High Times highwitnessnews Pg 30
'MORE THAN JUST SUPPLYING WEED'
Toronto Compassion Centre Nears Third Year
Picture with caption: 'Beds of Mercy' ready to serve patients at the Toronto Compassion Centre.
by Matt Mernagh
TORONTO-The Toronto Compassion Centre has survived an eviction notice, and is preparing to celebrate its third anniversary at a new location in downtown Toronto.
The storefront may not be as spacious as the club would like, but the waiting room has a members' art gallery, marijuana reading materials, general health information and a comfortable leather couch. More important is the back room, where a small bar fridge contains several varieties of marijuana, hash, shake and edibles. There's no space for a smoking/discussion room.
But Warren Hitzig who founded the club as the Medical Marijuana Resource Centre in May 1997, doesn't have time to worry about the space's limitations. The bulk of his day is spent verifying new membership applications with doctors and ensuring a steady supply of grade-A marijuana for the constantly ballooning membership.
"I expected to have more than 350 members after three years of operation," Hitzig says. "We had so many problems getting people to accept the idea. There was so much pessimism about the club. I got motivated and read books. I went to organizations like People Living with AIDS and said 'We're here. Give us a call.' Some groups were really excited and others didn't care. Now they are gung-ho about it, with the government's involvement."
TCC members have become very optimistic about the federal government's response to their medicinalmarijuana education. Over 20 Canadians have so far received exemptions and permission to cultivate marijuana for their own use. And Health Canada, the federal agency that approves all pharmaceutical medications, has slowly begun setting up the framework to perform clinical trials on marijuana, which will be needed before doctors can legitimately prescribe it to their patients.
"Right now we are seeking a domestic supplier,' Health Canada spokesperson Jeff Pender explains. "Someone who can grow a certain quality and quantity."
HC plans to spend C$ 1.5 million [about US$ 1.05 million] a year for the next five years to conduct the clinical trials. While Compassion Centre members would make ideal lab rats, the TCC isn't part of the plan. 'The primary investigator would probably be at a hospital," says Pender.
Hitzig says he knows how these trials will turn out, as he has seen phenomenal improvements in many of the club's clients. "When I first met member Number Ten he was only 122 pounds, a real skinny guy for his height. Within a month and a half of joining the club he came to me and said, 'I need to thank you so much for what you are doing. I just put on 25 pounds.'"
Not being involved in the Health Canada trials doesn't upset Hitzig. "The role of the club is to provide medicine. We don't want to get sidetracked from the main goal, and that is to provide medicine to those who need it."
But he does believe that Canada's compassion clubs are an excellent model for HC's project to distribute a million joints over the next five years. "It's more than just supplying weed to people," he explains. 'It's about finding out what medications they are taking and how they're eating. I would love to have Health Minister Allan Rock talk to either myself, Vancouver Compassion Club founder Hillary Black or TCC club lawyer Alan Young."
Many TCC members and Canadian medical-marijuana activists, such as Grant Krieger of Calgary, don't trust the government when it comes to supplying medical doobies. They feel the program could be canceled under a new government, or become burdened with red tape.
But Hitzig believes it's "inevitable" that the government will get involved. "The government's role is to figure out what works best," he concludes. "Whether they open clinics like the TCC or supply them will ultimately be up to them."