The weather wasn’t the only thing out of sync in British Colombia this summer. Along with the uncharacteristically cool temperatures, relations between compassion clubs/dispensaries and the RCMP took a chilly turn, and patients were left out in the cold. In just over a month, RCMP raided four cannabis club/dispensaries. The first was raided a mere two days after its doors opened.
Chilliwack’s BeKind Compassion Club opened its doors on June 19, offering a full range of services. With a menu of raw cannabis, cannabis extracts, tinctures, and cannabis infused edibles—like most clubs—Bekind also offered access to health care professionals, including medical doctors, a doctor of chinese medicine, and a pharmacist through their clinic.
“We offer professional medical help in the diagnosing/confirming of medical conditions that warrant the use of cannabis by having licensed doctors evaluate patients’ medical histories. Should a patient require cannabis for medical purposes, follow-up care to monitor progress and/or problems is also available.” BeKind offers in a press release issued after the raids. “The second role of the clinic is as a dispensary of whole cannabis and other cannabis-based medications, with a licensed pharmacist reviewing medication profiles and to insure no drug interactions are present. This provides safe and secure access to cannabis for medical purposes for patients, eliminating the harms associated with purchasing on the street, while simultaneously providing quality controls.”
With BeKind’s “unique to Canada” combination of services, it would appear that their efforts to be legitimate exceeded the traditional standard that has normally been offered. Despite this, Chilliwack RCMP raided the club and seized its medicine, and arrested one man.
“Ultimately, the business was being operated under the guise of a medicinal marijuana compassion club where marijuana, marijuana oils, and related products were being offered for sale,” Cpl. Kurt Bosnell, of the Chilliwack RCMP CRU, told reporters.
Mayor Sharon Gaetz concluded that Be Kind was trying to trick the city, as she noted that BeKind applied for their license as a medical facility and pharmacy. There was nothing on the application that indicated they were a compassion club.
Three weeks later, on July 15, RCMP raided the North Island Compassion Club, for the second time this year. They arrested two individuals, who were tenants on the property but uninvolved with the club, and seized the club’s medication.
Just days earlier the North Island Compassion Club’s director, Ernie Yacub had a letter to the editor published in the Comox Valley Record. In it he criticised the town for increasing the budget of the RCMP, when crime has been declining.
“Why would Courtney city council automatically approve an additional $200,000 for RCMP policing when just a scant few months ago they reported to council that crime rates have been dropping dramatically, not just in the Comox Valley but across the country over the last 10 years?” Yacub asks in the letter. “I don’t think busting the North Island Compassion Club and ‘cleaning up’ Cumberland right after the RCMP report to council did much to boost the numbers.” He further asserts. Yacub’s letter went on to criticize the upcoming omnibus bill which intends to introduce mandatory minimums for cannabis related offences for the first time in Canadian history.
The North Island Compassion club has operated for seven years in the same location without complaint or concern from the immediate neighbours. “We’ve never received any complaints,” Yacub says. “We have good relations with our immediate neighbours. Our club is located across from a six unit apartment and of those people there, all them know about the club and not one have expressed concerns about the club. I know several of them are supportive.”
The RCMP are recommending charges. The court date is set for Oct. 20. Losing significant club assets in each raid has been a blow to the North Island Compassion Club, both financially and emotionally. For now, the club is closed while they look for suitable commercial space. During the transition they are offering limited services to members who haven’t been spooked by the two raids already conducted by the RCMP.
Four days after the raid in Comox, on July 19, Langley RCMP raided the Compassion Club of Langley. Randy Caine a long-time local activist was arrested, and the club’s medicine and money was seized.
A year and a half ago, before the club opened, Caine held a series on community meetings he called “medical marijuana, is it right for you and the community.” He has also submitted information to both the town and RCMP about the Langley Compassion Club. The local paper has also run several articles about his work over the years—more recently covering his efforts to open the club.
