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Eight months into legal marijuana, judicial interpretation of federal and provincial legislation governing its use is underway.
A case heard at provincial court in Grand Bank last month successfully challenged one aspect of a section of the provincial Cannabis Control Act.
Judge Harold Porter found Alysha Theresa Cheeseman not guilty of having cannabis in her car available to another person in the vehicle.
According to the evidence of the case, outlined in Porter’s written decision, Cheeseman was acting as a designated driver for three friends when she was stopped by police last December.
After smelling marijuana, the officers demanded the vehicle’s occupants turn over the cannabis in the vehicle, which they did, including an empty bong and 2.8 grams of the drug contained in a mason jar.
“The accused denied any knowledge that any of her passengers were carrying cannabis in her car,” Porter wrote in his May 6 decision.
“She said that the passengers reeked of the smell of cannabis when she went and picked them up. They had called her to ask for a ride because they were too stoned to drive. There is no reason to doubt her evidence.”
In giving the reasons for his decision, Porter stated that the only way Cheeseman could have known for certain that one of her passengers had the mason jar of marijuana on them was if she searched them.
“With respect, I do not believe that the intent of the legislation is to require that designated drivers must search their passengers before driving them home,” Porter wrote.
Porter also made a point to specifically note in his decision that one of the provisions in the legislation exempts taxi drivers from liability if their paying passengers are carrying cannabis, calling it “curious” that the same exemption doesn’t apply to unpaid designated drivers.
Marystown lawyer Don MacBeath, who represented Cheeseman, said to his knowledge his client’s case is the first where this particular section of the new provincial legislation has been interpreted by a court.
“I mean, it’s the antithesis of the purpose of the legislation,” MacBeath told The Southern Gazette on Wednesday, May 15.
“She was driving people who had been smoking marijuana to prevent them from driving while they were impaired.”
MacBeath said the decision will guide the public and the police that a person cannot be convicted of the section in question without knowledge. That’s significant, he says, because it differs from most violations under the Liquor Control Act and the Highway Traffic Act, which are automatic and don’t need to meet the same requirement.
“It’s called strict liability. If the facts are proven, you’re guilty,” MacBeath said.
MacBeath said Cheeseman passed a roadside breathalyzer test for alcohol and was then taken back to the police detachment where she also passed the drug impairment test.
A guilty verdict in the case could have had broad implications, MacBeath suggested.
“If she was guilty, then nobody could drive a car with anybody in it without searching them to make sure they didn’t have marijuana on them,” he said.
“There’s all kinds of new provisions in both the provincial and federal legislation that have to work their way through courts until we find out exactly what they mean according to the courts’ interpretation,” MacBeath added.