The lawyer for a number of alleged ‘compassion club’ marijuana dealers says the RCMP has made a false claim against the alleged ringleader and police are essentially wasting the public’s time by spending 18 months investigating sales of marijuana.
On Wednesday the North Vancouver RCMP announced at least 41 charges against a large group of “dial-a-dopers” allegedly selling marijuana through the front of a medical marijuana compassion club.
In what seems to be a legally murky area of enforcement, compassion clubs sell marijuana to users permitted to buy the drug through Health Canada applications that are backed up by physicians’ prescriptions.
A group calling itself The Compassion Association, allegedly headed by 39-year-old Jason Thon of Vancouver, was busted after police got an anonymous tip in September 2007.
Search warrants were executed on Thon’s home and storage locker, turning up about six kilograms of marijuana, according to police.
In an interview Friday, Kirk Tousaw of Conroy & Company, representing Thon, Kevin Moriarty, Debra McDonald-Myers and Katherine Wedemire, said police got the facts wrong.
“(For police to say) the storage locker was in Mr. Thon’s name, I don’t understand that to be the case,” Tousaw said. “I’d caution people not to pre-judge the case on the RCMP’s factual assertions.”
When asked directly if he is asserting The Compassion Association is a legitimate medical marijuana seller, Tousaw said “I expect to raise defences (based on) the Charter (of Rights) and common law, involving the use of marijuana for medical and therapeutic purposes through a compassion society.”
Tousaw also argued that from his standpoint Canadian society does not value the RCMP spending over a year going after alleged marijuana dealers.
“Eighteen months of investigation for marijuana (sales) is not what we want our police to do, even if all the allegations (in this specific case) are true,” Tousaw said.
Tousaw also said he was surprised that the North Vancouver RCMP conducted a press conference on the drug seizure and charges this Wednesday, instead of waiting for the case to proceed in court.
He said he would guess the RCMP’s media blitz was a public relations move.
“There is a tremendous amount of pressure in our society now for the police to be seen as doing something about crime.”
Cpl. Marlene Morton of the RCMP said according to the North Vancouver force’s drug unit, the storage locker in question was in fact registered in the name of another group member, but Thon was the ultimate owner.
“The locker was rented out to another person in the group, but it was rented to the group as a whole,” Morton said. “The position of the drug unit is (Thon) is the leader of this band.”
Morton rejected that the investigation into the group was somehow frivolous, and reiterated the RCMP has a clear mandate.
“The RCMP’s stance is there isn’t a legitimate compassion club until there’s an act of parliament (allowing them),” Morton said. “If people need medical marijuana they can go to Health Canada.”
Morton said the amount of business The Compassion Association was allegedly doing does not fit the profile of a medical marijuana provider.
“Apparently Thon had thousands of customers,” Morton said. “I’m not sure there are thousands of people in the Lower Mainland that qualify (for medical marijuana.)
Morton said the RCMP want to clarify that the North Vancouver drug unit did not spend a whole 18 months investigating The Compassion Association, but pursued the file intermittently over that amount of time.
“This was a big case for our drug unit (but) it was not a whole 18 months spent on it.”
According to the Health Canada website, under the marijuana Medical Access Regulations of 2001, Health Canada can grant access to marijuana by applicants suffering from grave or debilitating illnesses if a physician signs a medical declaration indicating the nature of the symptom for which marijuana would be used.
Applicants that are authorized can obtain marijuana from Health Canada’s supply, they can grow their own supply, or they can designate someone else to grow it for them.
A B.C. marijuana activist website provides insight into the movement to provide the drug through “compassion clubs.”
The British Columbia Compassion Club Society, founded in 1997, says it is “a natural health care centre and an activist organization that is also operating ‘outside’ the legal structure … (as such) our work is cut out for us,” the group is quoted saying, on the website of Cannabis Culture magazine.
Cannabis Culture was founded in 1994 by pot legalization activist Marc Emery.
The magazine’s website provides a primer for starting a compassion club and outlines strategies to win public approval for the clubs, with tips and legal advice.
“At its simplest, a compassion club can be started with an ounce of medicine, a pager, a backpack, and a skateboard. With excellent foresight, this basic setup can evolve into a storefront cannabis clinic,” the website says.
“I recommend AGAINST going to the police and telling them your plans … Typically, an investigation is launched when operators go to the police “to let them know what’s going on,” the website says.
The compassion club article on Cannabis Culture’s website outlines the crux of a legal argument that may be central to the legal defense of The Compassion Association.
The argument is essentially that marijuana Medical Access Regulations do not provide adequate supply for authorized users and effectively force them to go to the black market.
Citing the 2003 civil case called Hitzig vs. Canada (brought by Toronto Compassion Centre founder Warren Saul Hitzig and a group of medical marijuana users) the Cannabis Culture website says “As the record makes clear, there are a number of people who already have a source of marijuana and wish to engage in compassionate supply of it to those in medical need … It is argued that Compassion Clubs effectively serve as “unlicensed suppliers” for Authorized-To-Possess holders.”
In the case, Ontario Superior Court judge Sidney Lederman ruled marijuana Medical Access Regulations violated the rights of the applicants as set out by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Health Canada responded to the ruling, announcing they would start to distribute marijuana to authorized medical users in 2003.
The Cannabis Culture website also offers advice on winning positive media coverage.
“Positive media coverage is a challenge … Before consenting to an interview, spoon-feed the journalist with information that you’ve collected. Don’t expect a reporter to read pertinent info about medicinal marijuana unless you direct them to fantastic resource material.”
Finally, the website offers an exhortation to fight the good fight for medical marijuana.
“Anticipate a struggle, even with the best-laid plans … Given the erratic enforcement of cannabis laws, working within your own comfort zone based on perceived community tolerance is essential. Support for medicinal marijuana thanks to tireless activism is overwhelmingly high in the United States and Canada. Silent majorities are waiting to be tapped.”
– Article from North Shore Outlook on March 20, 2009.