Ottawa Citizen Pubdate: Friday 9 May 1997

Drug 'bonds' fund court fight Defendant offers marijuana samples for financial support John Ibbitson Citizen/Southam National Bureau London Free Press / Chris Clay of the Hemp Retail Store in London, Ont., shows off the victory bonds he is selling for $25 to help fight his constitutional challenge to make marijuana legal. He'll give anyone who buys one a quarter-ounce of the drug in exchange. Buy a victory bond, and Chris Clay will give you a quarter ounce of marijuana. That's not legal, but that's the point. Mr. Clay, 26, is in a London, Ont., courtroom, charged with trafficking the weed. In his defence he has launched a constitutional challenge of the laws against marijuana. The bonds are part of his legal defence fund. Purchase one of the signed and numbered documents for $25, and you will be able to redeem it if and when Mr. Clay's case results in grass being legal. The challenge is being taken seriously by legal experts.If Mr. Clay is acquitted, laws prohibiting marijuana could be at least temporarily suspended across the country. Mr. Clay was charged in 1995 with selling marijuana plants from his store, Hemp Nation, in London. During the trial, which will enter its third week on Monday, Osgoode Hall law professor Alan Young has argued that Ontario Court Justice John McCart should review restrictions against marijuana under the Narcotic Control Act, on the grounds they might violate Mr. Clay's constitutional rights. The gist of the argument is that marijuana is not particularly harmful as a drug, compared to other legal substances such as alcohol and tobacco, and that incidental and personal use of marijuana should therefore not be a criminal offence in Canada. To make it so, Mr. Young maintains, infringes on personal liberty as guaranteed by the constitution. As part of his case, Mr. Young has paraded half a dozen expert witnesses before the court. One of them was Patricia Erickson, a senior researcher at the Addiction Research Foundation, who testified that marijuana has a bad reputation because only those cases associated with negative behaviour are studied, while the vast majority of recreational users are ignored. Other experts, from a University of Toronto researcher to a lawyer advocating legal reforms, have disputed claims that marijuana serves as a gateway to harder drugs, or that criminalizing the drug controls its use. For Mr. Young, the case represents an opportunity of a lifetime. He has said he has waited to defend a case such as this for 10 years. Crown attorney Kevin Wilson thus far has largely confined his case to demonstrating that Mr. Clay knew he might be breaking existing laws by selling the marijuana plants. But the Crown has indicated it might bring in scientific and constitutional experts of its own. University of Ottawa professor Joseph Magnet, an expert in constitutional law, says Mr. Clay's chances are credible. "Young has made a very serious defence," he said. Similar arguments succeeded in overturning Canada's abortion laws and almost succeeded in making prostitution legal. Nonetheless, Mr. Magnet warned, there are serious obstacles to an acquittal. "The court has not said that the liberty interest is so broad as to encompass lifestyle choices," he said. And the Crown doesn't have to prove that marijuana is harmful, Mr. Magnet said. It need only prove there is a reasonable basis for believing it could be harmful. If, however, Judge McCart did accept Mr. Young's argument, then it could serve as a precedent for courts across the country, at least until the Ontario Court of Appeal rendered its opinion. To date, Mr. Clay says, he has raised $8,000 by selling the bonds, mostly through his Internet web page ( The trial continues Monday. __________________________________________________________ For help, please send a HELP command to: