Recent Articles

Recent Comments

« | Main | »


By Ted | July 23, 2008

by Ted Smith

The trial of Mathew Beren, lead cultivator of the Vancouver Island Compassion Club, should receive a favourable decision this fall when B.C. Supreme Court Justice Koenigsberg is expected to finally make a ruling. After being arrested in May 2004, Beren and the VICS have argued every possible point and every opportunity, resulting in a trial lasting over 50 days and costing the VICS over $200,000 in legal fees.

Even though VICS founder Phil Lucas has gone on record many times as being the only compassion club in Victoria, I have made an extra effort to watch these proceedings. In fact, I have actually been in court during the trial proper more than any lawyer or witness, the defendant, or even the judge, as the original judge passed away last fall in the middle of the trial. We have reported on this trial in Cannabis Digest #3, 10, 14, 15, 16, and 17. In order to witness the last 4 witnesses I have traveled to Vancouver where the remainder of the trial is being held. These last 4 people the judge heard from may have presented the strongest evidence yet that that MMAR has been unconstitutional from the very beginning.

The last witness for the defense was Senator Pierre Claude-Nolin. He was chair on the 2002 Senate Committee that recommended legalizing cannabis after extensive research and consultation was completed with various interested parties, including myself. While he was able to generally discuss problems with the MMAR, because his report was completed almost 2 years before the VICS grow-op was raided it was difficult for him to comment of some areas. However, in many areas Senator Claude-Nolin provided some excellent arguments for an individuals right to use cannabis as medicine. He said it was unfair for Health Canada to create a system where doctors were the only possible legal authority to provide access to cannabis because they were lacking the science to ensure that it is safe and effective. The judge agreed that doctors should not be the “gatekeepers” of the MMAR because cannabis was not an approved drug and they had no idea how much of the herb an individual may need. She said that the MMAR should require doctors to confirm diagnosis of a serious medical problem and that the patient should determine dose. The irony is that we have been arguing this very point with the VICS and government for years but this issue is not a major part of the constitutional trial. The VICS requires individuals to have a doctor recommend the use of cannabis, as does Health Canada. By using this mandate, VICS protects the doctor as gatekeeper to access, a position physicians are uncomfortable with because cannabis is not an approved drug. Lawyer Kirk Tousaw has argued for the defense that Health Canada has interfered with people’s right to use large amounts of cannabis and that patients should be able to determine how much they use. However, the judge seems willing to grant people the right to use this medicine without their doctor’s approval based upon their right to treatment.

The crown’s first witness was Dr. Richard Viau, former head of Data Analytical Services at Health Canada. He was in charge of the contract to Prairie Plant Systems and informed the court a great deal about the drug regulatory process. Dr Viau defended Health Canada by explaining the difficulties they had trying to make a consistent cannabis product without breaking protocol. He said that after patient’s complaints that the cannabis was too dry, PPS increased the moisture content of their product from 10% to 14%. Others complained that the cannabis was ground-up too fine, causing it to spill out of the end of a joint, so PPS increased the particle grind size from 5mm to 10mm. While his testimony showed serious flaws in Health Canada’s approach to the medical cannabis issue, it was clear that those making the decisions about the direction of the programs were not those responsible for implementing the MMAR.

The next crown witness, former director of the Medical Marijuana Access Division, Valerie Lasher, provided the defense with some important information. She said that Health Canada had determined that there were only two possible options in regards to medical cannabis. The first option suggested that science might prove cannabis is not effective, safe or reliable and should not be included in the legal medicine cabinet. The second alternative had cannabis becoming an approved drug to be produced and distributed by pharmaceutical companies like other medicines.

The final witness in the trial provided the final nail in the defense’s argument. Dr. Harold Kalant has testified for the government in various drug cases for decades as one of Health Canada’s premier researchers. None of his lab experience is related to the medicinal uses of the herb, and it has been years since he has done any research himself on the effects of the plant. Dr. Kalant is very skeptical of the medical benefits of the herb, but he was willing to admit that it helped with nausea and pain with potential to help many other conditions pending more research. He was so sure of the medical benefits of cannabis that he clearly stated that Health Canada’s first option with the MMAR was not a possibility because there was undeniable scientific evidence that it is safe, effective and reliable, though he would obviously prefer it was not smoked. Dr. Kalant then went on to say that no plant has ever been approved as a drug and that it is impossible to imagine that a drug company will go through the expense to see that happen. Drug companies make money by extracting chemicals, synthetically recreating organic compounds or forming new chemicals altogether. The drug approval process is simply not made for plants and therefore Health Canada’s second option for the MMAR is not possible, either.

Final arguments in the trial will be made the week of Aug 5-8th, in Vancouver, with the decision expected in early September. The crown has already suggested it will appeal the decision, giving Health Canada time to make changes.

Topics: Articles, CD-18th, Summer 2008 | Comments Off

Comments are closed.