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Canada’s marijuana laws declared unconstitutional

The Story

Prescription drugs couldn't stop Terry Parker's epileptic seizures. Neither could two brain surgeries. The only thing that works is marijuana and Parker is appealing to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms for the right to smoke it legally. Today, the Ontario Court of Appeal upholds this right and goes a step further. It warns the federal government to change its pot laws within a year or risk losing them altogether.

Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: July 31, 2000
Guests: Dann Michols, Terry Parker, Alan Young
Host: Peter Mansbridge
Reporter: Eric Sorensen
Duration: 2:13

Did You know?

• Terry Parker developed epilepsy at age four after he was hit in the head by a swing. Heavy doses of prescription drugs failed to stop the seizures and at age 14 he underwent a right temporal lobectomy (removal of part of the brain.) The seizures only intensified. Three years later he had a second lobectomy, also without improvement. Parker says he has been hospitalized more than a hundred times due to accidents resulting from his seizures.

• Parker began smoking marijuana after his second surgery, and his doctor noticed that the seizures halted. He was arrested for possession in 1987, but acquitted due to "medical necessity."

• On July 18, 1996, Parker was arrested for possession, cultivation and trafficking, and he appealed to the charter rights to "life, liberty and security." In 1997 a judge agreed that Parker's charter rights were violated, and ordered the police to return the plants they had seized.

• On July 31, 2000, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that the law prohibiting marijuana possession was unconstitutional because it did not take users of medicinal marijuana into account. Justice Marc Rosenberg wrote, "I have concluded that the trial judge was right in finding that Parker needs marihuana to control the symptoms of his epilepsy. I have also concluded that the prohibition on the cultivation and possession of marihuana is unconstitutional."

• "I would declare the prohibition on the possession of marihuana in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to be of no force and effect," Justice Rosenberg continued. "However, since this would leave a gap in the regulatory scheme until Parliament could amend the legislation to comply with the Charter, I would suspend the declaration of invalidity for a year. During this period, the marihuana law remains in full force and effect."

• The ruling was essentially a challenge to the federal government to change marijuana laws within one year to take medical users into account, or risk having courts throw out charges against anyone found in possession of marijuana.

• The 1996 trafficking charges against Parker were upheld. Parker had admitted to distributing some of the marijuana to other patients.

• After the Parker ruling, the federal government created a new Medical Marijuana Access program, and hundreds of patients were granted exemptions. But the laws were not changed, and a legal source of marijuana was not provided. As a result, starting in 2003 several courts began throwing out possession charges based on the Parker decision.


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