Pubdate: Thu, 05 Mar 2009
Source: Martlet (CN BC Edu)
Copyright: 2009 Martlet Publishing Society
Author: Andrew Farris
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal - Canada)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


The quasi-legal status of Victoria's compassion clubs may have come a
step closer to resolution this week after a B.C. Supreme Court ruling
declared parts of Canada's current medicinal marijuana laws

The law, which forbids any supplier from distributing medical
marijuana to more than one patient, has forced the non-profit clubs
into operating illegally, despite the consent of Victoria's police.

The judge has given Health Canada one year to review the laws and make
it easier for purveyors of medicinal marijuana, both inside and
outside the law, to keep patients supplied.

The verdict comes as a huge victory, especially for Mat Beren of the
Vancouver Island Compassion Society (VICS). Beren was caught tending
the VICS' grow-op in Sooke when police raided the facility in 2004 and
confiscated 900 plants.

Although Beren was found guilty of growing and trafficking an illegal
substance, the prosecution's demands for a stiff sentence were thrown

Instead, the judge completely discharged the conviction, meaning that
there will be no penalty or criminal record because Beren had been
growing the cannabis for the club.

This ruling brings into light the legal limbo in which many
organizations such as VICS operate. The Supreme Court of Canada has
ruled that marijuana, which is effective for easing the suffering of
those with chronic conditions, is a constitutional medicine and the
government has a responsibility to provide it to those with a doctor's

Mat Beren's defence made the case that the marijuana provided by the
federal government, grown in a Manitoba mineshaft, was of poor quality
and obtaining it meant jumping over "unnecessary bureaucratic delays
or obstacles."

Philippe Lucas, the director of VICS, also pointed out that the
federal application process can take weeks or months, time which can
be ill-afforded by those who are in enough pain to warrant a medicinal
marijuana prescription.

It was because of these regulatory hurdles and the inadequacy of the
federal marijuana that the compassion clubs were able to spring into
existence - VICS serves more than 850 doctor-referred patients on
Vancouver Island. Justice Marvyn Koenigsberg ruled in Beren's case
that while compassion clubs "enhanced other people's lives at minimal
or no risk to society," they "did so outside any legal framework."

The onus to reform the legal framework lies not with the compassion
clubs, which operate "openly, and with reasonable safeguards," but
with Health Canada and the Canadian College of Physicians who failed
to make medicinal marijuana sufficiently available for chronic
sufferers, according to Koenigsberg.

Other compassion associations, like the Cannabis Buyers Club (CBC), a
corollary of UVic's own Hempology 101 Society, have greeted the likely
review of the laws surrounding clubs with enthusiasm.

The club has undergone six police raids on the CBC headquarters in
Ted's Books in downtown Victoria, and the operators have spent several
nights in jail, with the charges overturned by courts each time.

CBC spokesperson Kristen Mann said she'll welcome what a review could
mean for the club, but notes that the system still needs many changes.

"Although we have been accepted by the Victoria Police and the B.C.
courts, on a federal level we are still considered to be distributors
of marijuana, which is illegal," Mann said.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin