Pot sources go to pot
NEWS / Cops, feds do about face on medical use
story by John Sinopoli / Xtra! Sep 5 2002
Acceptance of the medical properties of weed suffered a couple of blows last month.
Along with a police raid on a Toronto marijuana club frequented by many HIV-positive people, medical marijuana’s long road to legalization has taken a detour. Blame it on Health Minister Anne McLellan.
“Health Canada through its minister has decided to express its discomfort with the project, something that was readily apparent throughout the year but nobody was saying that,” says Osgoode Hall law school professor Alan Young.
Allan Rock, who held the health portfolio before McLellan, had initiated clinical trials of medical marijuana’s therapeutic value. At the same time a select few were granted Section 56 exemptions which gave them access to medical marijuana during the trial process.
McLellan says the government will pursue clinical trials, but she’s backed away from Rock’s plan to create a legal domestic source of medical marijuana.
“That’s her way of saying that we’re a decade away from even considering distribution to sick people. Because the clinical trial process is lengthy, it’s costly and there’s only two approved clinical trials in Canada and they haven’t even started. So clearly it’s a step back,” says Young.
Medical marijuana activist Jim Wakeford is even less forgiving.
“The government told the public they meant to help us. The government never intended to help us all along. Allan Rock chose to follow the rhetoric line and he got nice ink for his fluff when he promised clinical trials and he promised to help and he didn’t.
“They fed the public what they want to hear. They told them there’d be $5-million in clinical trials. They spent $5-million on a bunker in Flin Flon” where the first approved medical marijuana crop was planted.
The national flip flop came just as Toronto police decided to raid the Toronto Compassion Centre, located at Bathurst and St Clair, on Aug 13. It had been Toronto’s primary not-for-profit provider of medical marijuana for the last five years. Some people who used the service say HIV-positive gay men were one of the centre’s largest user groups.
Young, who acts as legal counsel for the centre, says the police had turned a blind eye. No more.
“Over the four years there’s probably been a dozen occasions where I’ve had to speak to individual officers who have come to the centre or arrested a member who had product with the centre’s label. All 12 officers turned a blind eye and expressed some degree of support for the enterprise,” says Young.
Young believes that a police investigation into a December 2001 robbery at the centre turned into a drug investigation.
“This time there is not one officer, but many. I couldn’t count how many. And that was the problem. It’s harder to turn a blind eye when people are watching you. They were afraid to simply walk away because they found significant quantities and every officer is looking at the other wondering, ‘Are you going to report me for not investigating a blatant crime?’
“And they knew that if it got out it would be a public relations nightmare.”
Sgt Jim Musche, media relations officer for the Toronto Police Service, says that he can’t say why the centre was busted now. He will say that hundreds of thousands of dollars in hashish and marijuana were found inside.
Centre founder Warren Hitzig, manager Zach Nastolin, receptionist Andrea Horning and security guard Markos Koutoukis have each been charged with the possession of both marijuana and hashish for the purpose of trafficking. Their bail stipulates that they cannot be within 500 metres of the centre or of each other.
This is Hitzig’s third time being arrested for activities associated with the centre and he says he’s retiring from the job.