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Police review medical pot policies

By Hempology | April 24, 2002


Wednesday, April 24, 2002

No new federal laws pertaining to the possession and use of marijuana have come down since Health Canada began giving medical exemptions several years ago.

Nonetheless, a city council motion calling on the federal government to re-write its marijuana laws has prompted the Victoria police to revisit current regulations for the use and possession of cannabis for medicinal purposes.

“We’ve just got to get up to steam as to what the regulations are and we’ll amend our practices accordingly,” says Victoria police chief Paul Battershill. “We’ve got one of our sergeants reviewing (the regulations) and he’s going to be presenting a report to our senior management team next week, to go over what the implications will be to our operational policing.”

The original civic motion brought forward by Coun. Rob Fleming asked council to support the decriminalization of all marijuana use and possession. After suggestions from councillors Helen Hughes and Pam Madoff that the wording be changed to read “for medicinal purposes” only, Fleming agreed to amend the motion.

Fleming admits the decision by council to support making the use of marijuana for medicinal purpsoes legal was not intended as a directive to the police telling them how to act. He calls it a “policy position” designed to convince the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to lobby the federal government and Health Canada to revisit current laws.

“I think it’s one of those things where the federal government is saying the right things around compassion for sick people, but they’ve been dreadfully slow and overcautious on anything meaningful being implemented,” he says.

While not intended to force the police’s hand, it remains unclear whether council’s decision will affect the way Victoria police deal with the operation of so-called “compassion” clubs, organizations set up – albeit illegally under current laws – to distribute marijuana to terminally ill individuals and those suffering from other painful conditions.

The emergence of such clubs stems from what operators say are distribution problems due to having just one federally-licensed grower and distributor – Prairie Plant Systems in Flin Flon, Man. – and unreasonable delays for patients seeking federal exemption from prosecution for medicinal use of marijuana.

Ted Smith, co-founder of the Cannabis Buyers Club in Victoria, estimates only two to three dozen of his club’s nearly 1,000 members have government-issued exemptions.

Victoria police have on numerous occasions charged Smith with possession of marijuana for the purposes of trafficking.

While Smith says he applauds the move by city council to recognize the difficulty in getting the drug to those in need, he concedes it remains to be seen what the practical implications are, if any.

“With every victory we have in this movement, it could create a backlash,” he says. “It kind of puts the police in a hard position. It’s asking them to make a decision whether someone is using marijuana for medical reasons or not.”

Smith says his organziation will likely target Esquimalt next, to request civic support for deciminalizing marijuana.

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