Cannabis club charges go up in smoke

November 10, 2012

Well, that was a big waste of time and money. But wasn’t that the point?

Charges against the founder and two employees of the Medical Cannabis Centre of Guelph were dropped by Justice Bruce Durno this week after the case was dragged through the courts for more than two years. That’s about two years too late.

A little refresher. The Baker Street cannabis club was raided by Guelph police in May 2010. They found an estimated $100,000 in marijuana and cash at the local compassion club and five other addresses.

In the raid, police also seized a quantity of marijuana-laced muffins, scones, cakes and cookies. Sounds like one of my grandmother’s tea parties, minus the marijuana, not the tools of violent criminals.  But I digress.

The marijuana the club sold was supposed to be for medical uses – members either had Health Canada’s permission or a doctor’s consent to use the herb to treat a variety of chronic medical conditions. We’re talking dangerous, scary people here, from cancer sufferers to those afflicted with HIV and Hepatitis C.

The club’s founder, Rade Kovacevic, had a Health Canada licence that allowed him to possess or grow 30 marijuana plants. He uses marijuana to treat myofascial pain syndrome, fibromyalgia, degenerative disc disease and three herniated discs.

Health Canada says marijuana can be a therapeutic drug with real medical benefits for some people. You can get a physician’s prescription for it, and thousands of Canadians now have licences to use pot. The government pays a Saskatchewan firm to grow marijuana for it, and hundreds more Canadians have federal licences to grow their own pot with seeds from that company.

But when it comes to law enforcement, medical marijuana clubs still exist in a legal grey area. And that’s at the heart of the mess around Guelph’s cannabis club.

Whatever you think of medical marijuana, what Kovacevic and his staff were really guilty of was being an easy target for police. They maintained a downtown office and kept specific hours of operations. They had a website. Kovacevic didn’t hide his business – he gave interviews, posed for newspaper photos and promoted it how ever he could.

To bust the club, a Guelph police officer posed as a doctor over the phone, allowing at least three patients who were really undercover investigators to get a medical marijuana licence through the centre. Hardly the undercover operation of the century.

On Tuesday, the same day voters in two U.S. states voted to legalize marijuana, Justice Durno tossed out the charges against the club’s staff, letting the case go up in smoke.

They didn’t get off the hook completely. In a joint submission – no pun intended – to the court, the cannabis club’s corporate entity plead guilty to a single count of possession of more than three kilograms of pot for the purpose of trafficking.

For that, the club still has a steep fine to pay, some $10,000. But the staff avoid individual criminal charges. Meanwhile, one of the other staff members has already branched out and started a medical marijuana club in Hamilton.

The irony in this case is that part of the reason it fell apart was because of the drug addictions of one of the key investigating officers.

Defense lawyers seized on the role of Guelph police Const. Chris Panylo, a drug unit investigator whose affidavit got the police the original search warrant. Panylo, with his own history of substance abuse, was fined and put on probation in October after pleading guilty to stealing methadone that was seized in a different police investigation.

So after all this, are we any further along? Are our streets any safer after all the resources thrown at shutting down the club and forcing its members to go to the black market for their medical marijuana?

And as for Guelph’s fledgling cannabis club? After this mess, they simply plan get back into business by applying for a new licence under the Medical Marijuana Act.

Greg Mercer is a Guelph-based writer. His column appears every third Saturday. He can be reached at, and past columns can be read at

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