NORML Canada: March 2013 Newsletter
Greetings Cannabis Law Reform Community,
It’s time to think about what we aim to achieve in 2013. Outside of Canada, it seems as though cannabis law reform is happening everywhere, yet within our borders cannabis law reform still eludes us.
Under its current government, Canada has not embraced the global trend towards cannabis law reform. We should not let this fact discourage our reform efforts. Rather, Canada’s failure to be an international leader in cannabis law reform should be our rallying call.
It is time for each of us to do our part to end cannabis prohibition. This month’s issue is about what you can do to help.
After a long, cold winter, Canadians have a lot to be excited about. To many, one of the highlights of spring is taking part in one of Canada’s national 420 rallies.
On April 20th, cannabis reformers around the world will step into the public spotlight to demonstrate their support for change. From small rural gatherings, to large urban rallies, these events use civil disobedience to advocate reforming cannabis laws.
Each year, thousands of Canadians congregate locally to demonstrate their commitment to cannabis law reform. These events range in size from thousands of supporters, to just a handful. Regardless of size, each event sends the message: it’s time to end cannabis prohibition.
Erb 4 Herb
The cannabis law reform community got very lucky this year. Robert Erb, a long-time activist and resident of Terrance BC, won the lottery. Continuing his history of activism and philanthropy, Mr. Erb has pledged to use his winnings to fund the legalization of cannabis in Canada.
Mr. Erb started by supporting the various 420 rallies, which occur annually in Canada. The website, www.420rally.ca, was created as a place where activists and organizers can go to register their 420 event.
Additionally, each province has been given funding to help expand on, and improve, existing 420 rallies. The goal was to not only increase attendance, but also try and improve the media coverage received by each event. Mr. Erb hopes his contributions will help the 420 rallies have a greater impact on cannabis law reform.
As a result of Mr. Erb’s contributions, this year’s 420 rallies will be something to remember. Many established 420 rallies expect record-breaking attendance, while many other cities will be able to grow fledgling events.
NORML Canada’s Participation
This year, NORML Canada will be represented at many 420 rallies. Look for NORML Canada representatives, literature and banners at your local event. If you would like NORML Canada to help support your local 420 rally, email firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know.
We look forward to meeting new, and existing members of NORML Canada this 420.
It is important everyone with a stake in cannabis law reform support their local 420 rally to demonstrate Canada is ready for change.
A list of cities holding a 420 rally can be found here.
In many ways, the political treatment of cannabis policy is illustrative of the rift between Canadian citizens and their government. Mr. Erb described cannabis prohibition as the biggest social injustice of his lifetime. For decades, a growing majority of Canadians have supported reforming cannabis laws. However, in 2012, the Government increased the criminalization of cannabis users, sellers and producers. This demonstrates our democratic process is broken when it comes to cannabis policy.
Democratizing Cannabis Policy
The organizers of Fill the Hill 2013 are looking to “democratize cannabis policy”. Organizers point out a majority of Canadians support reforming cannabis laws, yet our democratically elected government has reinforced the prohibition of cannabis. They hope their event will achieve two goals: demonstrate to Canadians that cannabis law reform is best achieved at the ballot box, and demonstrate to Canadian politicians there is political capital to be gained by supporting reform. To demonstrate the political nature of cannabis policy, Fill the Hill will give attendees a chance to vote on the future of cannabis policy in Canada. Representatives of the Liberal Party of Canada, the Canadian NDP and the Green Party of Canada will present their party’s position on cannabis law reform. Then attendees will be able to vote for their favourite party using a cell phone. While the vote obviously will not be binding on the government, organizers hope it will demonstrate cannabis is a viable political issue, one which politicians ought to pay attention to.
From Activism to Lobbying
One of the lessons learned from the successful reforms in Colorado and Washington State is the power of lobbying. While Canada is endowed with many prominent activists, until recently, few have focused on directly lobbying the Federal Government to change its cannabis policies. Fill the Hill will feature two cannabis lobbyists. Joshua Kapppel, who helped write and pass Amendment 64 in Colorado and Andrea Matrosovs of the NORML Woman’s Alliance of Canada, will explain what individuals can do to help make change.
