Court tosses pot conviction

By Euphoric · Oct 27, 2006 · ·
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    Court tosses pot conviction
    Oct. 26, 2006. 03:40 PM

    CALGARY — A medical marijuana activist says he is raring to be tried again now that the Supreme Court has overturned his 2003 conviction for pot trafficking. “I’m very happy the Supreme Court had the good sense to give me a trial, because I do want a trial by my peers,” Grant Krieger said in an interview Thursday.
    The top court ruled that the Alberta judge who ordered a jury to convict Krieger went too far and violated his rights.
    In a 7-0 judgment Thursday, the court overturned the conviction, in effect sending the case back for a new trial — if the Crown chooses to proceed.
    Krieger, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, has legal permission from the federal government to smoke pot for medical purposes. He doesn’t have permission to supply it to others — but freely admits that he’s done so anyway in an effort to ease the pain of serious illness.
    “I want another trial here. I want this issue on the table just like (abortion activist Henry) Morgentaler’s issue — this has to come out,” said Krieger.
    “Let the collective conscience speak over this issue and not our laws.”
    Officials with Alberta Justice weren’t immediately available to comment on whether a new trial would be ordered.
    If it is, it will mark the third time Krieger faces a jury on the same charge of possession of marijuana for purposes of trafficking.
    Krieger has endured a long legal odyssey since he was first charged in 1999 after police seized 29 marijuana plants, the fruit of a grow-op he admitted to maintaining at his Calgary home.
    He was acquitted by the first jury to hear the case in 2001, but that verdict was later thrown out by the Alberta Court of Appeal.
    At the second trial in 2003, Justice Paul Chrumka of Court of Queen’s Bench instructed the jury that they had no choice, based on the evidence in the case and the letter of the law, except to find Krieger guilty.
    Two jurors objected and said their consciences wouldn’t permit them to convict. They asked to be excused from the case, but the judge refused.
    “They had no choice,” recalled Krieger. “Two of the jurors asked to be excused because they were crying and they didn’t want to convict me — they said I did nothing wrong.”
    Justice Morris Fish, writing for the unanimous Supreme Court, said Chrumka’s actions deprived Krieger of his right to a meaningful jury trial.
    “In effect, the trial judge reduced the jury’s role to a ceremonial one,” wrote Fish. “He ordered the conviction and left to the jury, as a matter of form but not of substance, its delivery in open court.”
    The judge had the legal discretion to refuse the request by the two jurors to withdraw from deliberations, said Fish. But the way he went about it, and the comments he made, only reinforced the fact that he was ordering them to reach a guilty verdict.
    “The jury did not understand that it had the final call on Krieger’s guilt or innocence,” said Fish.
    Krieger said the years of legal battles have taken a toll on his personal life. He and his wife of 25 years are now separated and his family life is a mess. He said he still believes in what he does, but he is not making any money from the marijuana he is distributing to those in need.
    “I am just right in the red so much, though, that I and my family don’t get along together any more because of the costs I have driven up,” he said. “I talk to them maybe every couple of weeks.”
    While he was awaiting the Supreme Court ruling, Krieger was convicted last month on another two trafficking charges in the Alberta courts. He is scheduled to be sentenced in February.
    “I’m looking at mandatory jail time now, but I don’t care. I’m not going to stop,” Krieger said.
    “The only way I’m going to stop is if they give me life in jail.”

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    New trial ordered for pot crusader
    Oct. 27, 2006. 01:00 AM

    An Alberta judge went too far when he instructed a jury to convict a marijuana crusader of trafficking in the drug, even though he admitted he was, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled yesterday.A new trial has been ordered."It's excellent. I always wanted a jury of my peers and not a judge to decide my case," said Grant Wayne Krieger, 52, a Calgary resident who consumes marijuana to treat the symptoms of multiple sclerosis. "The law is based on harm. I'd like to know what harm I've committed."Two jurors asked to be excused after being told to convict Krieger of trafficking at his trial in 2003. Krieger has legal permission to grow and consume marijuana, but admitted to growing it to distribute to others who need it for medicinal purposes. He denied that it was wrong to do so, and at least two jurors seemed to agree with him."I believe that I could not live with myself if I was part of a conviction of this man," Juror No. 8 said in asking to be excused on religious grounds. "I feel this man is not a guilty man, and I can't say guilty."The judge would not recuse the jurors and went on to instruct them to convict. "In effect, the trial judge reduced the jury's role to a ceremonial one: he ordered the conviction and left to the jury, as a matter of form but not of substance, its delivery in open court," wrote Justice Morris Fish, in the unanimous Supreme Court decision. He went on to point out that while a judge may direct a jury to acquit, he may not direct a verdict of guilty."It's an extremely important case in that it reaffirms the constitutional right that a citizen has to a trial by jury," said Krieger's lawyer, John Hooker. "It's the citizen's input that's been reaffirmed, the check and balance that the citizens have on Parliament and the legal system."If the Crown agrees to proceed to trial again, it will be the third time Krieger will appear in court to face the trafficking charges, which were laid in September 1999. He was acquitted at his first trial. The Crown appealed that decision and won. It was sent back to trial again in 2003, when the judge directed the jury to convict.The 2003 trial raised the issue of "jury nullification" — the ability of jurors to reach any finding they feel is right, even if it doesn't conform to the letter of the law.It happened in the case of abortionist Henry Morgentaler — jurors in Quebec and Ontario refused to convict him in separate trials in the 1970s and '80s. The Supreme Court of Canada subsequently struck down the law requiring women to seek the approval of a hospital panel before obtaining an abortion. A spokesman for Justice Minister Vic Toews said yesterday the Conservatives have no intention of introducing legislation to decriminalize marijuana. The former Liberal government had been working on legislation to make possession of small amounts of marijuana a minor offence."It's an excellent decision," said Heather Perkins-McVey, an Ottawa defence lawyer and former chair of the criminal justice section of the Canadian Bar Association. "It reinforces how fundamental the importance of independence of jurors is."She said a good judge will properly direct a jury on how to evaluate the evidence, but the final decision must be left up to them.Krieger was diagnosed with MS in 1978, when he was 25. He began using marijuana to treat the symptoms in 1992, growing his own and transforming it into a butter he consumes to relax his muscles. The effects of the drug last longer if it is eaten rather than smoked, says Krieger. He grew and sold it to others who need it for medicinal purposes on a cost-recovery basis, he said. "I learned the hard way how to look after myself; now I'm trying to teach other people."Users have complained that marijuana produced by government-approved growers is too weak to be of any benefit to them. These days, Krieger said he buys the drug on the black market.
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