Aug. 14, 2002. 01:00 AM
`Medicine' seized in bust of pot club
Four charged were helping sick people, their lawyer says
By Tracey Tyler
Legal Affairs Reporter
Four people were taken into custody last night after police raided a Toronto "compassion club" set up to distribute "medical" marijuana.
"They are not criminals," their lawyer, Alan Young, said after leaving Toronto police 13 Division, where his clients were being held pending a bail hearing today at old city hall. "They were providing medicine to sick people."
The four were charged with trafficking in a controlled substance and possession for the purpose of trafficking over a three-month period, Young said.
He said if they are released on bail today, one of the conditions will probably be that the Toronto Compassion Centre, which is located on Bathurst St. near St. Clair Ave. W., be shut down, and that will leave more than 1,000 members without the marijuana they say they need to cope with serious illnesses. Young called the arrests "vindictive" and "stupid."
One of the four people charged, Warren Hitzig, the club's founder, is also one of a group of seven people suing the federal government over its medical marijuana regulatory regime.
"They (Toronto police) are going to have to live with the repercussions of cutting off the supply of medicine to sick people," Young said, predicting the phones at 13 Division will be ringing off the hook with calls from club members.
Police would not say what motivated them to act last night. A constable said they were under orders from their superior officer not to discuss the case or even release any details about who was charged and what they were charged with.
Young said the club has been operating openly for three years with a storefront, Web site and published phone number. A "breaking news" bulletin posted on the Web site last night suggested some of the charges might relate to a visit police made to the club last December to investigate a robbery in which several female staff members were beaten.
At the time, they "found and confiscated a large quantity of medicine," but no charges were laid, according to the bulletin, which went on to say "Toronto cops have forced the issue and decided that it's time for war."
Young said it's ironic that the federal government is handling the prosecution of his four clients at the same time it is defending itself in a lawsuit filed by one of them.
Hitzig and the others are asking Ottawa to strike down regulations spelling out the conditions under which the use of medical marijuana is allowed and to provide them with a supply of pot that was grown experimentally, under contract to the federal government, in an abandoned copper mine in Flin Flon, Man.
Hitzig's group says Ottawa's regulations are impossible to fulfill because doctors have been warned by their insurers not to sign the required medical declarations for people seeking pot.