Pot meeting uncovers no new ground
February 16, 2006
Don Descoteau, Victoria News
Victoria's two compassion clubs are operating illegally, that much appears clear.
Apparently, the chances of either the Vancouver Island Compassion Society or the Cannabis Buyers Club receiving a legal exemption to provide medical marijuana for their members is slim at this point.
"Ultimately Health Canada's position on this is compassion clubs are illegal," organization spokesperson Chris Williams said this week.
As for the clubs' continued operation, he added "it's a matter for law enforcement agencies.
Essentially, the Victoria police have bigger fish to fry right now, according to Insp. Les Sylven.
"We're trying to get a handle on what's the best use of police resources," he said. "We look at it as 'what would the community want us to be doing?' Do they want us to be focusing on the crystal meth problem or on compassion clubs?"
While there really is no confusion over the fact marijuana distribution of any kind is illegal right now, Sylven said the issue of policing the clubs has some practical considerations.
"Is it our greatest priority right now? No. But is it a concern? Yes, particularly because of the violence related to the people taking advantage of these clubs. We keep a close eye on that side of it."
The idea of giving compassion clubs a federal exemption to legally supply cannabis products to chronically ill individuals has been tossed around for years.
The City of Victoria, hoping to clarify the issue - both clubs operate from city locations - has been working on and off to secure a meeting with Health Canada for three years. For various reasons, that didn't happen until earlier this month, when Health Canada's Linda Dabros spoke to city staff, local medical health officials and police in a closed-door meeting. She outlined the current medical marijuana access regulations, who can receive an exemption to use or grow cannabis and briefly talked about Health Canada's future plans on the issue.
No decisions will be made on the issue, but a report was due to be made to councillors at committee-of-the-whole yesterday.
From the city's standpoint, it's "business as usual" in terms of dealing with the compassion clubs, Mayor Alan Lowe said Wednesday.
"Things have not gotten out of control," he said.
Responding to the statement that keeping a close watch on the clubs isn't the highest priority for the police, Lowe said council can't set that priority either. "It's not up to us to tell the police which laws to enforce."
Annoyed that the meeting was held behind closed doors, Cannabis Buyers Club co-founder Ted Smith plans to attend a city council meeting Feb. 23 to voice his opinions on the matter.
"Really, I'm just trying to find out what has happened," he said. "It's important to find out why we've been snubbed here- and find out why Health Canada has been so irresponsible."
People with Health Canada exemptions to use marijuana products for medical reasons are listed under one of three options, Williams said. They include purchasing dried product from Health Canada, being granted a licence to grow their own or having another person grow it for them.
The latter case is limited to a one-to-one relationship, Williams said, not one person growing for a number of people, as is the case with the local compassion clubs.
Vancouver Island Compassion Society executive director Philippe Lucas said the rule preventing one cannabis grower from supplying more than one person, through a compassion club, has been struck down as unconstitutional. Other similar court cases are in the works, he said.
In terms of the relationship the 550-member VICS has with the city, Lucas said it continues to be an "integral part of Victoria's social health network" and receives great support from the local medical community.
As for being monitored by police, he claimed the club has yet to have a complaint lodged against it in six years of operation.
"Unfortunately because of Health Canada's continued resistance to licensing compassion clubs, there's never a day that goes by that I don't worry about raids or arrests," Lucas admitted.