BY: TED SMITH
Despite their humble appearance, cookies may bring big changes to the cannabis laws in Canada.
On the surface, cannabis cookies look no different than any other. Legally, however, cannabis cookies create a complex problem that has huge medical and economic implications.
Victoria police are tired of hearing about pot cookies; the public knows very little about them but would like to see them for sale; members of the Cannabis Buyers’ Clubs of Canada cannot sleep without them; drug companies are scrambling to mimic their effects; and Canadian cannabis laws may not be able to stand when they are properly investigated.
A recent raid late 2009 on the bakery of the CBC of C has proven all of the above points, and more (see CD #23). Charges of possession and possession for the purposes of trafficking against Owen Smith (not related to me) were laid on Dec. 3, when complaints from a neighbour led police to a downtown apartment where the club’s food and skin products were made.
When the Crown did not enter charges against Owen into court in Jan., as the promise to appear notice stated would happen, we assumed everything was being dropped. Now, however, the Crown has decided to proceed with this, giving Owen another notice to appear in court at 2 p.m. on Apr. 29 to face two charges of possession for the purposes of trafficking. So, while for a time we thought that reason would prevail and the crown would not spend its resources arguing a court battle it is destined to lose, it appears we have a fight on our hands.
Over the years in Victoria, the police, politicians, and public have learned a great deal about cannabis cookies and other alternatives to smoking herb.
In Nov. 1996, I made a presentation to Victoria city council, showing them our cannabis salve. I thanked the police for their policy of non-harassment (which did not really exist) and informed those present of our plans to get a storefront.
A new idea occurred to me just before International Medical Marijuana Day, Nov. 15, 1999, and when I gave away 101 cannabis cookies with the media and police watching, it was the first time the local press informed the public about eating cannabis for medical purposes. The following year I was arrested trying to give away 420 cookies, eventually being convicted of trafficking THC by a jury and sentenced to 1 day in jail. It appears THC, CBD, and CBN, the three most abundant and active chemicals present in the cannabis plant, are all listed as separate drugs in the CDSA.
When the CBC of C was raided by police in Jan., Mar., and June 2002, then again in Feb. 2003, we had even more opportunities to use the media to inform the public about our activities. None of the issues regarding the production of extracts came up in the first trial of the club, when we received acquittals for trafficking cannabis from Justice Chaperon. In the second trial, however, the crown dropped the charges of trafficking cannabis and focused instead on convicting me of trafficking cannabis resin, using the food and skin products as evidence.
Before that trial in Jan. 2005, it had not occurred to me that cannabis extracts were not legally protected by the MMAR, and we had not prepared our defence to challenge that issue. Upset at the decision, my lawyer, and the regulations, I filed an appeal. After reading my factum, the Department of Justice and Crown admitted that I was at least due a new trial, given some errors in law made by the judge. Rather than proceed with a new trial, the crown told the BC Court of Appeal to drop the entire matter.
The fact that cannabis resin products are technically illegal is a fundamental flaw within the MMAR.
While constantly raising fears of the potential harms of smoking herb, Health Canada has never formally informed the public that using a cheesecloth to strain butter from plant material, or otherwise extracting the essential oils, is legally considered producing cannabis resin or THC. So if a person with a licence to grow cannabis makes hash by shifting dry bud over a screen to collect the THC crystals, they have produced a different drug according to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, and are subject to stiff penalties if caught with it.
It seems from our experience at the CBC of C, that eating small amounts of low- dosage cannabis products is very important for people facing almost every kind of medical difficulty. This is why we have gone out of our way to make several types of edible and topical cannabis products at the lowest cost possible. As I joked at the 1st Annual Cannabis Convention of the Vancouver Island University Hempology 101 Club, it is my hope that by improving people’s health with inexpensive cookies they will stay alive a few extra years and be able to buy more herb from the club in the meantime!
The drug regulatory system has been created to protect consumer’s health and pharma- ceutical company’s investments, in theory. These regulations are so restrictive and expensive that no plant material has gone through all the requirements to become an approved drug in Canadian history. Cannabis is only legally available in Canada because the courts have forced them to create a system that provides access to the herb. So while cannabis can be legally prescribed, it is not an approved drug. That would require extensive testing that no drug company is willing to pay for.
