By Barbara Biley
The RCMP raided the North Island Compassion Club in Courtenay on Feb. 18. Five people were held for several hours while the Club was searched. Two people, Ernie Yacub and Bill Myers, have been charged with possession for the purpose of trafficking.
The raid was conducted exactly eleven days after a local RCMP spokesperson told Courtenay City Council that there had been a 62 percent decrease in the number of local drug trafficking crimes. He also reported that drug production and drug possession offences were down substantially. In a written report quoted in the Comox Valley Echo, RCMP spokesperson Tom Gray stated “The dramatic drop in drug trafficking offences has occurred due to the ongoing investigation of two major, higher-level drug trafficking organizations that were conducted through 2010.”
Why raid the Compassion Club and seize the product used medicinally by its over 200 members?
Is the Compassion Club a clandestine drug-trafficking criminal gang?
The North Island Compassion Club was founded about 10 years ago to provide safe, reliable, high quality medicinal cannabis to local members, in a safe environment. It currently has 230 members, and is a provincially registered non-profit society. Membership is available only to individuals who provide proof on an application form (or facsimile) signed by their doctor which identifies their medical condition. Members are prohibited from re-selling what they purchase. The club provides marijuana or other products (oil, hash, cookies) to its members only.
The Directors have kept the local RCMP informed of the existence and location of the club since its founding. The Club does not grow marijuana, rather purchases it from local small-scale growers and sells to its members at a markup of 20 percent to cover costs.
Is it clandestine? Members, constantly under the threat of harassment because of the contradictory nature of public policy, do not broadcast their membership. On one hand, the Health Canada hand, it is acknowledged that they use marijuana for medicinal purposes. On the other hand, the police and courts hand, what they are doing is illegal.
What to do? The medication relieves pain, helps other conditions and allows many to stop harming themselves with narcotics and organ-destroying pharmaceuticals, so they get the doctor’s authorization, sign up, and visit the club to purchase. And they know that every time they do so they are breaking the law.
The contradiction between social acceptance and medical efficacy and “law and order” has resulted in several court cases. Organizations like the North Island Compassion Club mushroomed following the decision of an Ontario Court in 1997, in the case of a Charter Challenge brought by Terry Parker, an Ontario man who used grew and used marijuana to control seizures. In that case, Judge Patrick Sheppard ruled that certain sections of the Controlled Drug and Substances Act are unconstitutional in cases where marijuana is used for medically-approved purposes. In part, he stated, “It is ordered that (sections of the narcotics laws outlawing cultivation and possession) be read down so as to exempt from its ambit persons possessing or cultivating cannabis (marijuana) for their personal medically approved use.” The Court of Appeal for Ontario (in a judgement upholding Sheppard’s ruling which the Crown had appealed) stated, “I agree with the Crown that this is a matter for Parliament. Accordingly, I would declare the prohibition on the possession of marihuana in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to be of no force and effect. However, since this would leave a gap in the regulatory scheme until Parliament could amend the legislation to comply with the Charter, I would suspend the declaration of invalidity for a year.”
In other words, the court gave the federal government a year to bring the laws regarding possession of marijuana into compliance with the Charter.
This is not a new issue
This issue has been addressed before. The debate over criminalization of those who use marijuana has been going on for decades, in the courts and in Parliament, with little result. The first serious challenge was “The Report of the Canadian Government Commission of Inquiry into the Non-Medical Use of Drugs – 1972,” (Le Dain Commission), which recommended the decriminalization of possession of marijuana.
From the report:
“The costs to a significant number of individuals, the majority of whom are young people, and to society generally, of a policy of prohibition of simple possession are not justified by the potential for harm of cannabis and the additional influence which such a policy is likely to have upon perception of harm, demand and availability. We, therefore, recommend the repeal of the prohibition against the simple possession of cannabis.”…..
“The costs of the criminal law prohibition of cannabis which are generally referred to include the following: (1) the effect of criminal conviction, particularly on young people; (2) encouraging the development of an illicit market, with possible involvement of organized crime; (3) obliging people to engage in crime or at least to deal with criminal types to supply themselves with the drug; (4) exposing people to other, more dangerous, drugs by forcing them to have contact with traffickers who handle a variety of drugs; (5) encouraging the development of a deviant subculture; (6) undermining the credibility of drug education, and in particular, information about more dangerous drugs; (7) the use of extraordinary methods of enforcement; (8) creating disrespect for law and law enforcement generally; (9) diverting our law enforcement resources from more important tasks; and (10) adversely affecting the morale of law enforcement authorities.”
The LeDain commission report was largely ignored by the federal government and between 1972 and 1997 growing and possession marijuana were criminal acts.
Since 1997, to comply with the Parker ruling, the government has given a sort of back-handed consent. The Health Canada website states: “Marijuana has not been approved as a therapeutic product in Canada or anywhere else in the world. The safety and usefulness of marijuana for medical uses has not been clearly and scientifically established. Canada does however, have a program that allows seriously ill persons residing in Canada to possess marihuana for their own medical use. Under the Marihuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR), people can be authorized to possess a specific amount of marihuana and can be licensed to grow their own marihuana or designate someone else to grow it for them.”
So, Health Canada does not “approve” marijuana for medicinal use but will issue you a license to possess, use, and/or grow.
Health Canada and Medical Marijuana
The MMAR has been problematic from the start—beset with red tape, providing poor quality marijuana, and keeping patients in a constant state of fear of arrest and scrutiny. Most doctors are reluctant to support patients who find relief from cannabis, with few doctors in the Comox Valley willing to sign an MMAR application. Originally, patients with licenses were forced to purchase a poor quality product from Health Canada. In 2008, the regulations were changed to allow patients to grow their own or have a licensed grower grow for them. Currently, since 2009, the regulations allow a licensed grower to grow for more than one but not more than two people with licenses to possess. Applications take eight to 10 weeks to process and should there be even a small technical error in the application, the process starts all over again after the error is corrected.
Licensing does not end the stigma or the threat of prosecution. Many actually believe that licensing is akin to being registered with the police, making them even more likely targets of police scrutiny. Many consider it not worth the hassle to get licensed. They answer the “what to do?” question by joining the compassion club so they don’t have to buy from drug dealers on the street—whose last concern is their health.
Turning patients into criminals
In a local newspaper article, published on Mar. 4, a strong inference was made that the raid on the compassion club was part of the law and order agenda of the RCMP. The article reported on a home invasion in Cumberland in which a man was beaten and “two or three people” demanded money, and which the police believed to be drug related. It was noted that police were going to deal with the “drug culture” in the village, 13 km from Courtenay, by “cracking down on street level drug crime.” The newspaper reported: “(police) will be arresting and investigating small-time drug traffickers and lower-level dealers first. The compassion club is one of the organizations police have targeted.” Aside from the irresponsibility of the journalism, the police statements clearly show the targeting and criminalization of the compassion club and its members, without any charges being heard.
The law and order agenda of the Harper government included attempts to increase penalties for possession, including an automatic six months in jail for possession of six plants.
The message is clear—the government is hell bent on increasing its penalization of those who use marijuana and considers the MMAR little more than a nuisance required by the courts. It offers no protection and a constant threat of persecution, if not prosecution, for users of medical marijuana.
By Barbara Biley