Filling the void

Medical marijuana regulations need overhaul

After an Ontario court ruled in the year 2000 that the prohibition of marijuana was unconstitutional if it did not contain any exemption for medical use, the federal government panicked. In response to the ruling, Ottawa hastily came up with a system of production and distribution of medical marijuana that was riddled with logistical problems.

A decade later, things aren’t much better for patients with a licence from Health Canada to use marijuana to treat a variety of symptoms related to a host of illnesses. Many still struggle to find consistent access to high-quality cannabis through legal means and, as a result, turn to the burgeoning black market to fill their prescriptions.

This, of course, can be both difficult and daunting to an otherwise law-abiding citizen, especially one who is suffering from chronic pain or terminal illness. To ease the process, so-called “compassion clubs” have sprung up across the country to help these patients obtain their medicine.

And while they provide a range of services, many of these clubs have become de facto marijuana dispensaries and have been shut down by police. A club in Courtenay was busted just last week and another in Chilliwack was shut down last month.

And so it’s understandable that, after urging city councillors on Monday night to support the creation of a compassion club in Castlegar, Dan Loehndorf and Jim Leslie were somewhat reluctant to speak directly to members of the local media outside city hall. When pressed, Loehndorf explained that they’re trying to walk a fine line between promoting a cause that they are both passionate about and not drawing too much attention to their activities. They want to minimize the chance of provoking a police response, he said, if and when a compassion club is established in this city.

The British Columbia Compassion Club Society admits it operates in a legal “grey zone” but argues its services are necessary given the shoddy state of Canada’s medical marijuana program. We’d be inclined to agree.

The “grey zone” here was created by the federal government and its failure to address the 2000 court ruling. In the absence of a proper system of distribution, compassion clubs are preferable to the alternatives of patients either going directly to the black market or simply seeing their prescriptions go unfilled.

Besides, the legal status of marijuana in Canada has been measured in shades of grey for years now. Several attempts at decriminalization in Parliament and an inconsistent enforcement of the law from city to city and police officer to police officer have left the public confused as to exactly how illegal this ostensibly illegal substance is.

It’s high time that Canada clarified the laws and programs surrounding marijuana, medical and otherwise. In the meantime, compassion clubs are, for the most part, doing good work to fill the void.