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Rulings mark growing tolerance to pot in B.C.

The appeal court – the highest court in B.C. – released a 2-1 decision stating medical marijuana access regulations infringe on the Charter rights of people requiring other forms of cannabis to treat illnesses.

Rafal Gerszak/Rafal Gerszak

Court rulings at the provincial and national level on medical marijuana, and on bong-shop employees involved in a dispute with police, reflect a growing tolerance for pot, says an addictions observer.

Zach Walsh, an associate psychology professor at the University of British Columbia, was referring to rulings Thursday in the B.C. Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada.

"Broadly they reflect increased acceptance of cannibis," Mr. Walsh, co-director of the Centre for the Advancement of Psychological Science and Law, said in an interview. "What they have in common is they reflect a growing tolerance of medical and recreational use of cannabis."

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The appeal court – the highest court in B.C. – released a 2-1 decision stating medical marijuana access regulations infringe on the Charter rights of people requiring other forms of cannabis to treat illnesses.

In effect, the highest court in the province is allowing medical marijuana in everything from oils and cookies to teas in a ruling that finds federal health laws limiting weed consumption to the dried variety is unconstitutional.

Also Thursday, lawyers for a B.C. bong-shop owner and one of his employees received word they will get a rare opportunity to present oral arguments as to why the Supreme Court of Canada should hear their appeal. The top court usually rules on leave-to-appeal applications based on written documents.

The bong-shop owner, Timothy Felger, and his employee, Natasha Healy, expected undercover officers to respect a posted sign ordering police to stay away. The two were charged after a sting operation at the shop in Abbotsford, B.C., in 2009. Undercover officers bought marijuana on five separate occasions and saw other customers making similar purchases.

Mr. Felger and Ms. Healy argued at trial that a posted sign instructing police to stay out without a warrant meant the sting amounted to an unreasonable search. The trial judge ruled the evidence could not be used and acquitted the pair in 2012, but the B.C. Court of Appeal has ordered a new trial. The court says in a written decision that the store was a public place, meaning the police were free to investigate marijuana sales there.

The upcoming trial would be set aside if the Supreme Court of Canada agrees to hear the case, said Dan Henderson, Ms. Healy's lawyer.

Oral hearings can be granted in criminal cases involving an indictable offence if the appeal court set aside an acquittal and ordered a new trial. "This is a very rare thing at the Supreme Court," said Adam Dodek, a University of Ottawa law professor.

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Mr. Walsh said he finds the ruling on edibles more significant than that in the bong case.

"It reflects the court starting to pay attention to science behind cannabis and reflecting this is significant medical use," he said. "If people want to use their medicine orally rather than smoking it, the idea that one should be legal and the other illegal is absurd."

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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