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Canada court to keep Marijuana illegal
( 2003-12-24 09:30) (Agencies)

Canada's supreme court upheld the country's current laws against marijuana possession on Tuesday, even as Prime Minister Paul Martin presses to eliminate jail sentences for people caught with small amounts of the drug.

In a 6-3 decision, the justices ruled that possession of marijuana would remain a criminal offense for now. In a separate, unanimous decision, it maintained trafficking of the drug was illegal.

Occasional marijuana user Jim Hoad smokes a marijuana cigarette on Canada's Parliament Hill. [CP Archive]
The ruling does not preclude Martin from going ahead with a proposed bill that would soften penalities. U.S. President Bush has expressed concerns over the bill, fearing it could encourage drug smuggling along the border.

The court ruling prompted praise from law enforcement groups but disappointment from proponents of marijuana legalization.

"My huge patriotism may slowly be dissipating. I have a lot of faith in my country, in freedom and justice, but it doesn't seem like we have a whole lot of that left," said Dominic Kramer, a marijuana activist who runs a store that sells hemp products and paraphernalia in Toronto.

Tony Cannavino, president of the Canadian Police Association, welcomed the decision but expressed concern over Martin's intent to pursue the controversial bill. He said marijuana growing seemed to be on the rise.

"We have more and more `grow ops' across the country," he told reporters in Ottawa. "You wouldn't see that 10 years ago."

A key question in the Supreme Court decision was whether Parliament has the constitutional right to punish marijuana possession, given the lack of proven serious harms from its use.

The high court examined three cases involving two pot activists and one man who was caught smoking. All three failed to persuade lower courts that the pot law is unconstitutional.

Defendant David Malmo-Levine took a hit of hash last May before arguing his case in person at the high court while dressed head-to-toe in clothes made of hemp cloth. He once ran the Harm Reduction Club, a non-profit cooperative in Vancouver that offered advice on safe marijuana use while supplying it to some 1,800 members.

Another case centered on Christopher Clay, who ran the Hemp Nation in London, Ontario, a store he started with a government loan. He sold marijuana seeds and seedlings in a deliberate challenge to the law.

Alan Young, lawyer for Clay, said his initial disappointment shifted to anger after leafing through the lengthy decision.

"There's so much smoke and mirrors in this," he said. "This issue has been a political hot potato that has bounced between Parliament and the courts for the past decade."

Last week Martin said he planned to reintroduce a bill, first proposed under former Prime Minister Jean Chretien, that would wipe out potential jail time and criminal records for those convicted of marijuana possession.

The bill did not legalize the drug, and maintained or increased already stiff penalties for large-scale growers and traffickers. It made possession of less than 15 grams of pot a minor offense punishable by fines of $100 to $400, much like traffic tickets.

Critics said 15 grams, the equivalent of roughly 15 to 20 joints, was too much to equate with casual use.

But the legislation died when Parliament adjourned last month to give Martin a fresh start in January.

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