Pot Club Busts Only Help Criminals, Tory Senator Says

Police have done the Mob and street gangs a favour by cracking down on cannabis clubs, say pot decriminalization advocates.

They warn that people will now be buying their stuff from criminal networks instead of tax-paying businesses.

Thirty-five people were arrested in raids on Quebec’s so-called “compassion clubs” — storefront outlets operating in plain view — while 90 kilograms of cannabis were also seized Thursday.

Those clubs in Montreal and Quebec City offered a wide selection of marijuana for about $10 a gram to customers who claimed a medical condition and provided a doctor’s note.

Police argue that the clubs were selling to healthy people and essentially were drug-trafficking operations. A police spokesman says those arrested were all released after promising to appear in court on June 23.

Sen. Pierre Claude Nolin says users of medicinal marijuana are now forced to find it elsewhere, and the vast majority will wind up getting it from criminal gangs.

After making the arrests, police themselves declared that the clubs had no connection to criminal gangs.

“It’s the most disastrous consequence of the whole operation,” Nolin said in an interview.

“The vast majority will have to look at the black market . . . and the substance on the black market is not exactly the quality substance that are received in the clubs.

“In the clubs, they are trying to have access to organic cannabis, which is not the case with the black market.”

He says research suggests there are roughly one million Canadians who say they smoke cannabis for medical purposes, while less than 5,000 such permits have been issued by Health Canada.

That means, he says, the vast majority will have to find their supply elsewhere.

An official for the federal Justice Department said there would be no comment on the cases. All questions were referred to Health Canada.

The Health Canada website says that, as of June 2009, 4,029 people had authorization to possess dried marijuana for medical purposes and 2,360 were allowed to cultivate or produce it.

A pie chart indicates the largest number of permits — 1,631 — were issued in Ontario, followed by 1,008 in British Columbia. Nova Scotia was third with 491, followed by Quebec with 305. In Alberta, 282 people were given permission to use cannabis for their health.

Marc-Boris St-Maurice, who runs Montreal’s downtown Compassion Centre, was among those arrested and released during the police raids.

He’s sure people seeking cannabis for health reasons will still find it, and he predicts “people are just going to be doing it in back alleys.”

“There are scrupulous people in the marijuana industry — but it’s more the inconvenience of running around,” said St-Maurice, the founder and onetime leader of the federal Marijuana party.

“If someone is sick or suffering, they don’t need that additional stress of wondering if they’re gonna get ripped off or if they’re gonna get arrested in the process.”

St-Maurice has six employees helping him support 1,500 club members.

“It’s a drop in the bucket compared to how many people smoke marijuana in the city of Montreal on a given day,” he added.

On Thursday, police seized just over 86 kilograms of marijuana and almost four kilos of hashish, which would put the street value of the seizure at just around $900,000.

They also confiscated about $39,000 in cash.

Nolin, a longtime advocate for relaxed drug laws, doesn’t blame the police. He says they were likely acting on a complaint and were bound to apply the law.

The Tory senator notes that the same thing happened in the past to a compassion club in Victoria, but the court decided to acquit the club.

“(It’s) basic police work,” Nolin said.

“If the police is receiving a complaint, they don’t have the choice but to intervene. That is their job. That’s the job society is asking them to do and we don’t have to judge them if they receive a complaint.”

Some neighbours who lived near the cannabis clubs did complain to media after Thursday’s arrests about people loitering around the buildings, and about the pungent smell emanating from them.

Nolin chaired a Senate committee that recommended in 2002 that pot smoking should be legal for any resident over 16.

He has visited several compassion clubs — including the ones in Vancouver, Victoria and, as recently as two weeks ago, the Quebec City club.

“Before opening they invited police so they would know how they operate and how the club operates,” he said.

– Article from The Toronto Star.

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