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Between the law and the people: BC Compassion Club Society makes a place for medical marijuana

At the BC Compassion club, two members use marijuana for medicinal purposes in a photograph by Cathi Atmadjaja

In 2006, 93 percent of Canadians polled nationwide said they approved of medical marijuana. "It's a matter of the law catching up to the society," said Jeet-Kei Leung, Communications Coordinator for the BC Compassion Club Society on Commercial Drive in a recent Vancouver Observer interview.

Catching up with society's values is something Bill S-10, the federal government’s new amendment to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, doesn't do.  Bill S-10 is now being debated in Parliament. Medical marijuana advocates see this as another stepping stone on a long road to legitimizing a therapeutic medicine that in their view shouldn't be illegal. 

In December, Leung went to Ottawa to offer testimony to the Senate Committee studying legislation. As he was sifting through testimony, he was struck by the consensus among “a pile of expert witnesses from prosecutors, defense lawyers and all across the board that mandatory minimum sentencing doesn’t work.”

"Because of this testimony, the Senate did make a number of significant amendments," he said, but the bill in his opinion was still severely flawed. