Pot club stung by legal confusion

May 12, 2010

Guelph Mercury, 12/05/10bust

I’m confused.

Not dazed and confused. Just confused.

The source of my confusion is the decision by the Guelph Police Service to bust the Medical Cannabis Club of Guelph last week, which led to trafficking charges against four staff, including founder Rade Kovacevic.

Part of my confusion may be because the message from Canadian officials on marijuana use is as mixed as a 1988 cassette tape. (Note to readers: a long, long time ago, music came in a strange format called a cassette tape and teenagers would create eclectic mixes of their favourite songs, which, consequently, is illegal).

In the eyes of Health Canada, marijuana can be a therapeutic drug with real medical benefits for some users. You can obtain a physician’s prescription for it – more than 4,000 Canadians have – and the government even contracts a company in Saskatchewan to grow marijuana for it. Hundreds more have federal licenses to grow their own pot with seeds from that company.

In the eyes of many police forces, however, marijuana is still a street drug to be pursued for criminal charges, no different from crack-cocaine or heroin. And that contradiction seems to have fixed a target squarely on the Medical Cannabis Club of Guelph.

While some of the club’s members had Health Canada prescriptions for marijuana to treat ailments from multiple sclerosis to cancer to Hepatitis C, many did not. But to get a membership, everyone needed a form filled out by their physician, explaining their symptoms and their illness, according to the founder.

In the eyes of the law, selling pot to members without a Health Canada prescription is illegal. What I struggle to understand is why targeting those buyers, whose use was condoned by a physician, was a priority for police, when there’s a much larger, arguably more dangerous underground drug trade in this city.

The club has been selling marijuana to the ill in Guelph for more than three years. Why did police consent to it operating in the city for all that time, out in the open, if it viewed the club’s business as criminal?

But regardless of who’s buying the stuff, the cannabis club offered a safe, transparent alternative to the typical source of marijuana – the black market, with all its connections to organized crime. The club has a downtown office. It maintains hours of operations. It has a website. It has an owner, Kovacevic, who doesn’t hide what he does.

And maybe that’s the problem. Was Kovacevic too out in the open for police’s tastes? In February 2009, he and his partners started a second business, Guelph Compassion Centre and Research Institute, in a 2,000-square-foot industrial space where they were growing about 100 marijuana plants under high-pressure sodium lights.

Kovacevic gave interviews to the press, posed for photos, and talked about the club as if it were some kind of independent pharmacy. In January, the club moved to a larger, more open Baker Street address. Business was good.

In fact, it was so good the club was carrying $10,000 in cash and more than 20 kilograms of inventory when police swooped in. Maybe investigators felt that’s too big of an operation to tolerate anymore.

The club also hired an employee, Scott Gilbert, who had been on the police’s radar before. In 2007, he was investigated after he exposed a loophole in the Municipal Elections Act by casting five spoiled ballots at different polls. Oh, and he’s also a communist. Yes, it’s true! He ran as a candidate for the Communist Party of Canada in the 2006 federal election.

Maybe the Medical Cannabis Club of Guelph simply became too much of an irritant for police to ignore. Here was a club growing and selling marijuana, which may or may not be illegal, which may or may not provide a medical benefit to its users, right under their noses.

Perhaps police just said enough’s enough, let the courts figure this one out.

Greg Mercer is a Guelph-based journalist. His column appears Wednesdays. He can be reached at greg_mercer@hotmail.com, and past columns can be read at gregmercer.ca

2 Responses to Pot club stung by legal confusion

  1. Eitan Gallant on May 13, 2010 at 9:18 am

    Good evening Mr. Mercer,

    My name is Eitan Gallant, and I am one of the four accused in the MCCG raid last week.

    First off, I found your articulate editorial quite thought-provoking, and I appreciate the coverage.

    Second, I feel it necessary to clarify that the $10,000 seized, was actually taken from Rade Kovacevic’s personal home, not the business location, and to be honest was completely unrelated. It had been saved up by him and his fiance, also accused, over some time now, and was intended for their wedding celebration this summer.

    If you’d like to ask me any questions, please do not hesitate. Also, if you’re interested, there will be a rally this Saturday the 15th at 2 pm at St. George’s Square.

    Once again, thank you for the questions you’ve posed in your article… I think they’ve given the community as well as the local police force something to think about.

    Eitan Gallant

  2. Russell Barth on May 13, 2010 at 9:19 am

    “What I struggle to understand is why targeting those buyers, whose use was condoned by a physician, was a priority for police, when there’s a much larger, arguably more dangerous underground drug trade in this city.”

    Busting dealers is hard. They often have guns, and good lawyers. But busting sick people is as easy as taking candy from a baby.

    Also, busting sick people “sends a message” to other sick people who think about using pot to save their lives or make their lives more livable. The police are trying to scare the public into avoiding these places, and when you use violence to scare off the general public, well, to me, that is terrorism. I certainly feel terrorized.

    Hell, I am afraid to leave my house most days because I have to worry about getting arrested – even though I actually HAVE a Health Canada permit, cops often ignore them.

    Russell Barth
    Federally Licensed Medical Marijuana User
    Drug Reform Analyst and Consultant
    Educators for Sensible Drug Policy

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