Compassion falls in Quebec

A look at the recent raids that put medical users and compassion clubs accross Canada on edge


A chill swept through the Canadian cannabis community as word spread of compassion clubs being raided throughout Quebec, on June 3. When the smoke cleared, there would be five clubs shut down by police in Montreal and Quebec City, along with 35 arrests, and reports of anywhere from 100 to 135 pounds of cannabis and $10,000 seized.

Quebec had been in a state of delicate peace with their compassion clubs for 10 years—the result of a raid on the Montreal Compassion Club that took place in 2000. In that case, the trial judge ruled it unconstitutional to allow people to use marijuana for medical reasons, but not allow the means for them to geacquire their medicine.

The youngest club in Quebec, Culture 420, opened its doors in January of this year, drawng fire from neighbours, local business owners, and Lachine Mayor Claude Dauphin.

“If it’s a matter of compassion, we’re in favour of that, but I don’t think it’s a matter of compassion,” Dauphin told the Gazette in April. “I’ve seen kids between 15 and 20 years old going in there.” He also said that the police, whose station was just around the corner from the new club, and the borough were looking at the situation “very carefully.”

Coordinators of Culture 420 also shared their hopes of opening another 250 clubs across the country in the next two years. Media, aware of the concerns that clients who used the club “appeared too healthy” to require its services, started running stories on the club and the conflict in the neighbourhood over its appearance there.

“No one going into that place is in need of compassion,” the owner of a business on Notre Dame St., around the corner from the Culture 420 Compassion Centre on 15th Ave., told the Montreal Gazette in April. “They’re running in and running out all the time. I wouldn’t mind if it was legal, but it’s so obvious it’s not. I mean, really, you have to go upstairs to get in. There isn’t even wheelchair access.”

At least two petitions were being circulated in April to close the Culture 420 club down.

In May, an undercover reporter doing a story on compassion clubs for the Radio-Canada program “Enquête” visited the club complaining of migraine headaches. The reporter was told he would have to provide a doctor’s note or a sworn declaration from a commissioner of oaths. A staff member suggested the reporter say that he was suffering from chronic pain and directed him to a building down the street. There, a commissioner of oaths was waiting to sign a declaration for a $10 fee.

Most compassion clubs require a doctor’s referral or diagnosis, which is a note confirming the patients condition. The Culture 420 club took these commonly held practices a step further by not requiring a doctor to verify the patient’s chronic pain condition.

Montreal Compassion Club founder Marc-Boris St-Maurice was also arrested along with seven of his employees. He has been outspoken about the new clubs apparent “laissez-faire” attitude.

“We serve people with Health Canada documentation and those with doctor’s diagnosis and recommendation letters,” St-Maurice said. “We’re not claiming to be perfect but we’re definitely doing everything we can to operate professionally. I question if that is the case at other places.”

“We know that it’s not legal to sell it,” St-Maurice said. “But there is a genuine need for it, and we have been tolerated by authorities for 10 years now because we operate in a careful and professional manner.”

Gary Webber, one of the co-founders of Culture 420, told Tommy Schnurmacher (CJAD 800AM) on his radio show after the raids that what they have is a “Claim of Right” which he has been assured by his lawyers gives him a “lawful excuse” for the clubs operation. Interestingly, this paperwork was taken by the police from Webber’s home. As well, the notary that helped him prepare the paperwork received a phone call and email from police requesting that she destroy the file, and according to Webber she is willing to testify in court about the requests.

One of the reasons for the compassion club phenomena in Canada has been Health Canada’s inability, or unwillingness, to provide patients with a quality medication. While billions of dollars have been spent growing pot in mine shafts in Flin Flon, Man., the product—if it had any quality to begin with—becomes even less useful when they grind the entire plant, stalk, and leaf, as well as buds to create a rather inferior product. Health Canada offers no choice in strain; it is a one size fits all solution that doesn’t make use of all the known value in the different strains available.

Compassion clubs, on the other hand, offer the whole bud to patients and carry a large selection of strains. Beyond that, most clubs offer cookies and other “medibles,” massage oils, and a variety of other beneficial products using cannabis.

A compassionate society would honour the work these clubs do. Health Canada, who has shirked its duty to its citizens and their health, has not stood up and congratulated or affirmed these clubs at all, rather, has sat silently by. Then a month after the Quebec raids, in what appeared to be a declaration of a turf war with compas- sion clubs, Health Canada issued a statement to “clarify” its position.

It has been reported that patients could purchase marihuana for medical purposes from compassion clubs provided they have documentation from Health Canada or a registered physician. This could mislead patients to believe that they are authorized to possess marihuana if they have a letter, or other documentation, from a physician, which is not accurate. It is also incorrect that organizations such as compassion clubs or cannabis dispensaries are legally able to sell or provide marijuana to those who have authorization from Health Canada to possess marihuana for medical purposes.

The only way that individuals can be legally authorized to possess marihuana for medical purposes is to apply to Health Canada under the MMAR. This application includes a declaration of sup- port from their medical practitioner. Once authorized, there are only three options for individuals to obtain a legal supply of dried marihuana: 1) access Health Canada’s supply of dried marihuana; 2) obtain a license from Health Canada to produce for themselves; or 3) obtain a license from Health Canada to designate someone to produce on their behalf.

—Health Canada statement on medical marijuana compassion clubs 2010-94 ( June 7, 2010)

12 of the 35 people arrested appeared in court Sept. 3. 11 had their bail conditions eased, though, Marc-Boris St-Maurice did not get his bail conditions eased due to his prior “criminal” history involving the first time his club was raided 10 years ago. The conditions include things like not being able to be in contact with the other parties arrested during the raids. St- Maurice intends to plead not guilty, and is also requesting that his group be tried apart from the Culture 420 group.

“It took us 10 years to build up our credibility and now we’re being grouped in with centres like Culture 420 in Lachine, who we have no connection to,” said St- Maurice, who spoke with media at the end of June before his first court appearance. “They’re claiming they have a legal contract to sell marijuana, which is frankly dishonest and both detrimental and dangerous for the people that we serve.”

Webber, who at the time of writing has not yet had a court date, said the he is confident they will beat the charges, and already has 15 more clubs lined up to open by the end of Summer in the Montreal area alone.

While the clubs in Quebec are tied up with the process of court dates and legal manoeuvring, the forgotten victims in these sad state of affairs are the patients of Quebec who deal with sickness and pain daily, and now have the added stress of trying to find medicine. Some will turn to the streets, and with luck they will find a supply there. Others will turn up empty-handed, and robbed of their money, or worse. Then there will be the few who attempt to go the legal route, and will have to suffer without their proven medicine while they wait more than six months for their prescription to be filled by Health Canada. Some will likely die before their first order arrives.