taking a hit from a “Saskatchewan Roughriders” bong donated by a local headshop. Emery was charged with possession and taken to jail, but was released that evening.
Two other people were also arrested at the rally ? one for possession, and one for obstruction of justice, as a man laid his body in the path between the cops and Emery.
As of this writing in mid-July, Emery planned to continue his cross-country tour, and was adding more dates for September, culminating in a September 25 protest at Canada’s Parliament buildings. “Since marijuana is legal to smoke in Ontario, we can smoke right at the front doors of Parliament,” Emery told Cannabis Culture. “When Parliament reconvenes we should demonstrate our freedom right on their doorstep.”
Canada’s federal government is working on a new marijuana law which would overrule these court decisions and recriminalize possession, at least for a while. But this law will not be passed until November at the soonest, and may not be passed at all. If Marc Emery has his way, by September Canadians everywhere will be toking openly, and the cops and feds will be hard-pressed to put the ganja genie back into the bottle.