A Final Push
NORML Canada recognizes the importance of ensuring cannabis policy reform becomes a central issue in the next electoral cycle. It is up to our community to ensure politicians are made to take a position on cannabis policy. It is encouraging to see increasing support for legalizing and regulating cannabis at the federal level from potential Liberal leadership candidates, as well as MP Elizabeth May’s Green Party of Canada. However, this is only the first step towards legalization – far from ensuring law reform will occur. It is up to each of us to do our part to bring about cannabis law reform.
There was a time when cannabis policy debate was binary: some groups sought to “legalize”, while others alleged society would crumble without the criminal prohibition against cannabis. Over four decades of debate, the discourse regarding the future of cannabis policy has taken on 50 shades of green.
A spectrum of cannabis law reform options have emerged, ranging from decriminalizing small-scale possession, to the creation of a full-fledged commercial market for recreational cannabis.
At NORML Canada, we think it is important for cannabis law reformers to develop a clear image of what cannabis laws should be. It is no longer sufficient to simply lament prohibition. It is incumbent on our community to develop clear, reasoned and practical visions of the future.
Over the coming months, NORML Canada will be developing its vision of the future. This project will culminate in the publication of NORML Canada’s cannabis reform proposal.
This proposal will elucidate out a detailed, pragmatic proposal to legalizing and regulating cannabis in Canada.
As we undertake this project, we hope to solicit input from our members regarding some of the key issues. Each month, our newsletter will contain a legalization issue we would like to hear input on.
NORML Canada’s Legalization Issue of the Month:
For Matthew Mernagh, the promise of future cannabis law reform must be bitter sweet. Suffering from a number of medical ailments, Mr. Mernagh found great relief from using medical cannabis. However, he was unable to find a doctor to support his medical marihuana use. Faced with a choice between debilitating illness and breaking the law, Mr. Mernagh chose the latter, and self-produced a small number of cannabis plants in his residence. In 2008, he was charged with the unlawful production of cannabis. What has transpired in the past five years has been rollercoaster ride through Canada’s legal system. In 2011, Taliano J of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice accepted Mr. Mernagh’s constitutionally protected rights were violated by a medical marihuana system utilizing unwilling and uncooperative physicians as gatekeepers. However, the victory was short-lived. In 2013, the Court of Appeal for Ontario overturned Taliano J. The court held Mr. Mernagh failed to provide sufficient evidence to prove qualified individuals were being improperly denied access to medical marihuana. Mr. Mernagh’s legal saga to invalidate and reform the medical marihuana regime in Canada entered its final chapter this week as his lawyer, our Mr. Paul Lewin, will file an application requesting leave to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada. Mr. Mernagh does not have an automatic right to appeal. He must obtain leave of the court. In determining whether to grant leave, the court’s primary concern is whether issues of national importance are raised in the appeal. Once the application is served and filed, the government will have an opportunity to respond. The application raises three issues. First, where marijuana is known to mitigate a significant medical ailment, is a blanket ban against possession arbitrary and overbroad? Must there be a ‘safety valve’ to allow an appropriate sufferer some access? Are the medical access regulations unconstitutional where it forces sufferers to arbitrarily ‘doctor shop’ until they find one willing to conduct a fair evaluation? Second, when criminal charges of possession are laid against a person with a significant medical illness that is ameliorated by marihuana, is the medical defence unavailable, simply because he did not comply with the access regulations? Third, the burden is on the claimant to establish the access regulations violate his Charter rights. To what degree must the claimant establish evidence of repeated arbitrary rejections, or patterns of other sick people suffering similar outcomes? It is hoped these issues will capture the national dimension of this issue. Mr. Mernagh adduced 22 patient witnesses from across this country. Countless others have faced similar experiences, unable to get the medical document required to obtain legal medical cannabis. Regardless of the outcome, Mr. Mernagh’s legal campaign is illustrative of the reform which can emerge from a criminal defence. When faced with an unjust legal regime, Mr. Mernagh chose to challenge it, rather than seek to make a deal and reduce his personal liabilities. However, Mr. Mernagh’s situation also illustrates equally the difficulties of using the criminal law to achieve legal reform. First, the criminal defence, by its nature, is reactive rather than proactive. Second, the legal procedures do not afford the accused with a sufficient chance to discover the government’s purpose and intention behind the law being challenged. Finally, the nature of appeals means even a resounding victory in the first instance does not make certain a positive end result. We would like to wish Mr. Mernagh the best of luck with his legal campaign.
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