Pubdate: Fri, 14 Oct 2016
Source: Montreal Gazette (CN QU)
Copyright: 2016 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Christopher Curtis
Page: A1


Dispensary works in 'legal grey zone' awaiting new federal law

The smell is unmistakable.

There must be a small mountain of pot lying somewhere in a back room
of the storefront office on St-Laurent Blvd.

That thick, skunky aroma - strong enough to trigger memories of a
misspent youth - is apparent the moment patients are buzzed through
the front door of Fondation Marijuana.

A whiteboard by the reception desk advertises strains with names like
Grand Daddy Purps, Jean Guy and Blue Magic.

Despite the overwhelming smell, despite the fact that there are untold
kilos of cannabis stored behind the sheetrock wall, the office has a
distinctly sterile feel to it: medical forms, filing cabinets, a
photocopier and two security cameras pointed toward the centre of the

This storefront on Montreal's iconic main drag is one of the few
places in Quebec where a person can legally buy cannabis. That is,
until the Trudeau government's proposal to legalize marijuana takes

Last July, federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould announced a
task force to legalize marijuana - a process legal experts say could
take years, even under the best circumstances.

In the meantime, one way to buy weed without risking arrest is to get
a doctor's prescription, schlep up St-Laurent, and ask for Boris.

Marc-Boris St-Maurice emerges from Fondation Marijuana's back room
sporting a ruffled dress shirt and a pair of Ray-Bans that rest atop
his thinning crop of hair.

People started calling him "Boris" while St-Maurice played bass for
Grimskunk - a staple of Quebec's punk scene in the 1990s - but the
moniker stuck as he moved from punk rock to the rough-and-tumble world
of politics.

It's difficult to talk about legalizing marijuana in Canada without
"Boris" St-Maurice's name coming up. He founded the federal Bloc Pot
party in 1998 (you can probably guess what its platform was), ran
unsuccessfully for Montreal city council in 2009, has been an active
member of the Liberal Party of Canada for the last decade and
registered as a lobbyist this year.

Lately, he's been lobbying the city administration in the hope that it
might help regulate medicinal marijuana dispensaries in Montreal. His
cause, he says, "isn't high on their list of priorities."

Asked if his pleas have gained traction among the federal Liberals or
earned him an audience with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau,
St-Maurice's face lights up.

"Have I met with Justin? Quite frequently," says St-Maurice, who sat
down with the Montreal Gazette at a cafe near his dispensary. "He
knows me by my first name. I saw him in those conventions 10 years
ago, when he started in politics, we would run into each other all the
time and debate it. At first he was hesitant, he wasn't sure, but over
time he got better educated and now I'm relieved that he finally
realizes it's a good policy for Canada.

"I like to think that our work helped nudge the Liberal government
toward their stance on legalization."

For 17 years, St-Maurice has acted as a go-between for people with a
legitimate medical right to marijuana and those who break the law to
grow cannabis and supply patients with that product.

"We're straight up: people need it, we're going to get it for them,"
St-Maurice says. "It's an act of civil disobedience because we're
breaking the law to get it to them. It's nice to see the social
climate has caught up to what we're doing."

By his reckoning, St-Maurice operates in a "legal grey

Though there's one licensed producer of medical marijuana in Quebec -
Hydropothecary, an 80-acre farm near Gatineau - St-Maurice says that
isn't enough to meet his clients' needs. So he also deals with people
who operate outside the law.

"Of course there is a criminal element out there, but there are also
many, many, if not the majority of these, (who are) mom-and-pop
producers who have small-to medium-level productions," St-Maurice
says. "And they're maybe making $20,000 a year, maybe $100,000, but
you know that's not Al Capone by any stretch.

"People have this thought, you know, they watch the news and see a
bust that's worth '$3 million.' I talk to the people who run that
house and they say, 'Man, if that's worth $3 million I would have
retired to the Bahamas years ago.'"

Criminal groups have long played a role in the industry. They provide
cash for grow-ops, oversee distribution and extort protection money
from producers.

But St-Maurice says it's labourers and farmers who form the backbone
of Quebec's illegal marijuana trade, experiencing the time-honoured
trials of running an agricultural business: crop failures and cost

Many of those "mom and pop" operators, he says, need to have a place
at the table when recreational marijuana becomes a legitimate
business. "There's a lot of expertise there, a lot of talent and brain
trust you'd be throwing away if you didn't include these people," said
St-Maurice. "Regulation will probably make the industry a lot less
attractive to criminals and that's a good thing."

The patients who come to Fondation Marijuana suffer from a variety of
debilitating conditions: they are in the advanced stages of HIV, they
can't hold down meals because of the nausea that comes with
chemotherapy or are grappling with the crippling symptoms of multiple
sclerosis. Many struggle with chronic pain.

"Our membership fluctuates. People go into remission and don't need
chemotherapy anymore, but people also die and we never see them
again," he says. "There was a case early on, Claude Messier, he had
muscular dystrophy. He was shrivelled up, he couldn't walk, he got
around on a motorized wheelchair. He had vicious, vicious muscle
spasms all the time. Smoking was what helped him.

"He was like a die-hard activist, a published author, a really bright
guy and sadly he passed away a few years back."

Messier was among the 18,000 Canadians licensed, by Health Canada, to
use dried cannabis for medicinal purposes. Most get their product by
mail order from a regulated supplier. Others reach out to "compassion
clubs" like St-Maurice's.

