TORONTO — Ottawa is considering whether to appeal an Ontario court ruling that if left to stand could make the possession of marijuana legal in the province, officials said Wednesday.
“The government of Canada is reviewing the decision and will consider its options,” Leslie Meerburg, spokeswoman for Health Canada, said in an email.
Justice Donald Taliano gave Ottawa until July to fix the federal medical marijuana program or face the prospect of effectively legalizing possession and production of cannabis.
In a ruling released earlier this week, Taliano found the program to be unconstitutional because sick people cannot get access to medical marijuana through appropriate means and must resort to illegal actions such as growing their own supply.
As a result, ill people who should be able to get the drugs are branded as criminals, he said in the decision.
The St. Catharines justice declared the program to be invalid, as well as the laws prohibiting possession and production of cannabis, since they can be used to criminally charge medical users unable to get the drugs through legal avenues.
If left to stand, the decision — which takes effect in 90 days — would make possession and production of marijuana legal in Ontario, said Alan Young, a Toronto lawyer involved in several other challenges to Canada’s cannabis law.
That would encourage judges in other provinces strike down the law in their jurisdictions when confronted with similar cases, he said.
The matter would likely end up before the Supreme Court of Canada, which can rule on federal laws, he said.
“Health Canada has no Plan B,” Young said Wednesday. “So the knee-jerk reaction will be to appeal” and fight vigorously to obtain a stay of judgment that would keep the law in place until the appeal is resolved, he said.
“This case is just exposing the tip of the iceberg in terms of potential litigation against the government of Canada, so they can defend this all they want by appealing, but they’re not going to escape the onslaught,” he added.
“It makes more sense to concede defeat, surrender and come up with something that really helps Canadians.”