Thu, May 08, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Pot activist takes a hit in Canada's Supreme Court

REUTERS , OTTAWA

There is now another reason to call it Canada's high court.

An activist seeking the overturn of Canada's marijuana law smoked hashish and cannabis on Tuesday before arguing his own case in the Supreme Court, dressed completely in hemp products.

"I took a couple hits off some bubble hash and a little bit of cannabis," David Malmo-Levine told reporters after delivering a 40-minute monologue to the nine justices.

"I was happy, hungry and relaxed, but I was not impaired."

But his arguments seem to have fallen a little flat with the justices, who will not rule for a number of months.

After having mercilessly grilled a lawyer arguing a companion case, they declined to question Malmo-Levine despite his pleas to "hammer away" at him.

His arguments were nothing if not innovative, however.

He argued that just as the court had created a prohibition against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, he should receive similar constitutional protection on the basis of "substance orientation" and "vocation orientation."

"A natural preference or taste for herbs is a substance orientation," said the 31-year-old university dropout, sporting a black shirt, jacket, pants and boots, white tie, and multicolored "hankie," all made from hemp.

"Why should not cannabis cafe operators receive vocation orientation protection?"

He was charged in 1996 with possession of marijuana for the purposes of trafficking, when police raided a "Harm Reduction Club" in Vancouver which provided pot to its 1,800 members and which he helped run.

Appealing to the court to strike down the law, he said: "For the vast section of people all over the world who have an innate feeling deep down inside they should have a right to self-medicate and control their own minds, you'll be heroes."

Ironically, Ottawa defended the law before the Supreme Court even though it plans to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The chief federal lawyer arguing the case, David Frankel, said that even under the proposed changes to the law, the government would keep criminal penalties for possession of larger amounts of pot and for trafficking in the substance.

Justice Charles Gonthier asked if the balancing of how harmful marijuana is was not a political question.

Burstein responded that "there is an insufficient amount of harm to warrant the very heavy hammer of the criminal law," and therefore courts should in fact interfere.

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