Lawyers for 35 people arrested during raids that shut down five compassion clubs in Quebec say they will mount a constitutional challenge to the federal government's medical marijuana laws.
Supporters of those arrested during the raids on June 3 protested outside the Montreal courthouse Monday.
Inside, the 35 were formally charged with drug possession, trafficking and conspiracy.
Health Canada only offers one strain of medical marijuana, and the only legal way to purchase it is through the ministry.
Defence lawyer Jeffrey Boro, who is representing the co-founder of the Culture 420 club in Montreal's Lachine district, said his client was simply filling in the gaps left by the federal government's distribution program.
"The government is failing, as the courts have said … in their duty to put into place a system where people can lawfully obtain what they're lawfully allowed to possess," said Boro.
In early 2003, the Supreme Court of Ontario ruled that the medical access regulations were unconstitutional because they were failing to provide a legal supply of the drug. Ottawa responded later that year with a plan to provide dried marijuana or seeds to Canadians authorized to take marijuana for medical reasons. That plan — occasionally tweaked — remains largely intact to this day.
But it is time for the law to catch up with society, said Boro.
"I don't believe that most, if not all, of the people who were here in court are criminals in the sense of the word that we often use," he said.
"I would like to have a jury of 12 men and women under the age of 40 and watch to see if they'll convict."
Boro's client, Gary Webber, called the federal government's distribution program "a total failure."
Like many other medical marijuana users, Webber said he has been forced to turn to the streets to get the drug since the closure of the clubs.
He refuses to use the strain provided by Health Canada, calling it "poison."
Some other medical marijuana activists have blamed Webber and his organization for the raids.
The recently opened Culture 420 club in Lachine and its second location in the Plateau district required only a declaration made before a commissioner of oaths from those interested in buying marijuana.
Other locations, including the Montreal Compassion Centre, have said they required a doctor's prescription.
Police said they had received several complaints from residents about Culture 420.
Wednesday, June 23, 2010