Grow-op bust brings out pot advocates

May 10, 2007

Brennan Clarke, Goldstream News-Gazette (Canada)

To the prosecution, it’s a simple case of production for the purposes of trafficking, involving two local men caught red-handed growing a crop of 900 marijuana plants on an acreage in East Sooke.

To Vancouver Island Compassion Society founder Philippe Lucas, it’s a constitutional challenge to Canada’s medical marijuana laws.

Lawyers were in court in Victoria this week arguing that the two men arrested in the May, 2004 raid, Mat Beren and Michael Swallow, were operating a marijuana research and cultivation facility on behalf of the society.

“We don’t deny what we were doing,” Lucas said. “Our defence is a constitutional challenge.”

The compassion society’s lawyers will argue that Health Canada’s medical cannabis program has failed to abide by recent court rulings ordering the government to make pot available for medical purposes, Lucas said.

The society accuses Health Canada of restricting access to the program, placing arbitrary limits on pot production and “supplying an inadequate source of cannabis.”

The government began growing medical marijuana in 2000, but users soon began to complain about the quality of the product.

Two years later, Freedom of Information documents obtained by the advocacy group Canadians for Safe Access, revealed that nearly one-third of people who bought pot from Health Canada returned their government-grown cannabis.

Lucas said a verdict in the compassion society’s favour could force a major overhaul of Canada’s medical cannabis program and potentially lead to the legalization of the community-based distribution of cannabis.

“It’s really a problem with the program that it limits single individuals from growing cannabis,” he said.

The trial of Beren and Swallow started Wednesday and is expected to continue through May 18. The defence witness list includes Conservative Senator Pierre-Claude Nolin, chair of the senate special committee on illegal drugs.

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