Access to marijuana for medical purposes has been legal since 1999,
but Quebec's College of Physicians does not recognize it as a form of
treatment. Under the college's guidelines, patients can only receive a
prescription for "research purposes."

Even so, St-Maurice says his dispensary has thousands of members, each
of whom has a valid prescription - the Fondation's staff call doctor's
offices to confirm. But that hasn't stopped police from cracking down
on St-Maurice because of his precarious legal situation.

Officers first raided his shop in 2000, snatching a few ounces of weed
before they charged St-Maurice with trafficking narcotics.

He fought the charge, spent two years in court and was

The second time around was much costlier. Police seized "pounds and
pounds" of St-Maurice's stash in 2010, costing him "hundreds of
thousands" of dollars in lost product and legal fees.

St-Maurice blamed the 2010 raid on the opening of some rival
"compassion clubs" on the West Island that did not screen customers
properly and were aggressively trying to expand.

"That rubbed some people the wrong way. Because once they looked into
it, they saw, 'Oh, maybe these people aren't that medical after all.'
And the decision was made that they raided everybody in Quebec. We get
swept up in that as well."

But Manuel Couture, a spokesperson for Montreal police, said police
only apply the law.

"We apply the Criminal Code, it's not a question of an officer's
discretion. Even if we're talking about some marijuana flakes in
someone's pockets, that's possession of marijuana," he said.

St-Maurice's dispensary remains one of the rare ones in Quebec.
Because of the dubious legal nature of its existence, it is still
vulnerable to police intervention.

But St-Maurice says he invites regulation and has been pressing the
city to create its own marijuana bylaw, in hopes of laying down ground
rules for dispensaries.

In the meantime, St-Maurice is hopeful for the future. "The
establishment is waking up to the reality that (medical marijuana)
does work," he says. "They're still struggling with the issues of
limiting access, making it legal while it's illegal recreationally,
they're trying to navigate this but they're learning fast.

"Now when it comes time to legalizing marijuana? That's a whole
'nother can worms."


What happens when you get busted for possession of weed in this city?
The Montreal Gazette put that question out to readers, legal experts
and the proprietor of a marijuana dispensary. Taken as a whole, their
answers could be summarized with just two word


Montrealer, salesman, father of one

The cops pulled a friend and me over in the West Island, searched our
car, went through my pockets and found it. Next thing you know, I'm in
the back of the police car, I'm at the station and they tell me
they're pressing charges.

I didn't want $7 of weed to f--ing screw up the rest of my life so I
hired a lawyer. I had, literally, like not even a gram on me. My
lawyer had explained to me that it's basically to the policeman's
discretion if he wants to press charges or not. I unfortunately got a
jerk. So we got our first court date and my lawyer calls and says, "I
don't like that judge, we're going to postpone it." OK. Our second
court date he did the same thing. Finally, on our third court date, he
liked the judge and we went forward with our plan.

He went in, spoke to the prosecutor, the judge and I ended up making a
$1,500 donation to a women's shelter and they dropped the case. It was
as if it never went to court, it's not on my record, there's no trace
of it . ... It cost me a bunch of money - about $3,000 - for what it
was. I had just been hired at (a major telecommunications company) and
they do criminal background checks and a conviction would have been
grounds for them to fire me.


Cote-des-Neiges resident, student

We were passing around a joint in a parking lot late one summer night
when two cops rolled up. They searched all of us but I was the only
one holding (I had maybe a gram on me). They asked us if we were in a
gang, which, I don't think they would have asked us that if we were
white. They ran all of our names through the system, it came back that
none of us had a criminal record so they let my friends go.

It was humiliating to be put in the back of a cop car, having to go in
front of a judge, having to borrow money from my parents to pay for a
lawyer. We're not rich, I know that the money we had to pay - I think
it was $2,000 for a lawyer and we wrote a $1,500 cheque to a charity -
for me not to have a criminal record really put a strain on the
family. I broke the law, yeah, but I'm not a bad guy. I work, I go to
school and sometimes I blow off some steam.


Founder of Fondation Marijuana, activist, politician, punk

If you're smoking a joint walking down St-Laurent Blvd., honestly I
think the cops have bigger issues to tackle here. If you're in a park
in a suburb near a school and you're a 17-year-old kid and parents
complain, you might find that they have to do something because of
pressure. When it comes to the amount of people smoking marijuana
versus those convicted, we're talking like 0.0013 per cent of users
actually get slapped. You've got to ask yourself, what's the point? We
wouldn't accept a murder solve rate of 0.0013 per cent. Why? Because
we know it's wrong to take someone's life. We accept such a low solve
rate with marijuana because we know that, aside from the person
smoking, it's essentially a victimless crime.


McGill University criminology professor, former probation

Carmichael was asked whether, in Canada, people of colour are
disproportionately affected by drug laws.

I am not familiar with any empirical data on this in Canada . ... Some
scholars have described the application of marijuana laws as among the
most glaring example of racial discrimination in the (American)
criminal justice system . ... A study using arrest data from New York
City showed that a full 15 per cent of all arrests over a 25-year
period were for marijuana in public view. Sixty-four per cent of those
arrests were of blacks and 25 per cent of Latinos. Given that
marijuana use appears to be normally distributed across racial groups,
a fair application of drug laws would look nothing like this.
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MAP posted-by: Matt