“As far as I can see it,” said Canadian defense attorney Brian McAllister, “we’re embarking on the summer of unregulated pot in Ontario.”
He reached that conclusion last month after his case involving a teenager possessing a small amount of marijuana was dismissed by Superior Court Justice Steven Rogin, who ruled that there is currently no legal basis in Ontario for prosecuting those accused of possessing small amounts of marijuana.
Rogin based his decision on a 2000 Ontario Court of Appeal ruling that provincial laws against marijuana possession were invalid because they failed to make provisions for medical marijuana use. However, to prevent mass clam-baking throughout the province, the court suspended its ruling for 12 months, allowing Parliament time to correct the oversight. But Ottawa didn’t act; as a result, courts are now dismissing small possession cases.
But some police departments across the province are still collaring dope smokers.
“We’ll still arrest you and seize it [the pot],” said staff sergeant Ed McNorton, media relations officer for the Windsor Police Department. “We are just waiting for some clarification of the laws.”
According to McNorton, Windsor police are simply documenting the possession and then releasing the suspect, but can still file charges within six months.
“A lot of people are asking what basis they have,” said McAllister in regards to the arrests. “People are intent on finding out what is going to happen.”
The Court of Appeal is scheduled to consider the issue in late July.
In addition to the Ontario reefer madness, the Liberal Party is pushing a cannabis reform bill in Parliament that would relax penalties for those caught with small amounts of marijuana while stiffening punishment for growers.
Criticisms have flowed into Ottawa quicker than Phish fanatics to Windsor. President George W. Bush and his cronies are at the prime minister’s throat, saying Canadian marijuana reform could result in an increase of the flow of pot into the United States, necessitating increased security on the northern border. The administration also hinted at future trading conflicts with Canada if the bill becomes law.
Cherise Miles, public affairs officer for U.S. Customs at the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, says there are no plans to increase border security because of the marijuana issues in Canada.
“We are already on the increase,” said Miles. “We have been ever since 9-11. What will happen remains to be seen.”
McAllister doesn’t understand Bush’s rationale.
“I think the current U.S. approach [to Canada’s laws] is absolutely nonsensical and ridiculous,” said McAllister, who suggested that the marijuana reforms in Canada would result in pot laws less liberal than in 12 American states.
“The whole notion that these reforms are going to bring a huge, fast influx of pot into the U.S. doesn’t make sense. The people growing the pot are actually going to be punished more,” he added, referring to the proposed legislation.
That bill calls for someone found with up to 15 grams of pot to get a ticket, much like a traffic citation. (There are 28 grams to an ounce.) The range of fine would depend on whether the perpetrator is a minor or an adult, and whether the person is committing a crime while under the influence of pot.
Also under the new law, penalties for growers would double, meaning that someone growing one to three plants could receive a fine of up to $5,000 and a year in jail. For growing more than 25 plants, a grower could receive up to 10 years behind bars.
The proposal — at least citations for small amounts — is an idea that Debra Wright, co-founder of the Drug Policy Forum of Michigan, hopes will catch the attention of U.S. and Michigan lawmakers.
“The U.S. is really lagging behind the rest of the world in this,” said Wright. “I’m hoping that we’ll put these ideas on the table, discuss them, and hopefully bring about some reform.”
The 100-member Drug Policy Forum of Michigan organizes conferences to discuss drug policy and push for reform.
Many politicians say marijuana reform sends the wrong message to kids.
“For years, police and health officials have been saying, ‘Say no to drugs,’” said McNorton, the Windsor police spokesman. “Now, these new laws are undermining it.
“I’ve been a police officer for many years and I’ve never seen anything good come out of illicit drugs.”
Wright argues that reform could actually help protect kids.
“Our drug policy is not keeping marijuana out of the hands of children,” she said. “If anything it adds to the problem. I have a teenager who could tell you it’s easier to get drugs than alcohol. If they [drugs] were regulated, it would be better kept from kids.”
In Ontario, Luke Hildreth, who works in a Windsor head shop, says many people want to see liberal laws, but not ones that will negatively affect Canadian youth. He said that on the streets of London, Ontario, you see people everywhere with T-shirts and hats emblazoned with marijuana leaves. Near the entrance to the London campus of the Toronto School of Business, students can be seen playing hacky sack and openly and rather loudly discussing which drugs, or mixture of drugs, produce the best high.
“Kids are exposed to this all the time,” said Hildreth. “It’s just like alcohol, which is much more harmful.”
“But I still like it,” chuckled Hildreth.
Whether this summer of “unregulated pot in Ontario” will stretch into fall and beyond remains to be seen. A government appeal on the possession case may not be heard until the end of July, and the cannabis reform bill still has a long way to go in Parliament.
In the meantime, attorney McAllister hopes something good can result.
“Maybe it will show Canadians that it isn’t needed to be so regulated,” said McAllister, “or maybe, not regulated at all.”Don Jordan is an editorial intern for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org