Jurors have options in a compassion club trial

January 25, 2007

Neil Horner, Parksville Qualicum News (Canada)

If Central Island Compassion Club founder Mark Russell ends up going to court to face charges of trafficking in marijuana, Chuck Beyer says he should opt for a jury trial.

That’s because, says Beyer, one of the founders of the B.C. Marijuana Party, a jury can opt not to convict, regardless of what happens in court.

The Port Alberni realtor describes himself as a jury activist and longtime supporter of the medical marijuana movement. He learned about a concept he calls jury nullification, and he’s made it his mission to spread the word about the concept, particularly in cases of compassion club busts.

“The concept of jury nullification goes back hundreds of years in our law,” he says. “Jurors are able to judge the law, as opposed to blindly doing what the judge says.”

Wikipedia says jury nullification occurs where a jury, apparently ignoring the letter of the law and the instructions by the court, and taking into account all of the evidence presented, renders a verdict in contradiction to the law.

This concept, Beyer says, was strengthened in a court case in 2006, when the organizer of a compassion club in Alberta was charged with trafficking in marijuana.

“Two of the jurors asked the judge if they had to convict, and the judge said they did,” he says. “An appeal to the Supreme Court ended up with a landmark decision, ruling judges are not allowed to tell jurors how to rule. That strengthened the concept of jury nullification ... and not just about any law, but specifically about issues with compassion clubs.”

Beyer estimates some 60 per cent of B.C. residents are in favour of marijuana legalization, and that number jumps to 90 per cent in the case of medical marijuana. Because of this, he says, the raid on Mark Russell’s compassion club office in his Dashwood home was an attack on community standards.

“Our drug laws are more than ever written in the United States,” he says.

Beyer says he helped start the B.C. Marijuana Party after running for the NDP provincially nearly a decade ago.

“We had a rift with the NDP and so me and some friends started the Marijuana Party,” he says. “Now we’re all going back to the NDP because they stole the issue.”

Beyer has posted his information about jury nullification on his website, juror.ca.

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