Pubdate: Tue, 03 Feb 2009
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2009 Times Colonist
Author: Jack Knox
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal - Canada)
Bookmark: (Lucas, Philippe)


So, bits of Canada's medical marijuana rules were ruled unconstitutional
yesterday, except Ottawa was given a year to fix them, and the Victoria guy
charged with growing the dope was convicted, except he got off.


Saying the B.C. Supreme Court decision makes Canada's medical
marijuana laws clearer is like saying cowboy boots make Danny DeVito
taller -- really, it's just a matter of degree.

Justice Marvyn Koenigsberg, sitting in Vancouver, struck down Health
Canada regulations that say a licensed marijuana grower may only
supply a single client and that bar more than three growers from
pooling their resources. Her ruling echoed a 2008 federal court
decision that tossed out the one-grower, one-client regulation;
coincidentally, Ottawa lost its appeal of that decision yesterday.

At issue in Vancouver was a 2004 raid in which 900 pot plants were
seized from what turned out to be the Vancouver Island Compassion
Society's East Sooke production facility. The guy tending the
operation, Mat Beren, was charged with possession and growing for the
purpose of trafficking.

The judge convicted Beren yesterday, but gave him an absolute
discharge, meaning he won't go to jail or have a record.

Of broader interest were the constitutional arguments launched by the
compassion society, which spent five years and $200,000 arguing that
Health Canada's regulations stop many sufferers from getting
marijuana. Yesterday's ruling left society founder Philippe Lucas, a
Victoria city councillor, declaring a "partial victory."

Health Canada introduced its medical marijuana rules in 2001. Ottawa
allows the use of pot to ease the pain of the dying and to alleviate
the symptoms of multiple sclerosis, spinal cord conditions, cancer,
HIV/AIDS, epilepsy, severe forms of arthritis and, on a physician's
approval, afflictions that conventional treatment has failed to ease.
Individuals are licensed to get marijuana in three ways: They can grow
it themselves, designate someone to grow it for them, or buy it
through Health Canada from a contractor that grows dope in a Manitoba
mine shaft.

Not good enough, say critics who argue Ottawa has failed to provide
the access and supply demanded by law. They say the mine shaft pot is
of poor quality and it takes eight to 12 weeks for applicants to get
Health Canada's approval -- an eternity for the terminally ill. Only
2,600 Canadians have received Ottawa's blessing, yet the trial was
told that between 400,000 and a million of them use marijuana for
medicinal purposes.

Sitting in the half-light are the compassion clubs, operating openly,
sort-of-tolerated but still outside the law -- meaning they often make
up their own rules. The nine-year-old Vancouver Island Compassion
Society, with 850 members -- twice as many as at the time of the bust
- -- has stricter rules than does Victoria's Cannabis Buyers Club, which
has more than 2,400 clients. Where the former group will only sell
marijuana to someone on the recommendation of a physician (it says 300
local doctors have done so) the latter merely requires proof of
diagnosis of a permanent disability or disease.

Compassion clubs typically pay growers $2,200 to $2,600 for a pound of
marijuana. The clubs then sell for $7 to $12 a gram. That's more than
the $5 charged by Health Canada, but usually 10 to 20 per cent less
than pot goes for on the street.

What Monday's ruling means to all that, who knows? Lucas said the
compassion society needs time to study a decision that took the judge
two hours to read. He also said he wants to work co-operatively with
Health Canada.

So does Eric Nash, who runs Island Harvest Organic B.C. Cannabis in
Duncan. Yet he is still waiting for Health Canada to respond to his
months-old application to grow pot for several hundred would-be
clients. Koenigsberg gave Ottawa a year to change its one-grower,
one-client rule, so Nash isn't sure where he stands. "Another shade of
grey enters the picture."
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin