Pubdate: Tue, 11 Jun 2013
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2013 Times Colonist
Author: Jack Knox


It's 2 p.m. Monday and Victoria's Cannabis Buyers Club is hopping in 
a way that would make any retailer green as grass with envy.

Half a dozen people are lined up to buy cookies, oils, capsules, 
whatever. On its busiest days, this cramped little Johnson Street 
rabbit warren will serve 400 customers.

Off in a side room, Ron Yayahkeekoot is here not to buy, but to join 
a discussion on vapourizing techniques. The holder of a Health Canada 
medical-marijuana licence, he purchases his pot elsewhere, paying $5 
a gram to a designated grower - and he worries that new rules issued 
by Ottawa on Monday are a step backward.

"All I know is there's going to be a smaller choice and a higher 
cost," he says.

As of next March, there will be big changes for Canadians who 
currently get their medical marijuana in one of three ways: growing 
it themselves, buying it from the government's official supplier or, 
like Yayahkeekoot, getting it from a grower licensed to grow pot for 
one or two users.

New rules will bar users from growing their own dope or buying it 
from anyone but licensed producers meeting strict conditions, 
including municipal zoning. Not only is the government getting out of 
the marijuana-selling business itself, but it is pushing small-scale, 
home-based grow-ops aside.

The feds are desperate to regain lost ground in what has become a 
proxy war for legalization. Ottawa fears garden-variety drug dealers 
are using Health Canada's program as a shield against prosecution. 
(It's at the point where traditional underground dope-growers in the 
Kootenays recently grumbled to Global TV about being driven out of 
business by licensed operations.)

Certainly the market extends beyond Canada's 30,000 licensed users. 
The country is dotted with medical-marijuana dispensaries - including 
at least five in Victoria - operating by their own rules. Some demand 
clients present a doctor's prescription. Some want a doctor's 
diagnosis, but let the patient self-prescribe. Some are basically Amsterdam.

The thing is, in going after those who abuse the system, the 
government is hurting those who really do use marijuana as medicine, 
says Philippe Lucas, a former Victoria councillor and longtime 
proponent of reform. Preventing the 70 per cent of permit-holders who 
grow their own marijuana from doing so is a blow to people whose 
medical conditions frequently leave them poor.

Lucas is happy that Health Canada is replacing its onerous 
user-licensing process with a simple requirement for a letter from a 
doctor, but notes physicians have balked at being the gatekeepers. 
Nor will pharmacists be involved. All marijuana is supposed to be 
shipped in prescribed amounts from what are expected to be a few 
large-scale growers; rather than trust that system, many people are 
likely to buy pot of unknown provenance for a similar amount (perhaps 
$8 a gram) from street dealers.

Or they'll go somewhere like the Cannabis Buyers Club that sells 
derivatives - cookies, oils and so on - for which Ottawa has not made 
provision. Users say marijuana's effects differ by strain, method of 
consumption and the way active ingredients are extracted. Individuals 
find what works for them and stick to it. They fear Health Canada 
will throw that out in favour of a one-size-fits-all approach. 
"That's what we're really afraid of right now," says Yayahkeekoot, 
who suffers from arthritis and other ailments.

The new regulations' lack of consideration for such people could 
allow the dispensaries to continue to live in a grey area; they're 
not really legal, but have been backed by court rulings that say 
Ottawa makes access to medical marijuana too hard otherwise. "Courts 
and to a certain extent law enforcement have been tolerant of 
properly run dispensaries because they're serving a need," says 
Cobble Hill lawyer Kirk Tousaw, whose practice deals mainly with marijuana law.

Tousaw expects litigation on behalf of users no longer able to grow 
their own marijuana.

In the meantime, many will shop locally. "Our club, ironically, is 
likely to get busier," says Cannabis Buyers Club founder Ted Smith.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom