As Smoke Clears, Tories, Liberals React to Pot Ruling

A day after an Ontario court stayed charges of growing and possessing marijuana against him, Matthew Mernagh wasted no time exercising his newly acquired freedom to consume medicinal cannabis, setting some seeds germinating in a paper towel and paying a visit to Vapour Central in downtown Toronto.

The same ruling that granted Mr. Mernagh, who suffers from seizures and fibromyalgia, the right to use the drug to manage his symptoms also struck down the government’s medicinal marijuana program – arguing it was too difficult for patients to obtain the necessary licence to use cannabis legally – and ruled the country’s laws against possessing and growing the drug unconstitutional.

“It’s unbelievable. It feels like we won the Stanley Cup and brought it home,” said Mr. Mernagh, 37, as he celebrated with supporters. “We’re all just sitting here, awestruck.”

But while he was free to partake immediately, the rest of the ruling will not come into effect for three months, leaving other medicinal users without licences to wait and see whether the government would appeal the ruling or re-tool the program.

Previous court decisions on the subject have either faced appeal or forced the government to change the law to help medicinal users obtain cannabis.

On Wednesday, civil servants refused to tip their hands as to which path they would follow this time. Political parties vying for power, however, suggested they were open to rewriting the rules.

The Public Prosecution Service, which must decide whether to appeal the case, declined to comment on what it would do. A spokeswoman for Health Canada said it was too soon to say what would happen.

The Conservatives, meanwhile, said plans to overhaul the Marihuana Medical Access Regulations were already being worked out.

“We are disappointed with this decision,” wrote Tim Vail, a spokesman for Tory Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, in an e-mail. “We are currently considering longer-term measures to reform the medical access program and its regulations.”

Mr. Vail refused to specify what those measures are.

The Liberals issued a similar response, reiterating their opposition to legalizing the drug, but leaving the door open to decriminalizing possession of small amounts and revisiting the regulations for medicinal users.

“We need to study the decision in more detail,” said party spokesman Michael O’Shaughnessy. “In government, we would work with the Department of Justice and Health Canada to see what could be done to ensure the system works efficiently for Canadians in need of this treatment.”

The NDP campaign could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Mernagh’s lawyer, meanwhile, said he expected the government would appeal, which would mean the ruling would not come into effect until after the case was decided in a higher court. In the meantime, however, the current decision could help people facing similar charges in Ontario by setting a legal precedent they could raise in their own cases.

“Anyone currently facing growing or possession charges can say ‘I am being charged under a law that’s been found to be unconstitutional,’” said Paul Lewin.

One of those people is Robert Neron, a resident of a small northern town near Kapuskasing. He has been licensed to use marijuana to relieve his cervical dystonia for more than a decade, but says Health Canada has taken more than seven months to process his application to renew his licence and, while waiting on the renewal, police seized his plants and charged him. He is due in court next week.

“I hope all my charges will be dropped – [the Mernagh decision]will have an impact on my case,” he said. “This court just reaffirmed what we’ve been fighting for all these years.”

Mr. Mernagh, for his part, said he was ready to continue the legal battle to make sure he and other medicinal users can get their pot. Marijuana is the only drug that’s helped control his pain while still allowing him to function, he said.

“This is my medicine of choice and I wouldn’t know what to do without it,” he said.

– Article from The Globe and Mail.

Ottawa weighs appeal after Ontario judge rules against medical marijuana program

by Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press

Ottawa is considering whether to appeal an Ontario court ruling that if left to stand could make the possession of marijuana legal in the province, officials said Wednesday.

“The government of Canada is reviewing the decision and will consider its options,” Leslie Meerburg, spokeswoman for Health Canada, said in an email.

Justice Donald Taliano gave Ottawa until July to fix the federal medical marijuana program or face the prospect of effectively legalizing possession and production of cannabis.

In a ruling released earlier this week, Taliano found the program to be unconstitutional because sick people cannot get access to medical marijuana through appropriate means and must resort to illegal actions such as growing their own supply.

As a result, ill people who should be able to get the drugs are branded as criminals, he said in the decision.

The St. Catharines justice declared the program to be invalid, as well as the laws prohibiting possession and production of cannabis, since they can be used to criminally charge medical users unable to get the drugs through legal avenues.

If left to stand, the decision — which takes effect in 90 days — would make possession and production of marijuana legal in Ontario, said Alan Young, a Toronto lawyer involved in several other challenges to Canada’s cannabis law.

That would encourage judges in other provinces strike down the law in their jurisdictions when confronted with similar cases, he said.

The matter would likely end up before the Supreme Court of Canada, which can rule on federal laws, he said.

“Health Canada has no Plan B,” Young said Wednesday. “So the knee-jerk reaction will be to appeal” and fight vigorously to obtain a stay of judgment that would keep the law in place until the appeal is resolved, he said.

“This case is just exposing the tip of the iceberg in terms of potential litigation against the government of Canada, so they can defend this all they want by appealing, but they’re not going to escape the onslaught,” he added.

“It makes more sense to concede defeat, surrender and come up with something that really helps Canadians.”

The judge’s decision came in a criminal case involving Matthew Mernagh, 37, of St. Catharines, who suffers from fibromyalgia, scoliosis, seizures and depression.

Unable to find a doctor who would support his application for a medical marijuana licence, Mernagh began to grow his own and was eventually charged with producing the drug.

Taliano found that doctors across the country widely ignored Health Canada’s medical marijuana program and refused to sign off on forms that allow sick people to legally obtain cannabis.

Mernagh’s lawyer, Paul Lewin, said he’s confident the decision will be upheld by the Ontario Court of Appeal.

Meanwhile, Mernagh has been granted an exemption that allows him to smoke and grow cannabis.

“I’ve already started sprouting seeds,” he said.

Canada’s medical marijuana program was created in 2000 after the Ontario Court of Appeal upheld a Toronto man’s right to smoke pot to alleviate his epileptic seizures.

In that case, the court gave Ottawa a year to change the law so that sick people could access the drugs they need, or see it struck down altogether.

– Article from CityNews.

Lawmakers, Police Seek Guidance After Pot Laws Quashed

by Jennifer Yang, The Star

Lawmakers and enforcers are looking for guidance on how to react to an Ontario Superior Court decision quashing Canada’s marijuana laws.

On Monday, a St. Catharines judge ruled the federal medical marijuana program unconstitutional because patients are largely prevented from legally accessing the drugs they need. Justice Donald Taliano also struck down the country’s laws against possessing and producing cannabis, giving Ottawa three months to fix the program before marijuana is effectively legalized.

The government is now awaiting direction from the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, said Tim Vail, spokesperson for Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, who is currently running for re-election in Nunavut.

“We are disappointed with this decision,” Vail said in an emailed statement. “The independent Public Prosecution Service has to decide whether to appeal this decision.

“While the courts have said that there must be reasonable access to marijuana for medical purposes, we believe that this must be done in a controlled fashion to ensure public safety.”

Vail added that the government is considering “longer-term measures” to reform the medical marijuana program.

The Public Prosecution Service is studying the judge’s decision and has 30 days to appeal the ruling which it is expected to do.

In the meantime, the Ontario Provincial Police will continue to enforce marijuana laws — even though they may cease to exist in less than 90 days.

“It does create a legal grey zone,” said OPP spokesman Sgt. Pierre Chamberland. “Until that grey zone becomes a black and white, then the legislation remains status quo, and our actions in regards to enforcing the law remain status quo.”

In Toronto, police are waiting to consult with federal officials before deciding what impact the court decision will have on front-line drug policing.

“We need to read the decision, but also we need to speak with some colleagues in the criminal justice system,” said Toronto police spokesman Mark Pugash. “We’ll put out guidance to our officers so (they) know where we stand.”

Taliano made his ruling based on findings that Canadian doctors have “massively boycotted” the medical marijuana program.

Patients seeking a licence to obtain or grow marijuana for medicinal purposes must first find a doctor to support their application, a near-impossible task that forces sick people to resort to illegal measures, Taliano said in his ruling.

Toronto family physician Dr. Tsvi Gallant said most doctors are uneducated about the medicinal properties of marijuana and physicians are largely discouraged by their professional associations from participating in the program.

“I know most of my colleagues would refuse to touch it,” Gallant said. “A lot of family physicians will not even want to deal with it in the first place.”

Gallant said patients must also renew their medical marijuana licences every year but processing times are glacially slow.

“It’s much easier to go to the street and buy it illegally,” said Gallant, who encourages most of his patients to buy cannabis from compassion clubs. “Patients start breaking the law. And it happens again and again and again and again.”

– Article originally from The Star.