Compassion clubbed

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Imagine city hall just deciding not to grant marriage licences to gay couples in Ontario even though there was a court order demanding they do so. Health Canada is doing just that to medical marijuana users. Health Canada, despite the recent Court of Appeal decision to make medical marijuana more available, isn’t budging.

Last month, when the court tinkered with the medical marijuana access regulations to make them constitutional in a way that medicinal marijuana activists thought beneficial, I struck faster than the stereotypical pothead lunging for that last roach.

Quickly, I resubmitted an application for a compassion club, or multi-grow licence, from Health Canada’s cannabis medical access drug strategy and controlled substances program. It was the day after the unanimous Court of Appeal decision, and the media was indicating that the ruling would guarantee a seal of approval for my kind of application.

Within 72 hours I had a decision regarding my attempt to supply the Niagara region’s terminally and chronically ill with medicinal pot. Denied.

How could it be? After all, the decision said in part that “…There are a number of people who already have a source of marijuana and wish to engage in a compassion supply of it to those in medical need. It may be not all of these people would satisfy the requirements to become (federally licensed cultivators). However, we are satisfied that, on record, enough would do so that taken together with existing Designated Production Licence holders, the DPL mechanism as modified could then provide a licit supply to (qualified patients)… (who) would no longer need to access the black market to get the marijuana they need.”

The decision, by the way, changed an earlier possession ruling that allowed people to toke in the streets. The police immediately went out and started popping tokers left, right and centre. But Health Canada hasn’t reacted at all to the ruling and is being extremely obtuse about how it intends to proceed.

Trying to wade through Health Canada’s red tape, I sought the assistance of my local MP, Walt Lastewka, with whom I’ve been corresponding regarding the benefits of medicinal marijuana. Now was the time to smoke the fruits of this relationship.

Even though he’s a Paul Martin supporter, against gay marriage and medicinal and recreational marijuana use, his constituency assistant, Mike Haines, put in a phone call on my behalf to Valerie Lasher, director of the cannabis medical access program. Shortly after, Haines left a message on my answering machine.

“Basically, the lawyers for Health Canada are reviewing the decision, but she (Lasher) seemed to indicate that the court decision had no impact on the legality of compassion clubs. In her opinion, nothing has changed. They’re indicating that compassion clubs are still operating outside of the law.”

Obviously, apathy or stonewalling is policy at HC. Even Health Canada media spokesperson Cathryn Saunders adds that “we have until December 5 to determine if we are going to appeal the decision. Until that point, we are going to assess the implications before we can comment.”

Marijuana activist and Osgoode Hall law professor Alan Young responded to their statement by saying, “If they say they’re not implementing (the decision), they are in contempt of court. Period. It’s as simple as that. They may interpret (the Court of Appeal case) in an obstructionist manner that requires us to go back to court, but they do not have the prerogative to say they’re not complying with (the decision). I’m shocked.”

After taking some time to mull over the decision, Young says his whole argument would have been different if he’d known the courts were going to just make some random changes.

“If I knew those were the rules of engagement, I would’ve worked on a lot more obstacles that are found in the access regulations. For example, no one ever talked about the disqualification of people who have narcotic convictions within the last 10 years from being producers. What a senseless restriction. Some of the best growers who can supply some of the best product for a sick person will unfortunately have a criminal record.”

Young adds, “With medical marijuana, there doesn’t seem to be the political will – even though we have a directive based on the constitution. I’ve been in court now four, five, times with Health Canada over these issues, and it really has to come to an end. Health Canada has not demonstrated good faith.”

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