Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Victimless crime

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Canada's criminalization of marijuana, ramped up under the Tory government of Stephen Harper, continues to be undermined in the very places that backstop the Criminal Code -- the courts. This week, a judge found a man who openly sold pot to people in need of pain relief was guilty of a victimless crime.

With no one hurting, no one at risk for Grant Krieger's crime, Queen's Bench Justice Shawn Greenberg slapped him instead with probation.

In fact, the judge reflected, it seemed that Mr. Krieger was doing his clients a favour. All who came to the pot advocate, himself suffering with multiple sclerosis, found a ready source of quality weed, and would get it free if unable to afford the natural source of pain relief.

Medical marijuana is available with a doctor's prescription, but doctors, bereft of scientific evidence on medical marijuana, have been reluctant to comply.

The judge's comments would be remarkable enough had the charge been simple possession. But Mr. Krieger was charged with the much more serious offence of trafficking.

Justice Greenberg's sentencing reflected the attitudes of many Canadians on the marijuana file, especially given the mess Ottawa has made of getting it to the sick. Indeed, amid mounting evidence of pot's lack of harm for recreational users, many Canadians wonder why it isn't legalized and regulated, as are alcohol and tobacco. Eight years ago, the Canadian Medical Association called pot an innocuous drug and warned that possession convictions were a greater harm than the health effects of moderate use.

The Harper government refuses to pick up the decriminalization agenda of the former Liberal administration and, in fact, has taken a harder line on pot. The courts must respect Parliament's right to write the laws, but Justice Greenberg's decision shows that discretion in sentencing can go a long way to protest their futility.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 23, 2009 A10

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