Don't let passengers roll joints in your car, Corner Brook man learns the hard way

A Corner Brook man was found guilty of having cannabis unlawfully in his vehicle, after police pulled him over and found his passenger with weed scattered over his lap and rolling papers in his hand.

A police officer testified it looked like the passenger was in the process of rolling a joint to smoke.

The man represented himself in court and argued the weed wasn't "readily available," since it was spilled in his lap and not rolled in a joint. He also denied knowing it was there.

A judge rejected his version of events and found him guilty.

It's just the second written decision under a section of Newfoundland and Labrador's cannabis legislation that deals with possessing cannabis in a vehicle, and the first where the accused was found guilty.

Provincial laws state cannabis must be stored in the package it was purchased in and the seal must be unbroken when being transported in a vehicle. However, a subsection states it can be transported in an unsealed package if it is "not otherwise readily available" to anyone in the vehicle.

Police officers have suggested that subsection could allow for unsealed marijuana to be legally transported in the trunk.

The driver argued it could allow for loose weed inside the vehicle.

Judge Wayne Gorman wasn't having it. He also wasn't leaving room for an ignorance of the law defence.

"[The driver] has failed to establish that he acted with all due diligence," he wrote. "If [he] was unaware that his passenger's access to the cannabis constituted an offence, that would constitute a mistake of law and thus it would not constitute a defence."

Should different rules apply for designated drivers?

The only other written decision under that law registered online describes a different situation, and raises an interesting question about cannabis legislation.

A woman was pulled over last December on the Burin Peninsula with a strong smell of marijuana coming from inside the car. She told the police officer she was a designated driver for three of her friends.

There was a bong – a device used to smoke cannabis – in the car, and a passenger had a mason jar of marijuana. She was charged with unlawfully carrying cannabis in her vehicle — same as the Corner Brook man.

CBC

However, the judge in her case, Harold Porter, raised concerns with how the law applies to designated drivers.

There is an exemption in the law for taxi drivers and bus drivers who are transporting passengers with cannabis.

"It is curious that the same exemption does not apply to an unpaid designated driver," Porter wrote.

The woman denied knowing one of her passengers had a jar of weed, and the judge didn't doubt her.

"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.

"I accept the evidence of the accused, to the effect that she did not know that one of the passengers had cannabis in his coat."

She was found not guilty of the offence last May.

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