Senator to testify in city challenge of med-pot law

August 08, 2007

Richard Watts, Times Colonist (Victoria, Canada)

A Canadian senator who has called for the legalization of marijuana took the stand yesterday in the trial arising from a raid on the Vancouver Island Compassion Society's grow operation.

Pierre Claude Nolin chaired the Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs, which unanimously called five years ago for legalization of the drug in Canada. The committee recommended the government license production and sale of marijuana, which would be available to any Canadian citizen over the age of 16.

The Tory senator, who has said the drug should be regulated like wine and beer by the government, was called to testify by the defence, which is mounting a constitutional challenge to Canada's medical-marijuana regulations. The Compassion Society is trying to prove that the regulations force people to use the black market, interfering with their charter right to security of person.

Nolin has not yet given evidence -- he was examined and cross-examined all afternoon on his credentials. The Crown even quizzed him on the British colonial annexation of Hong Kong and the Opium Wars of the 19th century.

On trial are Michael Swallow and Mat Beren, 33, both charged with possession of marijuana for the purpose of trafficking and production of marijuana.

RCMP arrested the two men in May 2004 when officers raided a house near Sooke used by the Vancouver Island Compassion Society to grow marijuana for its 600-odd members.

Compassion clubs are a North-America-wide phenomenon where people join together to supply marijuana as medicine.

Canada's medical-marijuana regulations, developed in response to earlier court rulings, allow people to use marijuana for medical purposes -- for example as an appetite stimulant for HIV patients.

Those approved as medical-marijuana users can grow it themselves, or designate someone to grow it for them under special conditions. They can also buy it from the government, which commissions a company to grow the plants in an abandoned mine shaft in Flin Flon, Man., but users have complained the government-produced pot is poor quality. Most end up buying pot from illegal sources, critics say.

The trial continues today with Nolin still on the stand.

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