On November 17, 2004, Chris Buors, the 47-year-old founder of the Winnipeg Compassion Club, was sentenced to six months in jail with three years supervised probation after he was caught growing 59 plants in his home.
The plants, along with $2,500 worth of hydroponics equipment, were found when police conducted what Buors’ lawyer, Bonnie MacDonald, argued was an illegal, warrantless search on Buors’ home after it was invaded and robbed on August 29, 2002.
During the incident, three masked men with crowbars broke in and stole electronics. A neighbor alerted by the sound of breaking glass called police. After police showed up, Buors told them, “I don’t think I want you to come in here.”
Sergeant Frank May testified that he had no choice but to enter Buors’ home, as he was worried the robbery suspects might still be inside. May said he also thought there could be other victims or that Buors himself could have been involved in the break-in.
However, Buors’ lawyer said that a citizen’s expectation of privacy is extremely high and argued that Sergeant May didn’t investigate enough to justify entering Buors’ home.
Ultimately, Judge Alan MacInnes rejected the claim that police had illegally searched the home and ruled that the drug evidence found there could be submitted at trial. “You’re trying to dissect with a fine-tooth comb decisions which get made by police in a split second. It’s always easy to do that in the safety of a courtroom,” he said of his decision.
After the plants were admitted as evidence, Buors pleaded guilty on October 8, 2004, to possession of marijuana for the purpose of trafficking.
The plants in question were the result of his basement grow op which he ran in order to get cannabis for the 21 med-pot users at his compassion club whose conditions range from Crohn’s disease to fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, and depression. His members’ ailments caused them to suffer greatly, but they were all unsuccessful in procuring a valuable Section 56 Health Canada permit for medicinal marijuana, even though some members had held exemptions in the past. Buors risked his freedom to get these people their medicine.
Buors told media that if pot is not readily prescribed by doctors and if people are not issued the permits they so desperately need, that he will resume his crusade immediately upon his release. Buors declared this despite Judge MacInnes’ promise that the med-pot lover will face an even harsher sentence if he is convicted again in the future.
Buors is dedicated to his cause with a tenacity that is clearly indicated by his activist efforts. Since his arrest back in 1997 for possession (after which he was unceremoniously fired from his engineering position with CN Rail), Buors became a pot advocate. He ran for the federal Marijuana party three times, and lead the Libertarian Party of Manitoba provincially. In 1998, Buors organized the first pro-pot rally in Winnipeg since the 1970’s.
Until his most recent arrest, Buors was a prolific letter-writer, penning daily diatribes to editors. He has always upheld the fundamental principles of personal liberty in his correspondence, most importantly the right of an individual to ingest or partake in any substance for purposes of self-medication. Buors also takes a strong stance against the use of the term “addiction,” in that he feels personal pot use has been unfairly and incorrectly stigmatized as a result of this label.
Buors thinks his harsh punishment is part of a greater message to the public from Judge MacInnes, noting that violent criminals routinely get much lighter sentences than his. Further, Buors believes that the justice system is harder on pot users in Manitoba than they are in other, more liberal provinces. “We’re in the Bible Belt, and that’s reflected in our courts,” he said, adding, “We’re more conservative-minded here than Torontonians or Vancouverites.”
Judge MacInnes took his condemnation of Buors even further when he commented that he thought the med-pot activist was an unlikely candidate for rehabilitation and therefore deserved the lengthy sentence. Moreover, MacInnes said that he is sick of Buors’ apparent flouting of the law – a sentiment and reasoning which seems to be increasing in popularity amongst anti-activist judges.
MacInnes declared that, “advocacy has limits,” and told Buors that he “can’t be a law unto [himself]with impunity. At what point does he become accountable the same way every other citizen is?”
Many ailing people whom Buors supplied weed to sent letters and showed up at his hearing to support their champion.
Though the judge did say that he thought Buors provided a service to these sick people, MacInnes said he ultimately could not abide Buors’ previous pot conviction or his audacious act of trying to revive his basement grow op mere days after his arrest as well as distributing newsletters requesting money for pot and growing equipment.
“Each of us is subject to the law regardless of who we are, the position we hold and our views,” MacInnes said.
Buors’ strong and oftentimes unpopular assertions about the nature of the marijuana culture came into play in the courtroom when his lawyer compared his arrest and incarceration for growing med-pot with that of the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela, another staunch advocate of freedom.
The judge’s response was incredulous at best, though the idea is not so far-fetched. Buors is a political prisoner in the sense that his so-called crime was victimless and therefore no threat to greater society, and that the average Canadian citizen supports the use of medical pot. It was his act of defiance and his challenge of the laws which resulted in his imprisonment. If anything, Buors was helping his sick club members to avoid a criminal lifestyle by providing pot to them himself.
Indeed, any individual willing to risk prison in order to make a stand against unjust laws deserves that title. Especially when the sentence itself is abnormally severe, as in Buors’ case. It is clear that Chris Buors’ freedom has been taken hostage in the ongoing war against marijuana.
Since his incarceration, Buors has been unable to toke his favorite herb; however, he told media he is unaffected by his lack of marijuana use while in jail. “It doesn’t bother me a bit – I can take it or leave it.”
Buors is currently serving his punishment at Headingley Correctional outside of Winnipeg, where he is likely to remain for at least four months. He makes light of the prison experience, saying he is looking forward to the company of other pot prisoners.
“Maybe I’ll pick up some better grow tips,” he said.