With Canada set to legalize recreational marijuana this summer, one still unanswered question is what will happen to the Canadians who are charged with possession, but appear in court after July 1.
Bill C-45 will allow Canadians over 18 to possess up to 30 grams of marijuana, but there are still no clear answers on whether outstanding possession charges will be stayed, withdrawn or pursued after legalization. One local advocate said the government needs to make some decisions quickly in order to avoid wasting time and taxpayers’ money.
“There has not been any clear answer to pending charges at all,” Prince Albert advocate and medical cannabis consultant Jamie Novotny said. “The federal government has absolutely not said anything about it.”
Novotny said the government is likely setting themselves up for bigger headaches in the future by ignoring the potential for problems. If the federal Crown decides charges will not be pursued after legalization, Novotny said local and provincial governments will likely have wasted a significant amount of time and money on unnecessary policing and court costs.
“We are only about seven months away,” he said. “This can come back on them and cost them a lot more money in the future.”
Canada’s Public Prosecution Service, the federal authority that prosecutes drug charges, declined to comment on the matter. Spokesperson Nathalie Houle said they prosecute based on the current laws, and could not speculate on the potential effects of legalization.
“We cannot speak to proposed legislation,” Houle told paNOW. “As for the impact it will have, it’s really too soon to tell.”
Department of Justice Spokesperson Derrick Pieters said the new legislation legalizing cannabis possession will apply in cases where an offender was found guilty or pleaded guilty before legalization, as long as they had not yet been sentenced.
“Once Bill C-45 becomes law, persons convicted of cannabis offences under the old provisions dealing with cannabis – but not yet sentenced – would be subject to the lower penalties contained in the new legislation,” Pieters said.
While the lower penalties will apply to convicted offenders who are sentenced after legalization, Pieters said the decisions on what to do with outstanding cannabis charges that have not yet led to a conviction will be left to the federal Crown prosecutors.
“The department of justice does not handle prosecutions,” Pieters said. “Decisions on dismissing specific cases or charges would be made by the responsible prosecutorial authorities and the courts.”
--With files from The Canadian Press
On Twitter: @TMacPhersonNews
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