There is no grey area when it comes to the legality of marijuana in Canada, according to a professor at Thompson Rivers University’s Faculty of Law.
“I’m not sure how grey it is from a legal perspective,” Micah Rankin told KTW.
“I think a lot of times police are using some restraint and discretion in not bothering to do anything, but it’s black and white insofar as this is not something that’s been challenged in the courts.”
Rankin, who teaches criminal and constitutional law at TRU, spoke to KTW in the wake of last week’s RCMP raid on the Canadian Safe Cannabis Society ( CSCS ) – a so-called compassion club on Tranquille Road.
Compassion clubs – sometimes referred to as marijuana dispensaries – are places at which users of medicinal cannabis access their drugs.
CSCS opened earlier this year and is Kamloops’ only compassion club.
The use of medicinal marijuana is legal in Canada and access to the drug is available legitimately through Health Canada.
But, according to users, the government-supplied pot is of a low grade and access to it is cumbersome.
Rankin said that doesn’t change the legality of medicinal marijuana.
“It seems to me the problem is not using marijuana, but the problem is selling marijuana,” he said.
On Nov. 1, the Kamloops RCMP’s drug section executed a search warrant at CSCS at its 405 Tranquille Rd. location.
Police said they seized pot, business records and computers.
They also arrested CSCS owner Carl Anderson after he refused to co-operate with officers.
Mounties said last week’s raid at CSCS followed a four-month investigation.
CSCS staff and clients have said the facility provides marijuana only to people with Health Canada certification or a note from a doctor.
However, neither of those make their sales legal, according to Health Canada.
A Health Canada spokesperson told KTW medicinal-pot users have three options when it comes to how they get marijuana – they get it from the government, grow it themselves or use a designated grower.
Health Canada, like the police and courts, does not recognize compassion clubs or dispensaries as a legal means for users of medicinal cannabis to obtain marijuana.
Legally, Rankin said, he can see a world in which a Canadian judge overturns the current laws regarding medicinal marijuana access in this country – but it’s probably a long way off.
“It’s theoretically possible,” he said.
“You’d have to know more about how difficult it is for people to obtain it legally.”
Health Canada says it is looking at changing its medicinal-marijuana framework, but it is still unknown what changes might be made.
According to Health Canada’s most recent figures, from 2010, less than 5,000 Canadians are licensed to possess medicinal marijuana.
Of those, more than 2,800 also hold personal-use production licences, while 795 access “dried marijuana for medical purposes” through the federal government.
Health Canada’s figures indicate 28 per cent of Canada’s licensed medicinal-marijuana users are in B.C.
Registered compassion clubs are in operation in B.C., Alberta, Ontario and Quebec.
Authorities in the U.S. are facing issues similar to those being dealt with by Canadian police and courts.
In 2009, new federal laws in the U.S. changed the way authorities deal with medicinal marijuana.
Under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act, marijuana use by people who are demonstrably ill is sometimes ignored, depending on state laws.
As of this year, there are 16 American states – including California, Washington and Alaska – in which medicinal cannabis is technically legal under state law.
It remains illegal according to the U.S. government, but federal authorities have said they will not investigate or prosecute cases involving marijuana use in those states if the user is ill and using the drug as a treatment.
In a 2009 memo to American federal prosecutors, U.S. Deputy Attorney-General David Ogden said federal resources should not be spent prosecuting marijuana offenders who are in compliance with state regulations, despite the fact they are still in violation of federal law.
The memo outlines circumstances that make offences “of potential federal interest,” including violence, sale to minors, use of firearms and ties to gangs.
But, if everything appears to be conforming to state laws – despite the fact they are not conforming to federal laws – they should not be prosecuted, Ogden said.
The memo also urged lawyers to review marijuana offences on a “case-by-case basis,” taking into account state laws in their area.
Compassion clubs and dispensaries can also be found south of the 49th, with known businesses in Arizona, California, Colorado, Michigan and Washington.
They aren’t legal, but they still do big business.
According to a 2008 report by CNBC, California alone is home to more than 500 medicinal-cannabis dispensaries – taking in about $2-
billion in annual revenue while generating upwards of $100-million in state taxes.
Kamloops Mounties are continuing their investigation following last week’s raid, but CSCS appears to be up and running once again.
The day after the raid, KTW visited the storefront and was told it was “business as usual.”
Anderson has yet to be charged, but he has been released from custody.
Police say they are seeking drug-trafficking charges in addition to the obstructing
a peace officer allegations stemming from Anderson’s actions during last week’s raid.
It will likely be weeks, if not months, before it’s known whether Anderson will face criminal charges.
According to the Canadian Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the maximum penalty for trafficking in a controlled substance is life in prison.