Pubdate: Thu, 12 Mar 2009
Source: Xaverian Weekly, The (CN NS Edu)
Copyright: 2009 CWhite, The Xaverian Weekly
Author: Andrew Farris
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal - Canada)
Bookmark: (Lucas, Philippe)
Bookmark: (Vancouver Island Compassion Society)


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 out.

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 prescription.

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.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom