Police Chief Ben Anderson stood boldly in front of a crowd of medical cannabis patients and television cameras, on the front steps of the Oak Bay police department in Victoria, BC during a November 24 protest. Two patients with legal exemptions to use cannabis, issued by the Canadian Ministry of Health, approached Anderson with a written request to retrieve their marijuana from lock-up. How would they eat without their medicine? How would they sleep? Chief Anderson refused to take their requests or concerns seriously.
“We had no evidence that it was their product,” Chief Anderson told Cannabis Culture. “We did not seize it from them.”
Some of the cannabis in police lock-up was seized from a burglar, who cut through the wall of the Vancouver Island Compassion Society (VICS) on November 8 and stole over a pound. The next day Phil Lucas – a child care worker, licensed high school teacher, and the founder of VICS – called the police to report the break in. Within a few days, police had a suspect in custody. Rather than lay charges against the burglar, however, Oak Bay police went after Lucas, arresting him at his home on November 22. While cops arrested Lucas, they raided the VICS’ Oak Bay location.
“I was charged with possession [of marijuana], possession for the purposes of trafficking, and with a psilocybin charge that is going to be thrown out,” complained Lucas. “They found three bags of Chinese herbs that I use for Hep C, and assumed they were mushrooms. The thief has not been charged with anything. Even though it was my identifying the cannabis that was found on his person that led to the warrant for his arrest.”
During the raid on VICS, police seized cannabis medicine, computers, confidential medical records, pipes, and smoking accessories such as herb grinders.
“What this means is that 133 people that rely on us for medicine to manage their illnesses have to go without,” said Lucas. “This certainly hasn’t been a healthy week for anyone. Our shop has lost seven to eight thousand dollars in the past ten days, and we were already eighteen thousand in debt. With all our cash and cannabis in police stores, we simply don’t have enough money to pay our rent. Our neighbours were incredibly sad to see us go. Some of them were crying. ”
Lucas is suspicious about the timing of the raid. After all, the police left VICS alone for a full fourteen months.
“Ten months ago we had our first visit from Oak Bay policeS the same week that the Montreal [medical cannabis]club was busted,” said Lucas. “They told us at that time they were closing the case on our shop, they didn’t see that we were a threat to the community.”
The police were definitely in a difficult political position, possessing over a pound of medical cannabis, indisputable proof of cannabis sales at the VICS location, and the press waiting to see what would happen. Was the raid Chief Anderson’s way of avoiding the implication that he might “turn a blind eye” to crime?
“When they arrested me,” recalled Lucas, “I was writing a letter to the Oak Bay police chief about avoiding exactly this kind of media frenzy, while pointing out that I had gone out of my way to keep him and his force out of the press.”
Chief Anderson denies that potentially embarrassing press had anything to do with the raid.
“There were recent developments that allowed us to get a search warrant that subsequently allowed us to recommend the laying of charges,” claimed Anderson. “We knew they were involved in herbal medicine and whatever else with respect with that. We did not know that he was trafficking drugs.”
Chief Anderson’s description of Lucas’ work at VICS as “trafficking drugs” is enough to know that he is jailed with a mindset that prohibits understanding of marijuana’s value to many of Canada’s sick and dying. Until Canada makes it legal for healing pioneers like Lucas to provide cannabis to the sick, we can look forward to similar misunderstandings from law-enforcement officials.
Despite setbacks, Phil Lucas is already in the process of reviving VICS. He has found a new location, and is accepting donations of medical cannabis or cash. Marc Emery has already pledged a significant donation of cash and cannabis, but more is needed.
VICS will be holding a fundraiser on December 6 at Victoria’s Neptune Soundbar, with only a six dollar admission fee at the door.
* Oak Bay Police Department, 1703 Monterey Avenue, Victoria, BC, V8R 5V6; (250) 592-2424
* Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner, #900 – 1111 Melville Street, Vancouver, BC, V6E 3V6; (604) 660-2385; 1 (800) 663-7867 (outside Vancouver)