Date: Fri, 08 Aug 1997 16:07:29 -0400 From: Chris Clay

MEDIA RELEASE - August 9, 1997 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE VERDICT TO BE RENDERED IN CANNABIS LAW CHALLENGE LONDON, ON: The long-awaited verdict in a comprehensive legal challenge to Canada's cannabis laws will be delivered by Judge John McCart on August 14 in the London courthouse. The outcome could have far-reaching implications for the future of the country's cannabis prohibition.The case involves 26-year-old London activist and hemp store owner Chris Clay, who was arrested in 1995 for selling a small cannabis plant to an undercover officer. Clay enlisted the help of Osgoode Hall law professor Alan Young and his partner, Toronto lawyer Paul Burstein; together, they launched a constitutional challenge and are seeking to have cannabis removed from the criminal code. Their challenge consists of three main elements. The first element concerns the right to privacy as outlined by the Alaskan Supreme Court in a 1975 decision which legalized pot smoking in private dwellings. The second element concerns the right to bodily autonomy as outlined by the Canadian Supreme Court in a 1988 decision that overturned Canada's abortion laws. The final element concerns the arbitrary placement of cannabis in existing legal statutes. Young argued that laws prohibiting marijuana are overly broad and vague, and therefore, are invalid. To bolster their case, the defence team brought 9 expert witnesses to testify from across North America including Dr. Lester Grinspoon, a psychiatrist from Harvard Medical School; Dr. John Morgan, a pharmacologist from CUNY Medical School; Dr. Patricia Erickson, a senior scientist from the Addiction Research Foundation; Prof. Marie-Andree Bertrand and Order of Canada recipient Dr. Heinz Lehmann, both former members of the LeDain commission, whose 1972 report recommended the decriminalization of cannabis; criminology professor Neil Boyd, from Simon Fraser University; Prof. Eric Single, of the University of Toronto'2s department of preventive medicine and biostatistics; Professor Diane Riley, of the Department of Behavioural Science at the University of Toronto; and Eugene Oscapella, lawyer and founding member of the Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy. Two medical users also testified. Federal Crown prosecutor Kevin Wilson brought only one witness, Dr. Harold Kalant, the director emeritus of the Addiction Research Foundation. While Dr. Kalant showed some concern over possible health problems with chronic daily users, he confirmed that cannabis is safer than both alcohol and tobacco, and he felt it should be decriminalized. However, the Crown decided to focus on jurisdictional concerns instead of dwelling on health issues; Wilson argued that Judge McCart is powerless to strike down laws that were enacted by Parliament. Young disagrees. "Factually, marijuana is relatively harmless, and Parliament does not have the right to criminalize harmless conduct." Young said Parliament has the capacity to act "capriciously and arbitrarily" and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was specifically designed to deal with that event. "This is the Charter era and courts can do this," Young continued. He urged Judge McCart to "send a message to Parliament that it is unacceptable to maintain a cannabis prohibition that causes more harm to society than it can possibly reap." As for Clay, he remains cautiously optimistic. "The Ledain Commission recommended sweeping reforms 25 years ago, yet nothing happened. The last Health Canada survey showed that 69.1% of Canadians support either decriminalization or legalization, and still nothing happened. The politicians refuse to touch the issue, so I'm hopeful that Judge McCart will use the courtroom as a vehicle for long-overdue change." Clay feels strongly that marijuana should be removed from the realm of black market profiteers. "The black market has no age limits or quality controls, and it places billions of tax-free dollars into the hands of organized crime. Our American-style "War on Drugs" approach wastes scarce justice resources yet has done nothing to reduce supply or demand. It has also burdened more than 600,000 Canadians with permanent criminal records for smoking flowers; that's the real crime." Chris Clay (519) 686-8019 Professor Alan Young (416) 736-5595 Paul Burstein=09 (416) 204-1825 __________________________________________________________ For help, please send a HELP command to: