Pubdate: Sat, 01 Feb 2014
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2014 Times Colonist
Author: Jack Knox
Page: A3


The reception area of the Vancouver Island Compassion Society looks 
more like your doctor's office than a head shop.

Water cooler. Magazines. Hand sanitizer dispenser on the wall. 
Demurely dressed woman behind the desk. No dope in sight, or in the air.

Louis Ferreira would much rather buy his marijuana here than on the 
street. Guys in their 50s don't want to go skulking around like it's 
1974 and they're looking for a $20 lid before the Crowbar concert.

Ferreira doesn't want to smoke pot at all. It's easier to control his 
medical marijuana dosage by nibbling on one of the cookies he buys at 
the Cormorant Street storefront. "I don't want to get high. I want to 

There's no provision for cookies, oils, sprays or anything other than 
leaf marijuana in the new Health Canada rules that kick in two months 
from today, though. Affordability - a big deal to those whose medical 
conditions limit their finances - is also a hot topic as the feds 
prepare to transfer the sale of medical marijuana to licensed 
commercial growers.

Individual buyers feel like collateral damage in Ottawa's war against 
drug dealers who have been using medical marijuana licences as a 
shield against prosecution.

Right now, permit-holders suffering from such conditions such as 
epilepsy, cancer or osteoarthritis can get marijuana in one of three 
ways: growing it themselves, buying it mail order from the 
government's official supplier or getting it from a small-scale 
producer licensed to grow for one or two others.

That changes April 1. No one will be allowed to grow their own 
plants, as two-thirds of permit holders currently do. Also banned 
will be the small-scale, home-based grow-ops. In their place will be 
licensed commercial producers meeting strict conditions, including 
municipal zoning. A half dozen are listed on Health Canada's website 
so far, but more are on the way. Would-be commercial growers, 
including the one who has built a block-like building just off the 
Patricia Bay Highway in Central Saanich, are keen to get in on the action.

It's easy to see why the feds are changing the rules, the current 
system being open to abuse by the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers 
selling kilos out the back door as grams go out the front. 
Residential neighbourhoods are dotted with dodgy-but-legal grow shows 
that are often unknown to authorities until there's a violent rip-off 
or the faulty wiring brings the firefighters running.

But the crackdown also hurts those the program was designed to help; 
Ferreira doesn't know if he'll be able to afford the commercially 
grown pot. Another guy in the VICS office said he spent at least 
$20,000 on a small-scale, Health Canada-approved grow-op that Health 
Canada now says he must dismantle by April 1.

So-called compassion clubs live in a legal grey area, operating by 
their own rules. Some, like non-profit VICS, demand clients present a 
doctor's prescription for medical marijuana. Some want proof that a 
doctor has diagnosed illness, but let the patient self-prescribe the 
treatment. Some have rules that are looser still.

They sell to far more customers than are licensed by Health Canada. 
The latter body has issued permits to 37,000 Canadians, half of them 
in B.C. (nothing like confirming a regional stereotype) but VICS 
alone has 1,800 members, according to its website, and it is just one 
of at least five medical marijuana dispensaries in Victoria.

The law doesn't allow storefront pot sales, but the dispensaries are 
largely protected by court rulings that say Ottawa has made it too 
hard for sick people to get medical marijuana elsewhere. The courts' 
position seems unlikely to change, given the more restrictive new rules.

In fact, compassion clubs might grow in popularity as people who grew 
their own plants seek an alternative to the new commercial suppliers 
and their to-be-determined prices. ("Licensed producers will be 
responsible for setting the price in a manner similar to how prices 
for other narcotics used for medical purposes are set by their 
manufacturers," Health Canada says.) It's either the compassion clubs 
or the street, says Ferreira - and it would be ironic if the 
crackdown just chased more buyers into the underground market.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom