Pubdate: Tue, 01 Aug 2000 Source: United Press International Copyright: 2000 United Press International


TORONTO, July 31 (UPI) -- Ontario's highest court ruled Monday that a federal law restricting the use of marijuana was unconstitutional, and gave Ottawa 12 months to amend it.

The ruling by the Ontario Court of Appeal came in a case involving Toronto resident Terry Parker, 45, who had won a lower court decision in 1997 permitting him to grow cannabis for medicinal purposes. Parker, who suffers from epilepsy, had successfully argued in the lower court that he needed the drug for medicinal purposes and was unable to buy it legally in pharmacies.

The Ontario public prosecutor decided to appeal the lower court decision, and the case remained before the Court of Appeal even though Ottawa later eased restrictions on marijuana use for medicinal purposes. In October 1999, Health Minister Alan Rock said restrictions on the use of marijuana would be eased for those who needed it to alleviate conditions resulting from AIDS, epilepsy or other chronic diseases. However, those who needed the drug had to apply to Ottawa for special permission to grow it privately.

Health Canada reportedly received at least 100 applications in the following weeks, but only a small number received permission. On Monday, the Ontario Court of Appeal dismissed the province's appeal of the 1997 lower court ruling and called on Ottawa to decriminalize the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

The Court of Appeal said the federal law did not recognize that people who suffered from chronic illnesses may have a genuine need of the drug. Parker's lawyer, Aaron Harnett, said the current system, under which people with certain chronic illnesses could apply to Ottawa for permission to grow the drug, was not working.

Harnett told reporters outside the court that there were "hundreds of people still waiting" for a response to their applications. They had "never received any confirmation from the government," or indeed "any response to their applications."

"They are sitting there sick, waiting for the government maybe to give them an exemption, or maybe not," he said. "The court here said today that's not enough."

The Court of Appeal gave Ottawa 12 months to amend the Narcotics Control Act. There was no immediate reaction from Ottawa to the court ruling.