VICS Constitutional Challenge of Health Canada Medical Cannabis Program Successful!

February 04, 2009
This post was written by Philippe Lucas, founder & executive director of the Vancouver Island Compassion Society (VICS), founder of Canadians for Safe Access, and member of ASA's Medical and Scientific Advisory Board. It is with great pleasure that I announce the successful outcome of the Vancouver Island Compassion Society (VICS) Constitutional challenge of Health Canada's medical cannabis program and practice.  On Monday, February 2nd 2009 Justice Koenigsberg ruled that the federal regulations limiting the number of people who could grow cannabis in one location, and the rules limiting the number of patients that a producer could grow for were arbitrary, served no public interest, and were therefore unconstitutional. She stayed her decision for one year in order to allow the federal government to amend their medical cannabis regulations to reflect her ruling. Although Justice Koenigsberg went on to find the defendant, Mr. Mat Beren - who was in charge of the Vancouver Island Compassion Society's production and research facility - guilty of cannabis possession and cultivation for the purpose of trafficking, she then immediately granted him an absolute discharge, essentially exonerating him of all charges.   In granting Mr. Beren the discharge, the judge stated that "In my view, it would be contrary to public interest for Mr. Beren to have criminal record.  If ever there was a case where an absolute discharge is appropriate, it's this one."  She also urged Health Canada to establish regulations that would legally authorize organizations like the Vancouver Island Compassion Society that are legitimately helping medical cannabis patients through research and distribution to continue their good work without the ongoing threat of arrest and prosecution. This important legal decision came about as result of a nearly five year Charter challenge which stemmed from a 2004 police raid on the Vancouver Island Therapeutic Cannabis Research Institute (VITCRI), a cannabis production, research and breeding facility owned and operated by the Vancouver Island Compassion Society.  The judge has yet to issue a written decision, and we will make it available as soon as it becomes available. This marks the fifth time that this program has been found unconstitutional since 2001, and although it is a major victory for Canadian medical cannabis patients and those working to help them, the decision didn't address and remedy ongoing access problems.   Judge Koenigsberg noted that Health Canada has only granted legal access to medical cannabis to about 2600 people so far, despite there being between 400,000 and 1 million medical cannabis patients in Canada, but failed to find the access regulations unconstitutional.  However, as a result of her ruling patients will be able to benefit from the economies of scale in regards to the production of their medicine, and experienced cultivators will have more freedom and motivation to assist authorized patients. The VICS and its 850 members would like to thank our amazing legal team for this historic victory.  Lawyers Kirk Tousaw and John Conroy QC both worked tirelessly on this challenge at greatly reduced legal rates, and they deserve much of the credit for this win.  We'd also like to thank our lay and expert witnesses, who gave so much of themselves and whose testimony formed the foundation for Justice Koenigsberg's historic decision.  Lastly, a huge thanks to our supporters in both Canada and the U.S., particularly the Marijuana Policy Project, Robert Field, and the Drug Policy Alliance, without whose financial support this challenge would not have been possible.
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