Despite historic ruling, marijuana growers now face new hurdle
A historic court decision has dropped all drug charges against the former baker of the Cannabis Buyer’s Club — a win that is likely to have ramifications across the country, according to the club’s lawyer. But despite the good news for marijuana advocates, a new battle has now crested the horizon.
Club baker Owen Smith was officially acquitted in the B.C. Supreme Court in Nanaimo on Thurs., Jan. 10. While the case is expected to head to the B.C. Court of Appeal, Smith’s lawyer Kirk Tousaw is pleased with the prospect, stating that a Court of Appeal ruling affirming Thursday’s decision could have a far-reaching impact.
“We’ve been very excited with the progress in the court hearings, and now Mr. Smith is forever able to say that he was found not guilty — he is not a criminal in helping other Canadians,” says Tousaw. “A ruling from the B.C. Court of Appeal has an affect on all courts across Canada … this would really enshrine patients’ rights.”
The now 30-year-old Smith was charged back in December 2009 after the manager of the Chelsea apartments on View Street complained to police about a “strong, offensive smell” wafting through the building. Officers obtained a search warrant and recovered substantial quantities of cannabis-infused olive and grapeseed oil, as well as pot cookies destined for sale through the Cannabis Buyers’ Club.
Though Smith’s trial began a year ago on Jan. 16, 2012, it moved into a voir dire — a trial within a trial — to allow Tousaw to challenge the validity of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act regarding medical marijuana. Tousaw argued that it was a patient’s right to chose how to ingest the substance and that it was unconstitutional to not allow dry marijuana to be rendered into oils and other substances for medical purposes.
Smith, who stepped down from his position as club baker shortly after he was charged, has been maintaining a role in the club by contributing to its regular newsletter and working on illustrative and social media campaigns. While he may not be baking, he intends to continue participating in the club and says he is thrilled that the ruling has “broadened his horizons,” especially regarding travel, now that he won’t be subject to a criminal record.
“The club is constantly transforming and adapting as needs change, and I imagine so will my role,” says Smith. “I’m not sure what my future holds … but today I’m really happy.”
Celebrations aside, the club is already starting its campaign to object to the proposed regulation scheme put forward last month by Health Canada. The proposal, entitled Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR), would move cannabis production away from residences and into spaces operated by commercial producers. Health Canada representatives have stated this move will reduce crime in neighbourhoods and make it easier for police to control illegal grow-ops, but club representatives say this would remove patients’ ability to grow their own medicine, especially if they wish to use a particular strain of cannabis that is suited to their own condition. The proposal could also mean that medicine will cost patients who grow their own several times more than it currently does.
“Taking away a patient’s right to grow is abysmal, and though we support the idea of a commercial industry, we’re very concerned about these proposed changes,” says Ted Smith, who is not related to Owen.
The government will stop issuing growers licenses on Oct. 1, with the new regulations scheduled to take effect on April 1, 2014. Smith has organized a rally in front of the legislature for Feb. 21, which falls inside the 75-day public consultation period that allows Canadians to pressure officials on the matter.
“Removing a patient’s right to grow a plant that heals them is reprehensible,” says Tousaw. “Absolutely, there should be easier access to this, both as medicine and for non-medicinal purposes. This is probably the safest recreational substance that people consume, period.” M
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