There are a lot of odd, and suspiciously politically motivated things about how the search was conducted. The RCMP had the search warrant signed by a judge in Chilliwack, a rural community an hour drive east of Langley. The original complaint was generated by a Langley City councillor, Rudy Storteboom, with the help of Mayor Peter Fassbender. In that complaint, very hateful, hurtful, and discriminatory statements were made about the medically disabled members, describing them as “degenerates” and “undesirables,” a statement which was quoted by the RCMP during their raid.
Mayor Fassbender has been an outspoken proponent of prohibition. He attended and testified at the senate hearings about bill C-15 (mandatory minimums). He also launched a campaign in March, with other mayors, demanding unreasonably restricted access for medicinal marijuana users, and is without a doubt, part of the reason Health Canada is reconsidering patient and caregiver grow rights.
A few days after the search and seizure of Langley Compassion Clubs assets, Fassbender attended a strata council meeting where Caine owned his condo, and instructed Caine’s neighbours on what steps to take to have him removed from his home. “It is one thing to be ignorant, but another to act on that ignorance,” Caine said in a phone interview.
There have been no charges laid in the case of the Langely Compassion Club. After two months of remaining closed, they reopened their doors.
After the raids, they held several community meetings about the club and the raid. Advocates circulated a petition which has over 1300 signatures from Langley residents. In their community, of about 23,000 people, that is 17.6 % of the population. With this mandate from the citizens of Langley and assistance from other dispensaries, the Langley Compassion Club has reopened their doors.
Now, the group has set their sights on the civic elections coming in November. “We are going to ensure that this is an issue in the election,” says Caine. He also relayed plans to throw an election kick-off party, and to keep a magnifying glass on candidates and their attitudes toward medicinal marijuana.
Finally, to round the chilly summer out, on July 28, the RCMP conducted a “search” on the Metrotown compassion club and arrested three individuals. Burnaby appeared to welcome the compassion club in June when they opened their doors. They even had an RCMP constable come see the club in action. Dana Larsen, one of the clubs directors, and other representatives of the club met with the mayor of the city. It was said that the meeting went very well, and they were introduced to one of the city councillors who was a supporter of compassion clubs.
It is not clear why the RCMP raided Metrotown, but according to Kirk Tousaw, the lawyer representing the individuals involved, the RCMP are recommending charges. Metrotown Compassion Club has closed its doors.
It is an ominous sign of what is to come. The Harper regime introduced the omnibus bill in late Sept. which will bring mandatory minimums for cannabis to Canada. Health Canada is poised to remove patient and caregiver’s rights to grow, with no real plan as to how patients can receive quality medicine as inexpensively as they can grow it for themselves. We can expect to see many more patients, and their brave providers being put in jail. Removing the judges discretion, means that patients and providers are more vulnerable to long and unjust sentences, despite the poor government policies that have put them there.
It is clear, concerned citizens, patients, and those who care for medicinal users need to act. It is only through speaking up, and having our voices heard, that we can ever expect change. I have written in the past about using the internet to get our message out, and about writing letters to the editor. With civic elections around the corner, and the ominous omnibus bill already in the first stages of becoming law, there are some new tools in our activist tool kit to consider.
Medical marijuana is relevant to all communities. Ask all candidates running in civic elections what their stance is. Do they support a sick person’s right to access cannabis? What will they do in their position (be it a councillor, mayor, or school trustee) to help pave the way for a compassion centre in your community, or what they will do to help reduce the stigma that medicinal users have to face. Test their knowledge of the true risks, and come prepared to educate our civic leaders.
Finally, do not underestimate the power of the phone call. Call your members of parliament. Even more importantly, call your members of legislative assembly (provincial representatives). Since health care falls under provincial jurisdiction, what happens with the MMAR is a concern of theirs. Additionally, the expense of Harper’s mandatory minimums will in part be shouldered by the provinces.
As we are faced with uncertainty, it is a time to draw together and support each other as we move forward. Summer was chilly in B.C., so lets turn up the heat and let this be the winter we express our discontent.