B.C.'s marijuana dispensaries fear Canada-wide crackdown after Quebec raids
As a new medical marijuana dispensary is set to open next week in Vancouver's West End, the B.C. Compassion Club Society expressed concern Friday that raids on four pot shops in Montreal could be the start of a disturbing trend of police crackdowns across the country.
Desperate medical pot users in Quebec have been calling the society on Commercial Drive asking to become members in Vancouver, Elizabeth Glowacki, a spokeswoman for the society, said. The society has a mail order program for members who do not live in the city.
On Thursday, police arrested 35 people in raids on four medical marijuana clubs in Quebec. Montreal police allege many of the clients were not registered with Health Canada and therefore the operators were trafficking an illegal substance.
Montreal police seized 59 kilograms of pot, some hashish and approximately $10,000 in cash. Authorities expect to lay charges of drug trafficking and conspiracy.
Also Thursday, Maple Ridge RCMP arrested a man who is licensed by Health Canada to grow pot, making it the first such case in Metro Vancouver where a legal grower has had the drug seized by police. Mounties allege he was growing more plants than he was licensed for.
Glowacki said she feared the consequences if raids were to be carried on cannabis clubs out in Vancouver.
"People will be in pain," she said. "And people will be stressed out about where they are going to get their medicine. We provide a lot of support as well. I would be devastated if they were to show up and we were closed."
Three dispensaries are open in Vancouver and a fourth will open next week in the West End. There are also clubs in Maple Ridge, Kelowna, Nelson, Victoria and Nanaimo.
VPD spokeswoman Jana McGuinness said she couldn't comment on whether police were monitoring the Vancouver clubs, since they fall under the jurisdiction of the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority.
Vancouver's new medical cannabis club will be at Thurlow and Davie. The centre's proximity to St. Paul's Hospital and the Dr. Peter AIDS Centre also means patients with terminal illness will have easier access to an array of cannabis products.
At the B.C. Compassion Club Society on Friday, patrons went behind closed curtains to pick from a menu offering different strains of marijuana for different types of illnesses. Glowacki said some strains are better for helping people sleep, while other ease nausea, which is good for chemotherapy patients. The club also offers organic pot-laden baked goods for those who don't like to smoke.
One of the patrons, Jeffery Collard, 48, said the compassion club is vital to his coping with his debilitating illness. The former provincial government employee has been on disability since 2005 when he woke up one morning with chronic pain down his neck and arm.
Collard was in hospital for 30 days. It turned out a disc in his neck was crumbling, but he had no idea how it happened.
He had an unsuccessful operation, and the doctors told him there was nothing more they could do but provide pain management. Collard said his doctor at St. Paul's Hospital sent him to the compassion club.
"They said all it can do is run its course and I'll either die or become paralyzed," he said, his voice shaking.
Collard said focusing on his health and pain management has become a full-time job. At one point, the pain was so intense he became suicidal.
Collard said he smokes one joint a day and takes morphine pills prescribed by his doctor.
Dispensaries operate in a legal grey area because, while the courts say it is unconstitutional to deny marijuana to someone who is ill, selling pot to people who are not registered with Health Canada is illegal.
Conservative MP Randy Kamp has been vocal about wanting to shut down a dispensary that just opened in Maple Ridge. He says Health Canada doesn't license compassion clubs or dispensaries to distribute marijuana and doing so is contrary to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
"I think there does need to be a better coordination between Health Canada and local authorities, including law enforcement agencies," he said.
The Montreal Compassion Centre, which Montreal police took down Thursday, was also raided in 2000. There were no convictions in the case. A judge ruled it unconstitutional to allow Canadians to use the drug for medical reasons but then deny them access.
However, Jacob Hunter, policy director for the Beyond Prohibition Foundation, said registering with Health Canada often forces patients to wait up to six months to be approved.
"Some people just don't have that kind of time. It is a horrible thing to watch someone you love suffer."
BY TIFFANY CRAWFORD, VANCOUVER SUN JUNE 5, 2010