Pubdate: Fri, 05 Feb 2010
Source: Maple Ridge News (CN BC)
Copyright: 2010 Maple Ridge News
Author: Monisha Martins


Somewhere in a quiet corner of Maple Ridge or Pitt Meadows, a 
cannabis crop is being harvested right now, legally.

The half-dozen or so known local growers are a select bunch of 4,869 
people in Canada authorized to possess the narcotic plant under 
Marihuana Medical Access Regulations.

"Cannabis isn't for everybody, but patients are entitled to pick and 
choose their own medicine," said Michelle Rainey, a Maple Ridge 
resident and vice-president of the B.C. Marijuana Party.

"I help patients access the Health Canada program and I'm more of a 
coach and almost a role model for others to understand not to be 
afraid to use alternative medicine."

Wanted by the U.S. DEA, along with the self-proclaimed "Prince of 
Pot," Marc Emery, and Greg Williams on charges of growing marijuana, 
conspiracy, seed sales and money laundering, Rainey is a medical 
cannabis advocate who is fighting off Stage 3 melanoma and suffers 
from Crohn's disease.

She is also one of 1,137 people in Canada who hold a Personal Use 
Production Licence, or Designated-Person Production Licence, from 
Health Canada - a permit that allows her to grow legal pot.

Currently, 85 per cent of those authorized have 25 plants or less.

As illegal grow operations proliferate and police raids on those 
properties net explosives and guns, medical marijuana users like 
Rainey are being increasingly lumped in with criminals.

Fire chiefs associations in B.C. and Ontario say Health Canada's 
secretive permit process and refusal to bring in better regulations 
for growers put lives and health at risk.

RCMP remain concerned that the legal cannabis crops are prime targets 
for thieves who often resort to violence while committing crimes.

"It's very unfair. Keep in mind, I do want to see cannabis taxed, 
regulated and want the propaganda and myths to be extinguished," said 
Rainey, noting that municipalities, including Maple Ridge, police and 
fire departments want Health Canada to supply a list of legal 
cannabis producers in their jurisdiction.

Due to privacy considerations, Health Canada does not provide the 
breakdown by cities of individuals authorized to possess or produce 
marijuana for medical purposes under the regulations.

In July 2009, Rainey and Williams were sentenced to two years 
probation in Canada. In early September, Emery decided to sign a plea 
deal for a five-year sentence in the U.S. federal prison system.

A former banker and currently director of marketing for an 
alternative medicine journal, Treating Yourself Magazine, Rainey said 
getting a Heath Canada permit isn't easy. The exemption form is 33 
pages and patients must satisfy legal and medical conditions set by 
Ottawa before a permit to possess marijuana is issued. If the person 
wants to grow their own marijuana, they must complete another 
application if they want to purchase seeds from Prairie Plant Systems 
(PPS) - the only government-approved supplier.

If they can't grow their own crop, a "designated person" who clears a 
criminal record check must apply for a licence.

"It's not like going to your doctor and saying, 'Can I get some 
Tylenol 3 and some Prozac,'" Rainey explains. "It is a fight and 
battle. It's a horrible battle when you know, for myself - cannabis 
saved my life. When I had Tylenol 3, morphine, Fentanyl, I couldn't 
function properly. I lost a couple of days because I was in a 
complete delirium."

Health Canada has the authority to conduct inspections on producers 
for compliance, but does not prosecute violations.

Spokesperson Dave Thomas said the department is working with the 
Royal Canadian Mounted Police, as well as the Canadian Association of 
Fire Chiefs to determine how best to address the risks that may be 
posed by licensed grow operations.

"Health Canada strives to maintain an appropriate balance between 
providing seriously ill people with access to marijuana for medical 
purposes, and providing adequate regulatory control of marijuana," 
Thomas added.

Under medical marijuana regulations, Health Canada is authorized to 
provide only limited information in response to requests from police 
officers engaged in an investigation.

Thomas said Health Canada does not disclose information on people 
authorized to possess or produce marihuana for medical purposes to 
other organizations, to protect their privacy.

Despite the regulations, Maple Ridge Coun. Craig Speirs has concerns 
about legal marijuana producers - especially those growing locally.

He told council Monday that the federal government could download 
regulations on medicinal marijuana operations to municipalities.

"For me, I can see us wearing it. There's a huge amount of legal grow 
ops. We don't know how many because they're kept very secret."

Speirs said medicinal operations could possibly damage homes as much 
as illegal grow ops and noted that police get complaints about legal 
grows and don't know how to respond.

Bylaws director Brock McDonald said people usually don't tell the 
district they're growing the plants and there's nothing in the Health 
Canada licence requiring people to inform municipalities.

But three or four legal marijuana growers have contacted the district 
in the past year.

In turn, inspectors just checked on the electrical, plumbing and 
overall safety of the operation.

One of those operations takes place on a property that a local 
marijuana advocate provides for "a friend of a friend who has cancer 
and suffers from arthritis." His friend has a Health Canada licence 
to grow the medical marijuana, but the address listed as the location 
for growing 49 plants belongs to Pat, the advocate who requested his 
last name be withheld for safety reasons.

He'd like to expand that to another location so he could help more 
people and has inquired with the District of Maple Ridge several 
times about bylaw requirements.

"I know the individual [at district hall] who I'm trying to contact. 
I don't know if it's on purpose or because he's busy, but he won't 
respond to my e-mails. and tell me what exactly is required."

For Pat, the frustration lies in the stigma around marijuana use.

If you grow illegally, then people say you're horrible - but if you 
try do it legally, they try to paint you with the same brush.

"Like anything, it can be abused, but used properly, I think it has 
good potential benefits."

He doesn't advocate kids using marijuana, but can't see why it 
wouldn't be legalized for adult recreational use or medicinal purposes.

"If a person can get some relief, I really don't see the problem," said Pat.

"It's a God-given plant. It's not cocaine and it's not a chemical 
concoction. It's a plant that's put on this earth and if a person can 
find some relief for a medical condition, I really don't see the evil of it."

Pat says most of the problems are caused by its prohibition.

"If they would legalize it and treat it like alcohol, all this 
shoot-'em-up-stuff would go away.

"I resent being lumped in those other people but the justice system 
does that. If you're a pot grower, you're an evil, heroin-pusher kind 
of thing."

Conservative MP Randy Kamp said local police and firefighters are in 
the best position to determine whether or not medical marijuana 
growing sites pose a threat to public safety.

"The fact that Health Canada issues a permit to grow medical 
marijuana should not permit the grower to endanger public safety," he added.

"If there are cases where public safety is being put at risk, I 
certainly want to know about it so that I can bring it to the 
attention of the Minister of Health and the Minister of Public 
Safety, because that is simply unacceptable."

- - with files from Phil Melnychuk
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart