Raids Against Compassion

By Ted Smith

A series of raids against medical cannabis dispensaries in Canada, has changed the direction the movement seemed to be going. While new clubs are still opening, as you can read in Kyla’s article, police have issued warrants against seven medical cannabis dispensaries in Ontario and Quebec, since Mar. 31. Just before that, in Dec., the bakery of the Cannabis Buyers’ Clubs of Canada was raided by police after neighbours complained of loud music and smell.

Before these raids, a groundswell of activity was creating a sense of optimism. Now, what seemed cool, has become chill.

In total, 49 people were charged with trafficking cannabis, cannabis resin, and THC—though eight volunteers from Cannabis As Living Medicine (C.A.L.M.) have seen their cases dropped, leaving owner Neev Tapiero as the sole defendant in that case. All of the clubs plan to launch constitutional challenges against the Marijuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR). Apparently, Boris St-Maurice, from the Montreal Compassion Club, has six lawyers working on his case.

In many ways it all started with the raid on the bakery. There had not been a raid on a medical cannabis dispensary in Canada since the last raid on the CBC of C in Feb. 2003. We suffered through four police raids between Jan. 2002 and Feb. 2003, and beat every charge laid against us, one way or another. After the recent bakery raid, police told media that if someone with a license to possess cannabis was to appear, they would be prepared to let the charges get dropped. This is despite the fact that cannabis extracts are not legally available under the MMAR, something we learned a lot about in the second trial of the CBC of C.

As I reported in the last Cannabis Digest, for months we thought the charges against the club’s cannabis baker, Owen Smith, were dropped as nothing was on court record when he went to make his first court appearance. It is quite likely this case was discussed by employees within the Justice Department in Vancouver, if not Ottawa, and it could have been brought to the attention of folks in Health Canada, too. In Apr., just before the first edition of our newspaper format was going to print, a notice appeared in the mail that directed Owen back to court.

The crown has decided to pro- ceed with charges of possession for the purpose of trafficking (PPT) and possession of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) for the purpose of trafficking. The first charge will be easy to beat in the preliminary inquiry because Owen had less than one gram in the bakery, and it was obviously for personal use. The second charge of PPT THC will be fought in front of a judge of the Supreme Court of BC, which should take between 17 and 20 days of court time.

While the constitutional trial is likely to take place in the fall of 2011, time is precious for many reasons as we prepare for battle in court. Six members of the club are getting documentation ready to testify in court. At least one of our witnesses may also get a specialist to testify. These folks would all likely be dead without cannabis, and in some cases it was the club’s edible and topical cannabis products that literally kept them alive and kicking.

Many members of the club are willing to testify and help in any way possible. We will be submitting a small number of written affidavits to the court as well, though everyone providing testimony in this manner could also get called before the judge to further explain themselves. Anyone interested in doing this should contact me, but before doing so you may want to begin collecting as much medical documentation as possible about your health and prescription drug use (if any). The more documentation you can collect, the better. In fact, everyone who develops serious medical problems should be making a file with as much documentation as possible, writing a log about doctor visits, medical tests, surgeries, drug use, drug side-effects, and symptom progression.

Quite likely, we will have our ex- pert witness appear ahead of the members. This will give the judge a good scientific understanding of cannabis before hearing personal experiences regarding its various medical applications. There are many excellent, qualified scientists, but we will wait until our expert witness is ready before going public with his name.

The crown will be asked to call two experts from Health Canada. One will be the director of the Drug Strategy and Controlled Substances Program who has several departments under their supervision, including the Marijuana Medical Access Division. The other expert crown witness we will require, is a scientist from Health Canada. In the past this has been Dr. Harold Kalant, though he is now over 80 years old and is not only becoming frail, but also out of date. However, since the Conservatives cancelled the program designed to fund research into cannabis, there are very few scientists to choose from within Health Canada.

Projected legal costs of this trial for the club are $30,000, though the crown’s expenses will no doubt be tens of thousands of dollars more. We will be organizing several benefit concerts and fundraisers to help pay for lawyer Andrew Uhlman, and other costs of the trial—with most of them planned near, or during, the trial. This will help attract media and public attention, while taking advantage of the large gathering that is likely to occur in town when the trial begins.

Supporters can also help by writ- ing to local and national media while the trial is happening. Letters to the editor can influence the direction a newspaper takes behind the scenes, and if put in print, thou- sands hear your voice, too.

With so many medical canna- bis dispensary trials happening across the country, at essentially the same time, the news will be full of updates on Health Canada’s activities for the next few years. It is anyone’s guess right now which trial will happen first, but as soon as one starts, the media circus will begin.

C.A.L.M. is the second oldest club in the country, having started in Dec. 1996, and now has over 3,000 members. In the Mar. 31 raid, police seized cash, computers, 16.5 kg of marijuana, 1.9 kg of hashish, and 200 g of hash oil that was in the C.A.L.M. downtown store—claiming the value at $218,404. Though nine people were originally arrested, everyone—except owner Tapeiro—saw their charges dropped quickly by the crown. Reasons for this raid are not known, and rumours will be confirmed or denied when the crown’s arguments are explained to the judge.

On May 6, city police raided the Medical Cannabis Club of Guelph and a couple of houses, charging four people with a pile of charges. Police claim this case has progressed independent of other law enforcement actions against dispensa- ries, apparently infiltrating the club with undercover agents after reading about the club in the media last year. They seized 20 kg of herb, 258 plants, and some edible and topical products, estimating the value of the items at $100,000. Charged are founder Rade Kovecevic, his fiancé Nicole Freeborn, Scot Gilbert, and Eitan Gallant. In total, these four people face 32 different charges of trafficking and producing can- nabis or resin.

Medical cannabis users in Quebec will not forget June 3, 2010 for a long time. That is the day police raided five stores, eventually arresting 35 people, and stop- ping the flow of cannabis through clubs in the province. Language barriers and conflicting information has made it difficult to make factual statements about why these raids occurred, but we will have a story focused upon this unfolding situation in the next edition of CD.

Never before has such a coordinated sweep against medical clubs occurred in Canada.

One thing is for sure, many people are now without a reliable source of medi- cine as a result of these raids. These trials should settle many legal issues in court, but they could take several years before working their way to the Supreme Court of Canada. Hopefully most of these clubs can get on their feet again soon. The Montreal Compassion Club is the only group that has experienced a raid in the past (Feb. 2000), with Boris and Alex Neron successfully getting the charges acquitted by the Court of Quebec.

Every serious constitutional challenge against the MMAR has convinced a judge that the regulations are inadequate. Various legal authorities have ruled that Health Canada needs to make major ad- justments for the courts to consider the program functional enough to meet rea- sonable standards, i.e. the Canadian Charter of Right and Freedoms. Health Canada has responded by making small changes to the MMAR.

There are many indications that Health Canada is preparing to make more changes to the regulations, though nothing has been officially released. Rumours suggest that the main concerns are fire and security. Police and fire chiefs have been very critical of the MMAR. Many fear any changes will make it more difficult to access the program.

Never before has the struggle to supply cannabis to sick people in Canada been so intense. With drug companies striving to make patented cannabis medi- cines, businesses popping up focused upon MMAR card holders, police circling, thieves sniffing around, and thousands of sick people streaming through the door, medical dispensaries have their work cut out for them. But no one should despair. The magic of this herb, and the people who have dedicated themselves to it, has such great strength that we cannot fail. Indeed, despite the dark forces against us, victory in court and on the streets is near.