Newshawk: Steven Bacon
Pubdate: Fri, 16 Aug 2002
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2002 The Toronto Star
Author: Mary Gordon
Compassion Centre's Future Unclear
Founder says he won't return to selling medical marijuana
By Mary Gordon
The founder and former director of the Toronto Compassion Centre, which sold medicinal marijuana to more than 1,200 people, is bowing out.
Warren Hitzig said yesterday he doesn't have it in him to bring the centre back to life. It was shut down after he was arrested Tuesday on charges of possession of marijuana and hashish, possession for the purpose of trafficking in the drugs, and possession of the proceeds of crime.
So were three of his former staff, some of whom are long-time friends.
The centre's future remains unclear. Although its Web site says it will reopen soon in a limited way, Hitzig, 25, won't be a part of it.
Police confiscated marijuana after the centre, near the corner of St. Clair Ave. W. and Bathurst St., was robbed in December. Then nothing happened.
"We were under the (impression) that they weren't happy with what we were doing, but they were going to look the other way because they realized I wasn't selling it to kids," Hitzig said.
"We weren't trying to get in anyone's face; we were just trying to provide a service that the government has not yet established."
He was mistaken about what the police would do.
"When they came and arrested us, they had guns pointed to our face," a tired Hitzig said yesterday. "I know it's their protocol, but they knew what we were doing. We've been operating for five years. Why didn't they just call and say, `We're coming down.'"
The centre provided marijuana to people with such illnesses as cancer, diabetes and multiple sclerosis to relieve their pain, and to AIDS patients to help improve their appetites. The government allows certain patients to use the drug for medicinal purposes.
Hitzig met his lawyer, Osgoode Hall law school professor Alan Young, in January, 1998.
"Warren showed up with eight other freaks, as a I call them, and they met me in my office and all told me they wanted to set up their own compassion clubs," Young recalled. He wrote to then-minister of health Allan Rock, asking him to authorize the clubs for the medical use of marijuana, but was refused.
The clubs launched in Toronto, London, Kitchener, St. Catharines, Guelph and Niagara Falls. Most have folded.
Clients required a letter of diagnosis from their doctor. On average, the centre sold marijuana for about $10 per gram.
One other Toronto compassion centre — CALM (Cannabis as Living
Medicine) — still exists.
Young, a long-time advocate of legalizing marijuana, said the centre may close but the need will still be there.
"The police are not going to win this," he said. "They can disrupt the service of the club ... and three clubs will pop up in its place."
Hitzig is also one of seven people suing the federal government over regulations regarding the medicinal use of marijuana.
They're asking Ottawa to strike down regulations spelling out the conditions under which the use of medical marijuana is allowed.
The group says Ottawa's regulations are impossible to fulfil because doctors have been warned by their insurers not to sign the required medical declarations for people seeking pot.
Hitzig is now banned from entering his former office unless accompanied by a police officer. A few years ago, he says, he would have gone anyway. He wouldn't have cared.
It isn't worth it any more, Hitzig says. Not after spending a night in jail.
"I lost my freedom for helping. Kind of ironic in a way," he said. "It was a worthwhile experience because I know I'm never going back."