HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Ottawa Won't Prosecute Medical Marijuana Activists
Pubdate: Wed, 28 Jan 2004
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2004, The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Brian Laghi
Cited: Toronto Compassion Centre
B.C. Compassion Club Society
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal - Canada)


Citizen groups that provide medicinal marijuana to the chronically-ill
are rejoicing today amid news that Ottawa will not proceed with
trafficking charges laid against two men operating a well-known
Toronto care centre.

The Globe and Mail has learned that the federal government will
refrain from pursuing a prosecution against two men who operated a
Toronto organization whose workers were devoted to dispensing cannabis
to patients suffering from persistent illnesses like AIDS and other

The men's preliminary hearing was to have started today.

"This is exciting," said Warren Hitzig, one of two individuals charged
with a number of drug-related offenses.

"By not convicting me, you're basically opening the door for others to

Mr. Hitzig, 27, and a colleague, Zach Naftolin, were charged in 2002
after the Toronto Compassion Centre they helped to operate was robbed
and investigating police later found large quantities of marijuana on
the premises.

Mr. Hitzig said he was informed last week that the charges would not
go ahead. However, sources were unclear whether they would be
withdrawn or stayed. A stayed charged means police have the right to
proceed for up to a year.

He said many other such clubs across had been concerned they would be
the next ones to face charges, and are encouraged now that they will
be able to operate without that fear.

"I think that's the message, but they were also really scared. They
don't want to go through the same thing that I did," he said. He said
that recently-established regulations that allow chronically-ill
Canadians to access the drug are very onerous, necessitating the need
for his organization and others like it. Mr. Hitzig and Mr. Naftolin
no longer run the club, which has since begun operating in another

"The government has to do something. It's popping up all over the
world," he said. "Health Canada get your act together."

The operator of a Vancouver centre said the decision may encourage
others to provide the service.

"I think it's another note of recognition of the service we are
providing," said Hilary Black, co-director of the B.C. Compassion Club
Society. Ms. Black, whose club currently provides marijuana to 2,800
individuals, said her organization regularly receives inquiries from
individuals wanting to set up clubs but who are concerned about
whether it's safe to do so.

Federal justice officials would not comment on the matter.

The stay was ordered after Justice Minister Irwin Cotler received a
letter from Toronto lawyer Alan Young asking that the prosecution be

In his letter, Mr. Young noted that the centre "operated in an open
and transparent manner" and that, between 1999 and 2002, there had
been numerous police officers who investigated the centre and
determined that the laying of criminal charges was not warranted.

"I am asking that you intervene to stay proceedings because the
continuation of this prosecution reflects poorly on the integrity of
your department," he wrote.

By 2002, the centre was servicing over 1,200 individuals who had
letters from their physicians saying they required the drug.

The charges were laid after Mr. Hitzig, who acted as director of the
centre, was party to a lawsuit alleging the country's marijuana access
regulations were too restrictive. It argued that Ottawa had not made
available a lawful source of marijuana available despite the
regulations saying it would be made available to those who qualified.

The lawsuit requested that the courts compel Ottawa to distribute
marijuana that was being grown under a federal contract. Eventually,
the federal government did so, although there are still many
complaints about the ease with which individuals can access it.
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