A former Marijuana Party candidate and a former Canadian Border Services officer petitioned city councillors on Monday to support the creation of a “compassion club” in Castlegar and push for the decentralization of medical marijuana distribution.
The duo told council about the benefits of medical marijuana and said federal policies governing the way in which licensed patients can access their medication are ineffective. That responsibility, they added, should lie with provincial governments, just like other matters of health-care administration.
“The program isn’t being run well from a centralized location — we believe the province could do a much better job,” said Jim Leslie, a former border guard and current executive director of the Grand Forks Compassionate Society.
Dan Loehndorf, who ran for the Marijuana Party in the 2000 federal election and 2001 provincial election and worked as the director of the Nelson Cannabis Compassion Club for 10 years, recently helped Leslie establish the Grand Forks society.
Loehndorf told councillors his passion for the issue stems from a childhood friend who was infected with HIV and hepatitis C after a blood transfusion and, as a teenager and young adult, used marijuana illegally to ease the symptoms of his diseases.
“It was a real challenge for him and he was in a lot of fear growing two little plants in his basement so he could have some medicine,” Loehndorf said.
After making a similar presentation to the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary last month, Leslie convinced district directors to write a letter of support, in principle, for the decentralization of marijuana distribution.
“It’s a fact that (marijuana) is being used. We can’t deny it; doctors are issuing prescriptions for patients to have access to it,” said RDKB chair Marguerite Rotvold at the time.
“The presentation gave me a clearer vision of medicinal marijuana because it’s so broad – creams, tinctures, all the different processes you can go through, not just smoking … so I was willing to support it in principle.”
Loehndorf and Leslie only received one expression of support, however, from members around the council table in Castlegar on Monday night.
“I’m in full support of compassion clubs,” Coun. Deb McIntosh said. “I think what you guys do is absolutely wonderful.”
Compassion clubs, broadly speaking, are organizations which assist licensed medical marijuana users in a variety of ways. The size of the clubs and the services they offer can vary greatly, as can the legality of their operations.
Many clubs act as marijuana dispensaries and run afoul of the law.
The North Island Compassion Club in Courtenay, for example, was raided by Comox Valley RCMP last Friday, marking the second time this year that the club was busted. Police are recommending drug trafficking charges against the owner and another employee.
The British Columbia Compassion Club Society (BCCCS), meanwhile, is a non-profit organization that has existed since 1997 and while it admits it operates in a legal “grey zone” it has also publicly distanced itself from some smaller, offshoot marijuana dispensaries which use the “compassion club” name.
The BCCCS describes one of its main goals as being “to work towards ensuring that those who use cannabis as a medicine never have to choose between their liberty and their health, and that the cost of this important medicine is covered as it is for other medicines in Canada.”
Leslie said both he and Loehndorf are licensed medical marijuana users.