DRUG WAR BRIEFS: Canadian Law Reform

January 10- The Toronto Star reports: Ottawa has been given six months to come up with a way of ensuring sick Canadians have access to medical marijuana - including the possibility of setting up regulated distribution centres - or simple possession of the drug will become legal in Ontario, if not all of Canada, legal experts say.

In a long-awaited decision released yesterday, an Ontario Superior Court judge struck down federal rules governing access to medical marijuana, finding them unconstitutional because they force seriously ill people who use pot as medicine to break the law to obtain the drug.

"Laws which put seriously ill, vulnerable people in a position where they have to deal with the criminal underworld to obtain medicine they have been authorized to take violate the constitutional right to security of the person," Justice Sidney Lederman said.

January 14- The Calgary Herald reports: Don't expect marijuana to be decriminalized any time soon despite promises from Justice Minister Martin Cauchon, say some experts and drug advocates.

Skeptics predict Cauchon's promised legislation, expected by spring, will die on the order paper at the end of the current session of Parliament. They suggest it is being introduced as a time-buying sop without backing from the prime minister. "There won't be enough time to pass it," said Alan Young, a law professor at Osgoode Hall law school. "He (Cauchon) knows it's going to die on the order paper."

Last month, a House of Commons committee recommended that people be allowed to possess up to 30 grams of marijuana without risking criminal penalties.

Young said the biggest obstacle to decriminalization in Canada is U.S. opposition - a view shared by many marijuana crusaders. "That is the only obstacle," said Mark Emery of the B.C. Marijuana Party. "There is no real internal opposition in Canada any more."

U.S. drug czar John Walters has warned that the United States might tighten security along its northern border to prevent a surge in contraband cannabis if Canadian laws are eased.

There appears to be widespread acceptance in Canada on the need for drug reform. Even the right-wing Fraser Institute advocates decriminalization of marijuana.

January 15- Colorados Daily Camera reports: Two U.S. pilots who mistakenly dropped a bomb that killed four Canadians in Afghanistan had been issued amphetamines before the mission to stay awake, a defense attorney argued Tuesday at the opening of a military hearing to determine whether they should be court-martialed.

The Air Force-issued "go pills" may have impaired the pilots' judgment, said David Beck, lawyer for Maj. William Umbach. He also said the pilots were given antidepressants upon returning from their mission. Umbach and Maj. Harry Schmidt are charged with involuntary manslaughter for dropping the guided bomb near Kandahar, Afghanistan, on April 17. The Air Force has said they failed to make sure there were no allied troops in the area.

"The Air Force has a problem. They have administered 'go pills' to soldiers that the manufacturers have stated affect performance and judgment," Beck said.

January 17- Wisconsins Racine Journal Times reports: Faced with a threatened class action civil rights lawsuit, the city has agreed to dismiss all 442 citations issued at a dance party in early November.

The city will also refund the money of people who pleaded guilty or no contest and paid fines, and will dismiss those citations as well, Assistant City Attorney Scott Lewis said in Municipal Court Thursday.

In return, the American Civil Liberties Union will not sue the city, as it had been prepared to do.

The tickets given at the party originally carried a $968 fine for each person. The city knocked that down to $100 to entice people into pleaded guilty or no contest, thus avoiding the need to conduct hundreds of municipal trials.

When that didn't work, the city reduced the citation to disorderly conduct. When that didn't work, the city offered to expunge the original citation, and its drug references, from people's records forever.

Even so, few people accepted the deals. The majority of people cited chose to fight it out in court.

Send tips and comments to Kevin Nelson at kcnelson@premier1.net.

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