Pubdate: Thu, 22 Aug 2002
Source: NOW Magazine (Canada)
Copyright: 2002 NOW Communications Inc.
Author: Matthewa A. Mernagh


Pot Club Bust Sends ME Onto the Street to Score

I am member 022 of the Toronto Compassion Centre. Not that it will do me 
any good now. Last week the feisty little organization at Bathurst and St. 
Clair that supplies medical marijuana to 1,200 of us who endure the daily 
pain of AIDS, hep C, MS, bipolar disorder and more was busted by Toronto's 

For five years this fearless pot pharmacy navigated the messy business that 
has become federal marijuana policy. But when drug officers from 13 and 53 
Divisions battered down the door on August 13, with their guns pointed, 
hundreds of us were suddenly sent back on the streets to scrounge for our meds.

At our revered Compassion Club, purchasing medicinal doobies was not unlike 
having a prescription filled at a neighbourhood drug store. The difference 
was that the herb was often cheaper than meds peddled by pharmaceutical 
companies. My own monthly regimen included $200 (less than an ounce) for 
marijuana and $35 for kava kava and St. John's wort.

I suffered a terrible flare-up of arthritis this winter, and my 
pharmaceutical bill, footed by Ontario's drug benefit program, staggered in 
at an impressive $445.14 a month (Celebrex $88.97, Effexor XR $109.84, 
Zyprexa $220.84, Cytotec $25.49).

The kingpins of the Compassion operation, Warren Hitzig and Zach Naftolin, 
should be awarded honourary Bachelors of Science for their knowledge of 
medicinal weed. In a busy week, they'd speak to between 500 and 600 
patients -- currently Health Canada has only granted 806 people 
country-wide status to burn corn legally.

The centre provides its members with detailed analyses of the various 
strains; a message board in the back room offers a percentile rating of how 
much sativa or indica is present in the bud. This vital information is 
especially useful for those who keep a daily health log. Members who 
require a more uplifting, appetite-inducing high prefer to toke sativa 
breeds, while some, like me, desire the meditative body stone of the indica 

Now I've returned to scoring green on the street. With not much luck. 
People ingesting for medicinal reasons require a steady, consistent supply, 
plus information on what strain they're purchasing. Having used the 
centre's simple, effective service for so long, I've forgotten the street 
lingo needed for scoring. "Which one is more?" I ask a dealer when queried 
whether I want a "lid or macaroni and cheese."

Next time I'll bring the handy slang dictionary provided by They've identified 2,300 slang terms for 
specific drug types and activities, of which 588 directly relate to marijuana.

According to the site, a lid is "one ounce of marijuana" while macaroni and 
cheese is a "$5 pack of marijuana." At the club I used to purchase my 
medicine in $10/gram increments, which is not typical of how street 
dealers' pre-packaged sizes work. You can also forget about asking them 
whether they're selling an indica or sativa strain.

Of course, the government righteously promised to become our dealer of 
choice back in 2000 when pain sufferers won the right to access in that 
landmark court decision. And while the feds awarded a Flin Flon, Manitoba, 
company a five-year contract to grow the herb in an abandoned copper mine, 
no government green has ended up in the lungs of sick people.

Health Canada says it is waiting for research studies but that they can't 
be started until it is ascertained that the Flin Flon weed is "safe." That 
means don't hold your breath. Department spokesperson Andrew Swift admits, 
"It's taking more time than we anticipated, as safety is our first priority."

Professor and club lawyer Alan Young believes the foot-dragging has gone on 
long enough. He's launched a a civil suit funded by the Washington, 
DC-based Marijuana Policy Project to free the fed's medicinal weed on 
behalf of the centre, Hitzig and seven other people he has worked with over 
the years. Four of these people have current exemptions, two had exemptions 
under the old Health Canada system but don't now, and the last person's 
doctor won't fill out the new paperwork because doctors' insurers have told 
them not to.

Waiting for the feds to take their royal time just isn't an option. Since I 
met Hitzig five years ago at Chatty Patty's at Yonge and Wellesley, I've 
been so much better. He promised to relieve my chronic arthritic pain, put 
some meat on my bones and reduce the stress of being ill. And he made good.

Back then, this skater kid who was booted from George Brown's social 
science program for his staunch belief in the power of the herb, had a 
naive ambition. I was extremely skeptical, but still heartened that someone 
was willing to take the risk of imprisonment for my health.

When the bust came, Hitzig could hardly believe it. He thought at first it 
was another attack by masked hoodlums like the one last December that left 
Naftolin with a concussion. Says Hitzig, "It's really ironic. After the 
robbery we installed panic buttons. We couldn't see who it was on our 
security camera, and Zach asked, "Should I push the button?' I told him, 
"Go ahead.' Then I noticed on one of the officers' bullet-proof vests the 
word "Police.' They went through the place like a tornado in a small town."

There is rampant speculation about exactly what led police to make the 
raid. Young says it's especially disappointing since he believes the club 
had a tacit understanding with officers at 13 Division. When the club 
called police following the December robbery, he believes there were too 
many officers in the building for any of them to look the other way and 
pretend the club wasn't a pot service.

"I spoke with officer Lorna Jackson of 13 Division," Young says. "She said 
they had to investigate the club. She stopped returning my calls in March, 
so I figured the matter was resolved. What really upsets me is that we were 
really upfront with them. I could have provided the accused, but they had 
to come in violently. It's an enormously frightening experience."

Jackson cannot be reached for comment, but police media relations officer 
Jim Muscat denies any sort of arrangement between the club and the 13 
Division officer. "I have zero knowledge of that. Police seized a sizable 
amount of hashish, marijuana and cash. Those arrested were charged with 
eight counts, mostly from the marijuana, the last count being possession of 
property obtained from a crime."

Young may be dismayed, but he's got lots of reefers in the fire, so to 
speak. Besides the civil suit, he also has two court cases designed to 
challenge the law before the nine justices of the Supreme Court of Canada. 
He thinks there is a way out for the feds, similar to the abortion law: let 
the marijuana law fall by the wayside and "the government can appease the 
American zealots. It would be easy for Canada to say, "We didn't do it, our 
courts did.'"

Fears of U.S. pressure aren't stoner paranoia. Bruce Mirkin of the 
Marijuana Policy Project says his group is funding the civil case because 
he believes it can be demonstrated that the U.S. is meddling in Canadian 
pot policy. Both he and Young agree there are implied threats floating down 
from on high in Washington.

"I'm 100 per cent aware that the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) sent a rep 
to make a presentation to the Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs," 
says Young. "When U.S. government officials talk about increasing border 
patrols, what they're really saying is "We're going to fuck with your 
trucking industry if you continue to go in this direction 

With all this pressure mounting from beyond the border, it's high time 
people came out of the marijuana closest in a show of force. Just repeat 
after me: "I'm green and I'm proud." Do it in front of the bathroom mirror 
50 times to summon your inner courage.
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