Medical pot court challenge begins
May 10, 2007
Richard Watts, Times Colonist (Canada)
A constitutional challenge to Canada's medical marijuana regulations began yesterday, part of the B.C. Supreme Court trial of two Victorians charged after a police raid of a compassion club grow-op.
Defence lawyer John Conroy of Abbotsford said outside the courtroom that the constitutional challenge contends government regulations force Canadians onto the black market to buy marijuana.
And that interferes with the charter right to life, liberty and security of person, a position the defence says is supported by other court rulings.
On trial are Michael Swallow, 41, and Mat Beren, 32, both charged with possession of marijuana for the purpose of trafficking and with production of marijuana.
The two were arrested in May 2004 when West Shore RCMP raided a house near Sooke being used by the Vancouver Island Compassion Society to grow marijuana.
The 600-member society is one of two groups in Victoria -- the other being the Victoria Cannabis Buyers' Club -- that supply medical marijuana to members.
The two organizations are part of a wide trend where clubs have been set up to supply marijuana to people who can supply evidence of a longstanding incurable medical condition such as HIV/AIDS or multiple sclerosis.
The Victoria Cannabis Buyers' Club has also been forced into court, winning one case in B.C. provincial court but losing another.
The trial of Swallow and Beren began earlier in the week with defence lawyers seeking an application for a stay, based on the length of time the case has taken to come to trial. The application was unsuccessful.
Phillippe Lucas, spokesman for the Vancouver Island Compassion Society, said in an interview the group has assembled what it considers an impressive list of witnesses for the constitutional challenge but it was also bound to follow legal advice and seek the stay on behalf of the two accused men.
Testimony in the challenge began with Lynne Belle-Isle of Ottawa, an epidemiologist with the Canadian AIDS Society and author of several reports on the use of medical marijuana.
Belle-Isle testified Health Canada allows three legal ways for people to get marijuana for medical use:
- They can seek government permission to grow it themselves;
- They can seek permission to have a designated person grow it for them;
- They can apply to buy their marijuana from the federal government, which grows it in an unused mine in Manitoba.
However, Belle-Isle said, studies she has completed show the majority of users of medical marijuana buy it from illegal sources.
She also testified more physicians are willing to sign notes for patients to attend compassion clubs than to register in the government programs.
Many compassion clubs have exhibited a degree of professionalism and care.
"They have even taken it upon themselves to come up with operational standards, strict rules," said Belle-Isle.