It appears the only research on cannabis use being done in this country is more focused upon potential medical problems that people with mental health issues could face. As far as anyone knows, Prairie Plant Systems, the company that owns the patent for the standard operating procedures to produce cannabis in Canada according to the contracts they have “won,” is not involved in any other studies. With no studies focused upon the medical uses of cannabis, it is hard to imagine the day when it becomes an approved drug.
Drug companies are very aware that if people can make their own medicines without much cost, their revenues will be dramatically affected. They are actively working to develop and sell drugs that contain or mimic cannabinoids, but their goals are profit motivated. Therefore, it is counter-productive for them to pay for studies on medicines made from the actual plant.
So while Health Canada was forced to create the MMAR to provide legal access to cannabis for medical purposes, by not funding the research necessary for the herb to become an approved drug the government has allowed things to stagnate. There is no hope for resolution without more direction from the courts, as all of the changes made to improve the MMAR have come from court decisions. The courts cannot force drug companies to do the studies required for cannabis to become an approved drug. They can, however, tell Health Canada that until cannabis is an approved drug, doctors should only be required to confirm that a patient has been diagnosed with a serious medical problem.
Ignorance and liability concerns are quickly raised by doctors unwilling to sign MMAR forms, leaving the vast majority of sick Canadians with no recourse but to break the law, or suffer unnecessary pain and premature death. Until cannabis becomes an approved drug, doctors will be reluctant to recommend its use by people suffering from serious medical problems.
Using legal arguments from the Morgentaler decision that successfully defended access to abortions as a medical necessity, we are prepared to again defend our right to determine our health care once we have been diagnosed with a permanent,physical disability or disease. We are lucky to have he Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as it is a great aid in the protection of the innocent and vulnerable against the application of unjust laws, regulations, and by-laws.
Until such time as cannabis becomes an ap- proved drug, we believe that requiring a doctor’s diagnosis of a permanent, physical disability or disease should be enough for a person to try using cannabis.
This bake-op trial will give us several opportunities. We hope to challenge the fact that cannabis resin, THC, CBD, and CBN are not included in the MMAR by proving with science and personal stories that making food and skin cannabis products in the kitchen are safe, easy, and much healthier than the alternatives. We will prove the MMAR is too difficult to get into in the first place.
We will also demonstrate to the courts and public that our club has been diligent in its efforts to provide a safe place for sick people to obtain quality medicines in a relaxed environment and that the CBC of C is worthy of legal protection. Several court decisions, like our earlier Chaperon judgement, have recognized the importance of professionals growing and distributing this herb. Just last year, Health Canada made an amendment to the MMAR allowing a grower to help two people instead of being limited to growing for just one person, as the regulations originally stated. This has frustrated many who have hoped for the day that individuals would be able to legally provide medicine to multiple patients, just like every other medicine used by doctors.
As a remedy to the situation we will be asking the courts for an Exemption #56 from the CDSA to conduct research on the various medical applications of cannabis. This would be similar to the exemption from the law that InSite in Vancouver received under the federal Liberal government that the current government has refused to renew and instead has sought to shut the organization down. When the Supreme Court of Canada considers the InSite case, they will be laying out a framework for cannabis dispensaries to use the Exemption #56 mecha- nism provided in the CDSA.
There are many things supporters can do to help us with the trial, research, and public relations campaign. We will be seeking members willing to testify as to their use of our products. Though we will not be able to get everyone in front of a judge, we do want to fill the courtroom every time Owen makes an appearance. We will try to publicly post court dates on the hempology.ca forums. It should be known that sometimes the courtroom changes during the day, and when at the courthouse it is always best to check the list posted by the front door.
Writing letters to the editor or news directors throughout the trial is an easy way to educate the public, and applies pressure on the media to accurately report the situation. Send- ing messages about the uses of cannabis to individual politicians, agencies, and other government departments is another great way to help get cookies legally in the medicine cabinet.
For the past five years, we have been collecting information from members trying to document the benefits of cannabis compared to prescription drugs. In the near future we will be releasing a new format for that research, making it easier for us to collect data and track changes in health over time. Though it has been a great challenge trying to include members in the changes we have considered to the research project, we hope that the new format will give people an easy way to help prove the value of these medicines and our club.
One of the best ways people can help us is to speak out. Tell your family, friends, co-workers, neighbours, and others, that you use this herb as a medicine—and you will have done us a great favour.
This bake-op trial will take a while to be entirely resolved. Our club is uniquely positioned to strike down the MMAR, and inform the public about the edible and topical applications of cannabis.