Loose Cannon: Marijuana laws going to pot
Tuesday, May 18, 20100 Comments
The Medical Cannabis Club of Guelph has been operating in plain sight for more than three years without intervention from author
Last week’s police raid on the Medical Cannabis Club of Guelph was an unexpected and, some might say, curiously timed event.
A month after a Toronto police arrested staff and volunteers at a similar facility – only to stay charges against everyone except the owner – Guelph police followed suit, charging Club founder Rade Kovacevic and three staff members with a myriad of trafficking and possession charges.
But the real confusion lies in the fact that the MCCG has been operating in plain sight for more than three years without intervention from authorities. This haphazard approach to policing pot raises questions about whether the cops are serious about controlling marijuana, or whether they’re just blowing smoke for the sake of appearances.
Since 2001, people with chronic or debilitating illnesses have been able to apply for licenses to grow or possess limited amounts of medical marijuana supplied by Health Canada.
So-called compassion clubs like the MCCG operate in a legal gray zone, growing non-approved marijuana for sale in a non-approved setting by individuals who, by and large, aren’t qualified to dispense medication of any kind.
Under the law, police had good reason have shut down the club immediately. Instead, they waited until a high-profile raid in another city brought attention to the issue.
If police were compelled by media exposure to look for trouble at the MCCG, they didn’t need to look very hard. Kovacevic, who police say is not licensed to grow marijuana, readily admits that more than half of the club’s 330 members don’t show Health Canada-approved documents when accessing his pharmacopeia of marijuana, hashish and edibles. Many clients brought in doctors’ prescriptions instead, which is technically illegal.
Now that police have confiscated the MCCG’s records, police could conceivably go after individuals who purchased marijuana outside the law, though I doubt they will. For one thing, arresting people with chronic illnesses makes for terrible optics. Secondly, many of the club’s members will be amply punished by having their supply of medical marijuana cut off.
But what is most bizarre is that Guelph Police directed untold resources to shutting down a local business – the club, located on Baker Street, even paid taxes to Revenue Canada – while doing little to address the underground drug trade in the city. Paradoxically, many club members say they plan to buy their pot off the black market until the facility reopens, if it reopens at all.
Protesters at a rally in downtown Guelph (some toking up in front of police) accused the cops of having no compassion toward medical marijuana users. I disagree: police seem to have ample compassion towards marijuana users of all stripes, just not ones who remind us that our marijuana laws are ridiculously antiquated, and thus routinely ignored by large number of Canadians.
Lest you mistake marijuana distribution as the jaywalking of drug laws, it should be noted that Kovacevic and his staff face jail time if found guilty. But, as with the Toronto Compassion Club raids, it is likely many of the more serious charges be dropped, for no other reason than judges have been throwing out cases against medicinal marijuana distributors for some time. Court cases, you see, are important PR for the War on Drugs: better to claim a small victory than suffer a humiliating defeat.
Meanwhile, the federal Conservatives have brought back a bill that would impose a mandatory minimum sentence of six months in jail for people convicted of growing as few as five marijuana plants.
It seems silly to tighten drug enforcement laws when police are reluctant to enforce the ones we have. Then again, very little about the War on Drugs makes sense.
Greg Beneteau is Editor-in-Chief of thecannon. Loose Cannon publishes every Thursday in The Ontarion Student Newspaper at the University of Guelph.
The opinions posted on thecannon.ca reflect those of their author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Central Student Association and the Guelph Campus Co-op. We encourage all students to submit opinion pieces, including ones that run contrary to the opinion piece in question.