A Coquitlam man who suffers from a serious medical condition has filed a complaint against the North Vancouver RCMP after they seized his medical marijuana and the federal licence that allows him to carry it.
Teejay Alipour was leaving the McDonald’s restaurant on Lonsdale Avenue in a car with his brother just after midnight May 17 when a North Vancouver officer pulled them over. The officer told the men he had received a tip relating to marijuana use and asked them to step out of the vehicle. A search turned up a bag of the drug, which the 25-year-old uses by prescription, as well as two documents from Health Canada — one of them a valid paper permit from the current year, and the other an expired, laminated permit from 2010.
Alipour explained he was a licensed medical user, but the officer nonetheless handcuffed both men and questioned them in the back of a police cruiser. After some discussion, and the arrival of two more North Vancouver Mounties, Alipour’s drugs and documents were confiscated.
The officers also performed a sobriety test on Alipour’s brother — described by Alipour as an eye test — and deemed him unfit to drive. Their vehicle was towed, and the officers handed Alipour’s brother a 24-hour roadside suspension together with tickets for allegedly not wearing a seatbelt and for having an old address on his driver’s licence, according to Alipour. He denies his brother was intoxicated. Both men were released without charge.
Alipour, who works in North Vancouver, went to the detachment the next day and asked for his medication and permits to be returned, but was told he would have to come back at 8 p.m., when the corporal overseeing the file was back on shift. Eventually, at approximately 4 p.m., Alipour called Health Canada, and a short time later — after the agency had apparently contacted the detachment — the items were returned to him, 16 hours after they were taken.
While Alipour was happy to have his medication and licence back, he said, the incident left him upset and angry. He said he didn’t understand why his documentation didn’t protect him from detainment and his medicine from seizure.
“Why did they have to put us in handcuffs?” he said. “I wasn’t able to sleep for 48 hours after this incident. . . . They were basically bullying me, (asking) me why I’m using this medicine.”
Alipour has since lodged a formal complaint.
Sgt. Peter DeVries, a spokesman for the North Vancouver RCMP, defended the officers’ actions. DeVries said he was limited in what he could say about the case, but asserted that the officer, who was familiar with the laws around medical marijuana, was obliged to confiscate the items because he suspected the paper licence might not be valid.
The Health Canada document, a copy of which was provided to the North Shore News, features Alipour’s name, address and other information, the name of his physician, the signature of an official with the agency, and text at the top noting it is a renewal of a previous permit.
“This document . . . will serve as proof of your authority to possess marijuana for a medical purpose,” it reads. It goes on to note the holder should keep the document on his person “in case you are required to show proof to the police.”
It authorizes Alipour to possess up to 900 grams of the drug, many times the amount seized.
Unsure if the document was legitimate, the Mountie attempted to verify Alipour’s claim with Health Canada via the agency’s dedicated, 24-hour pager hotline that is provided to police specifically for this purpose, according to DeVries — a claim Alipour disputes.
When there was no answer, the officer took the medication and associated documents as a precaution, said DeVries.
But if the issue was that the licence was a paper form as opposed to a more common plastic card, the officer had no grounds to confiscate the drug, said Kirk Tousaw, a lawyer whose practice revolves in large part around medical marijuana cases.
“Paper licences are the permanent licences; they are the actual licence,” he said. “The plastic card is . . . simply the convenience card that Health Canada (sends) out.”
As soon as the officer saw something resembling a valid permit, he should have left Alipour alone, said Tousaw.
“The proper response by the police is: ‘Thank you very much, sir. Sorry to disturb you. You can go about your business.’”
If the officer had legitimate suspicions about the document, said the lawyer, he should have left it with Alipour, looked into it when they had time to and, if it turned out to be a fake, tracked him down at that point using the information they had gathered during the stop.
“It’s not like (he’s) walking away from the encounter with a bag of uranium,” said Tousaw. “At a certain point, we have to balance the alleged seriousness of the offence with the ramifications of seizing medicine from an ill person. Worst-case scenario, the guy is faking it, he has a fake licence and he gets away temporarily with possession of . . . marijuana. This is about the least serious crime I can imagine occurring.”
Had Alipour been carrying any other medication, the encounter wouldn’t even have happened, said Tousaw. He cited the example of prescription pain relievers, many of which are addictive and find their way onto the black market as a result.
“If this gentleman had been carrying a bottle of Oxycontin or even a couple of pills, would it be seized, and would he have his prescription taken away until they could verify its validity with a doctor?” asked Tousaw. “It’s only because it’s marijuana. I think it reveals a bias, this belief that somehow marijuana is not medicine.”
Singling out medical marijuana users is unnecessarily traumatic for people who are already sick and stigmatized as a result of their treatment, he said.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever been stopped by police and had your property seized, but I can tell you it’s a very stressful, very emotionally disturbing experience.”
But DeVries said such condemnation doesn’t take into account the difficulty of the task facing officers on the street. Police have to act on the few available clues they have, and while it’s not unheard of for them to examine or seize other prescription drugs, marijuana tends to be targeted more frequently because of its proliferation and its ready identifiability by smell.
DeVries said the North Vancouver RCMP are taking Alipour’s complaint seriously, and are in the process of investigating it.
This type of incident is ultimately the result of Canada’s approach to regulation, said Tousaw.
“Let’s always remember the only reason this sick person was harrassed is because we have made a bad decision in prohibiting marijuana generally in the first place,” he said. “Let’s never forget that fact. That is the beginning and the end of all the problems with marijuana in our society.”
– Article originally from The Vancouver Sun.