Pubdate: Sat, 05 Jun 2010
Source: Daily Gleaner (CN NK)
Copyright: 2010 Brunswick News Inc.
Page: A12
Author: Peter Rakobowchuk, The Canadian Press


MONTREAL - Police have done the Mob and street gangs a  favour by 
cracking down on cannabis clubs, say pot  decriminalization advocates.

They warn that people will now be buying their stuff  from criminal 
networks instead of tax-paying  businesses.

Thirty-five people were arrested in raids on Quebec's  so-called 
"compassion clubs-" storefront outlets  operating in plain view - 
while 90 kilograms of  cannabis were also seized Thursday.

Those clubs in Montreal and Quebec City offered a wide  selection of 
marijuana for about $10 a gram to  customers who claimed a medical 
condition and provided  a doctor's note.

Police argue that the clubs were selling to healthy  people and 
essentially were drug-trafficking  operations.

A police spokesman says those arrested were all  released after 
promising to appear in court on June 23.

Sen. Pierre Claude Nolin says users of medicinal  marijuana are now 
forced to find it elsewhere, and the  vast majority will wind up 
getting it from criminal  gangs.

After making the arrests, police themselves declared  that the clubs 
had no connection to criminal gangs.

"It's the most disastrous consequence of the whole  operation," Nolin 
said in an interview.

"The vast majority will have to look at the black  market ... and the 
substance on the black market is not  exactly the quality substance 
that are received in the  clubs.

"In the clubs, they are trying to have access to  organic cannabis, 
which is not the case with the black  market."

He says research suggests there are roughly one million  Canadians 
who say they smoke cannabis for medical  purposes, while less than 
5,000 such permits have been  issued by Health Canada.

That means, he says, the vast majority will have to  find their 
supply elsewhere.

An official for the federal Justice Department said  there would be 
no comment on the cases. All questions  were referred to Health Canada.

The Health Canada website says that, as of June 2009,  4,029 people 
had authorization to possess dried  marijuana for medical purposes 
and 2,360 were allowed  to cultivate or produce it.

A pie chart indicates the largest number of permits -  1,631 - were 
issued in Ontario, followed by 1,008 in  British Columbia. Nova 
Scotia was third with 491,  followed by Quebec with 305. In Alberta, 
282 people  were given permission to use cannabis for their health.

Marc-Boris St-Maurice, who runs Montreal's downtown  Compassion 
Centre, was among those arrested and  released during the police raids.

He's sure people seeking cannabis for health reasons  will still find 
it, and he predicts "people are just  going to be doing it in back alleys."

"There are scrupulous people in the marijuana industry  - but it's 
more the inconvenience of running around,"  said St-Maurice, the 
founder and onetime leader of the  federal Marijuana party.

"If someone is sick or suffering, they don't need that  additional 
stress of wondering if they're gonna get  ripped off or if they're 
gonna get arrested in the  process."

St-Maurice has six employees helping him support 1,500  club members.

"It's a drop in the bucket compared to how many people  smoke 
marijuana in the city of Montreal on a given  day," he added.

On Thursday, police seized just over 86 kilograms of  marijuana and 
almost four kilos of hashish, which would  put the street value of 
the seizure at just around  $900,000.

They also confiscated about $39,000 in cash.

Nolin, a longtime advocate for relaxed drug laws,  doesn't blame the 
police. He says they were likely  acting on a complaint and were 
bound to apply the law.

The Tory senator notes that the same thing happened in  the past to a 
compassion club in Victoria, but the  court decided to acquit the club.

"(It's) basic police work," Nolin said.

"If the police is receiving a complaint, they don't  have the choice 
but to intervene. That is their job.  That's the job society is 
asking them to do and we  don't have to judge them if they receive a 

Some neighbours who lived near the cannabis clubs did  complain to 
media after Thursday's arrests about people  loitering around the 
buildings, and about the pungent  smell emanating from them.

Nolin chaired a Senate committee that recommended in  2002 that pot 
smoking should be legal for any resident  over 16.

He has visited several compassion clubs - including the  ones in 
Vancouver, Victoria and, as recently as two  weeks ago, the Quebec City club.

"Before opening they invited police so they would know  how they 
operate and how the club operates," he said.
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart