Pot bust concerns local medical user

January 23, 2007

Rebecca Aldous, Ladysmith Chronicle (Canada)

A Ladysmith man is worried recent charges against a medical marijuana supplier will force chronically ill people to the streets for their herb.

James Breau, a member of the Central Island Compassion Club, holds a licence from Health Canada to use marijuana, unlike many of the other members of the compassion club. Breau is able to buy medical marijuana from the government. He said the charges laid against the club’s founder Mark Russell, forces those without to buy marijuana from unreliable street sources.

“You never know what you are getting when you buy off the streets,” Breau said.

He noted all members of the Parksville compassion club are faced with chronic and debilitating disease, from cancer to arthritis.

Breau is diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. He said by pressuring the club, police have now cut off an important source of pain medication for all members.

“Marijuana is not at all a cure,” Breau said. “It just eases some of the misery.”

Medical Marijuana Access Regulations, which came into force on July 30, 2001, define circumstances and the manner in which access to marijuana for medical purposes is permitted.

“Health Canada has an obligation to provide a consistent, high quality, legally available source of marijuana to people authorized under the Marijuana Medical Access regulations,” said Health Canada spokeswoman Renee-France Bergeron. “Health Canada is committed to providing compassionate access to marijuana for medical purposes to people who are suffering from serious illness, for whom therapies have not worked and who have support of their physician.”

She said the Canadian government believes clinical research regarding marijuana for therapeutic purposes and the development of use-based products is best undertaken and funded by the pharmaceutical industry.

Duncan-based Phytocan was the first company in Canada to develop a cannabis-based product. Phytocan president Eric Nash and operations manager Wendy Little are legally allowed to sell marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Russell, however, said he does not have necessary legal paperwork for his five-year-old compassion club. Yet, he said the club is legitimate and not a front for drug users. All members of his club provide proof of their medical condition.

He feels the charges of trafficking against him have scared medicinal users into hiding.

“This has installed fear into these people,” Russell said. “They already have enough stress and agony in their lives.”

Russell’s client list ranges from those suffering from Multiple Sclerosis to Lupus. Russell noted his compassion club is not a grand money maker, as he doesn’t sell huge quantities of marijuana.

“This is not about hippies and dope,” Russell said. “This is about people and medicine.”

Comox RCMP Const. Chad Gargus disagrees. He said Russell’s 85 member-customer list is a lot more than the average dealer would have.

“This so-called compassion club is selling at above premium prices for marijuana going on the street,” said Gargus.

He said there is no gray area surrounding the use of medicinal marijuana, one either has a licence or they don’t, the same as with other prescription drugs. Gargus noted when the case goes to trial more reasons will be revealed as to why police went after the club.

“Sometimes [members] may provide a doctors’ note saying they have something,” said Gargus. “Sometimes they just filled out a piece of paper saying they do indeed have some sort of pain that they feel requires medical marijuana.”

Russell faces six counts of trafficking a controlled substance. Approximately 390 grams of marijuana was seized by police in the raid. Russell’s trial is scheduled for March.

“This is not a visible club and that is why it was targeted,” Breau said.

Ladysmith’s James Breau has a Health Canada licence to possess medical marijuana. He said the recent search warrant on Parksville’s Mark Russell’s marijuana compassion club will force people with chronic illness to buy their medical marijuana off the streets.



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