Pubdate: Thu, 16 Mar 2017
Source: Record, The (Kitchener, CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 Metroland Media Group Ltd.
Author: Greg Mercer
Page: A1


KITCHENER - Medical marijuana users in Waterloo Region are wondering
where to turn now that the city's oldest compassion club has closed
its doors following a recent police crackdown on local pot

Organix Compassion shut down voluntarily Tuesday following a raid on
another Kitchener dispensary, Green Tree Medical Dispensary. The
pressure from police has struck fear into the region's pot
dispensaries, who say they've stopped selling marijuana following
warnings from the authorities.

But for the 700 or so members of Kitchener's Organix Compassion club,
it means they're scrambling to find new ways to get cannabis to treat
a range of medical conditions from nausea caused by cancer to
arthritis to chronic pain.

"It's heartbreaking, it's gut-wrenching. It's had me in tears, it's
had me not sleeping," said Sandra Thornton, general manager of Organix
Compassion. "My phone has been going non-stop, people are crying."

While the club has operated undisturbed for years, the recent
attention from police has forced it to make a very difficult decision,
she said. It's always been careful about how it runs - turning down
anyone without a doctor's prescription for medical marijuana, she said.

But after police raided Green Tree last Friday, arresting four people
and charging them with possession for the purpose of trafficking, the
club says it was too afraid to continue.

"We don't want to be a thorn in the side of the police," Thornton
said. "We believe the police are trying to be discerning, but we can't
put our members at risk. It's our goal to work with police and
government because this is what society needs."

Unlike pot dispensaries, which are retail businesses that sell
marijuana, compassion clubs are typically nonprofit organizations that
focus strictly on medicinal uses of marijuana and offer in-person
advice for sick people who aren't looking for a buzz.

Both are technically illegal, but patients at Organix believe police
turned a blind eye to their club for years because they weren't
selling to youths and were exclusively dealing with members who had a
licence to use medicinal pot.

"We just wanted to be a safe place for people to get their medicine,"
said Thornton, who uses marijuana to treat the painful symptoms of
fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis. "We take this very seriously. We're
not just there to hand out marijuana."

Before she found medical cannabis, she spent two decades on
prescription painkillers that she says did permanent damage to her
liver. Stories like hers are common at the club. Many members say
conventional medicine wasn't working for them and marijuana has given
them a second lease on life.

Thornton says people were coming to her club because the legal options
to buy medical marijuana - ordering it from a licensed producer,
growing it yourself or appointing someone else to grow it for you -
doesn't work for many of them.

Her members complain the government-run system is too expensive, too
cumbersome, and too inconvenient. And following a tainted pot
controversy involving recalls of government-inspected pot, they trust
it even less.

Now they aren't sure where to go. Some members who've turned to street
dealers in the past have wound up getting marijuana laced with other
drugs, Thornton said. Her club bought its marijuana from licensed
growers and tested it regularly at an independent lab.

The club's members say they use medicinal marijuana simply because it

"I wake up every day and feel like I've been hit by a truck. But
marijuana has given me my life back," said Peter Thurley, a member
who's been using cannabis to treat chronic nerve pain from major
stomach surgery for the past year and a half.

"My care providers, including my physician, are on board and
understand that this is an integral part of my post-operative care."

Compassion club operators believe the licensed, federally regulated
marijuana producers are pressuring the government to crack down on the
dispensaries that are cutting into their business.

That's why lawmakers need to hear from the public, Thornton

"The system they've created doesn't work," she said. "The biggest way
for people to fight this is to start writing letters to their MPs,
MPPs, to Trudeau and the opposition leaders and start inundating them.
Canadians need to start standing up for themselves."

Thornton said she doesn't blame the police. Instead, it's the
politicians who've created the problems for clubs like hers - telling
people that legalization is coming, but leaving them in limbo in the

"Now is the time for people to get off their asses and start telling
the government 'no.'" she said. "Places like mine are caught in the
middle, along with the cops. Nobody knows what to do, but they all
want to do the right thing."
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