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December 2003
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No joy in Canada

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The federal law making possession of small amounts of marijuana illegal does not violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Canada’s top court says.
The Supreme Court of Canada ruled 6-3 Tuesday that jailing someone with small amounts is constitutional.
This means that marijuana policy reform is going to be up to the government, which has batted around various plans for decriminalization for some time (over the vocal objections of the United States Minister of Drug Policy Disinformation John Walters).
It all boils down to debates over what amount consists of decriminalized small possession (5-10-15 grams) and how much they’re going to jack up the penalties for dealers and growers to “balance” the decriminalization – a far cry from the Senate’s original call for legalization.
Update: From a dissent in the ruling by J. Deschamps (text of decisions available here).

The inclusion of cannabis in the schedule to the Narcotic Control Act infringes the accused’s right to liberty without regard for the principles of fundamental justice. For the state to be able to justify limiting an individual’s liberty, the legislation upon which it bases its actions must not be arbitrary. In this case, the legislation is arbitrary. First, it seems doubtful that it is appropriate to classify marihuana consumption as conduct giving rise to a legitimate use of the criminal law in light of the Charter, since, apart from the risks related to the operation of vehicles and the impact on public health care and social assistance systems, the moderate use of marihuana is on the whole harmless. Second, in view of the availability of more tailored methods, the choice of the criminal law for controlling conduct that causes little harm to moderate users or to control high-risk groups for whom the effectiveness of deterrence or correction is highly dubious is out of keeping with Canadian society’s standards of justice. Third, the harm caused by prohibiting marihuana is fundamentally disproportionate to the problems that the state seeks to suppress. This harm far outweighs the benefits that the prohibition can bring.
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