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Submitted by Nicole Seguin on Wed, 05/12/2010 - 2:00pm
By Chris Hamlyn - Nanaimo News Bulletin
Although a medical marijuana compassion club was shut down in Oceanside a few years ago, Bob Estes believes the mid-Island is ready for the service.
It is legal for people with a Health Canada licence or doctor’s note to use medical marijuana in Canada, but it is not legal for people to buy or sell it.
As of April 2, 1,405 people were licensed to possess marihuana for medical purposes in B.C. and 4,907 in Canada.
There are only three legal ways for people to get the medical help they are legally allowed to have – grow their own, have someone grow it for them or buy it from Health Canada.
Estes, a medical marijuana user, calls the Health Canada product, from Prairie Plant Systems Incorporated in Saskatchewan, “toxic waste”, full of chemicals and mould. And the fact the federal agency only has one product is not helpful to users who often need to try many varieties to find one that works for them.
He opened the Organic Matter Compassionate Access Centre in Errington earlier this month to give people access to a variety of quality, organic medical marijuana.
He said the service is important because not everyone who needs it knows how or is physically able to grow marijuana, and they may not know qualified growers.
“Compassion clubs are a real necessity if we’re going to allow people to get the medication they need,” he said, adding medical marijuana is used by people suffering with a wide range of pain and illnesses.
Steven Roberts, executive director of the Vancouver Island Compassion Society in Victoria, said Estes’s work is necessary.
“The biggest problem with the Island is the political climate in the small centres that make it hard for the needs to be met,” he said. “It’s not easy to open a compassionate centre and have your neighbours and the local politicians be happy with it.”
The society has sold medicinal mairjuana to critically and chronically ill people, through a doctor’s recommendation, since 1999.
Roberts admits the service is against the law, but the centre’s relationship with Victoria police is good.
“We see police every day, but have had no complaints or comments,” he said.
Estes is on the B.C. business registry, the only thing required to run a business in the Regional District of Nanaimo, and he is optimistic about his relationship with police.
Sgt. Darrell Robertson of the Oceanside RCMP said police are aware of the centre’s activities in Errington, but wouldn’t speculate on enforcement action.
“We support people who need drugs to alleviate pain, but from what I’ve read in the papers, [Estes] is going about this the wrong way,” he said.
Oceanside RCMP will continue to monitor the centre.
“The criminal code says you are not allowed to sell marijuana,” said Robertson. “And if you buy marijuana illegally, you are subject to the Controlled Drug and Substances Act.”
Estes emphasizes that all the products the club sells – including pot, cookies, chocolate and tinctures – are 100-per cent organic from a network of contracted organic growers he has developed.
“I went that way because when the human immune system is already compromised, they shouldn’t be putting more toxins into their body.”
The product sells at about the same price as street level, because Estes wants it to be available and to help guard against people getting a hold of his product and re-selling it on the street.
Estes has “self-medicated” with marijuana since he was run over as a teenager and has been licensed by Health Canada for six years.
“It is the only way for a lot of people to alleviate the pain. It’s not a matter of choice, it’s a matter of, ‘do I want to survive and function in daily life,’” he said. “I perpetually hear about the need from the community – there are so many people who need it,” he said, adding nobody knows for sure how many medical marijuana users there are, but his best guess is that he might end up with 1,000 members from the mid-Island.
He said he’s had a lot of support in opening the new business and “not one person has said anything negative,” though it did take time to find a location that would accept the business.
The Vancouver Island Compassion Society has 1,072 members and Roberts hopes Estes’s centre goes over well.
“With needing the doctor’s recommendations to access the services, it does put the onus on the person using cannabis medicinally to do that background work,” he said. “If Bob has a lot of supportive doctors up there, I can see things exploding.”
Though there are no legal or Health Canada guidelines on how to operate a medical marijuana business, Estes is following the example of long-running clubs with protocols such as not allowing smoking on the premises, hoping that will avoid complaints.
He will only sell to people with Health Canada licences or people who fill out the forms to join the club, including a doctor’s statement portion.
The paperwork can be filled out by a variety of health-care workers including doctors, naturopaths and chiropractors, though Estes encourages people to go through Health Canada to get the actual picture ID – the most formal permission people can get to possess the substance.
Ashley Lemire, media relations officer for Health Canada, said the agency is the only organization that can legally supply marijuana seeds and dried marijuana for medical purposes and does not license organizations such as compassion clubs to possess, produce, or distribute marijuana for medical purposes.
“If compassion clubs operate outside of Canadian laws, this is an enforcement issue and falls under the jurisdiction of law enforcement agencies,” she said.
Estes said clubs across the country have proven over and over in court that medical marijuana is legal.
“I’m just doing what Health Canada is failing to do,” he said.
The Organic Matters Centre is at 4-1260 Fair Road, Errington, open from noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday. Please call 250-586-0420 for more information.
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