If you've recently been arrested and charged with possession, sale, or use of medical marijuana, you may be wondering whether you have any recourse. Although some provinces have fairly relaxed drug laws, permitting the sale and use of medical (or even recreational) marijuana, these laws aren't always uniform -- or uniformly enforced. However, a recent decision by the Canada Supreme Court could affect provinces' ability to charge individuals for the use of medical marijuana. Read on to learn more about recent changes to Canada's laws governing marijuana and what they may mean for your case.
Which recent marijuana laws were changed?
For years, many provinces have allowed licensed physicians to prescribe marijuana for a variety of ailments -- from the nausea caused by cancer treatment to certain types of seizure disorders. Some patients choose to grow their own marijuana (and are permitted to have a certain number of plants), while others choose to purchase their medication from a dispensary. However, under federal law, marijuana's legality was murky, and these laws were often unevenly enforced.
Under this law, those who consumed legally-prescribed marijuana through edibles, drinks, or other non-smoking forms could face prosecution -- even when a similar level of consumption through smoking would be legal. Because of relatively little scientific data on the extraction of THC through fatty acids, and fear by legislators that products made with cannabis oil would be used for a "high" rather than to alleviate medical symptoms, the use or sale of cannabis oil was prohibited under federal law. Meanwhile, the use or sale of dried marijuana (consumed through smoking) was permitted when prescribed by a medical doctor.
Recently, the Supreme Court of Canada issued a decision which declared null and void the two sections of law that rendered alternative forms of medical marijuana illegal, helping create uniformity among federal marijuana laws and provide guidance to lower courts. This means that in all provinces, it will be legal to sell and consume medical marijuana edibles, as well as smoke or vaporize dried marijuana for medical purposes.
Will your case be thrown out?
If you were charged with the sale or consumption of items made with cannabis oil under the old laws, it's likely you can request that the charges against you be dismissed. Unlike legislative laws, which often take effect on a specified future date and have no retroactive impact on cases that came before them, case law is effective immediately on all courts within the same jurisdiction. For Supreme Court of Canada cases, this means that any decided issues immediately become the law of the land.
These judgments aren't always self-executing, however; you may still need to formally petition the court or district attorney to drop the charges against you. Your case will then be dismissed, and you may be able to later have the arrest expunged from your record for employment or other background purposes. If you don't have any prior criminal history, this should allow you to honestly (and legally) answer "no" to the question "Have you ever been charged with a crime?"
It is important to keep in mind that this change in case law applies only to cases in which you were charged with the possession, use, or sale of a product containing cannabis oil when your possession or consumption of the same product containing dried marijuana would have been legal. If there are additional charges -- like obtaining marijuana without a valid prescription, failing to pay taxes on marijuana products sold, or other related charges not specific to the cannabis oil issue, these may still be prosecuted and punished. You'll want to consult an experienced drug offence lawyer to ensure you're taking advantage of all potential defenses available.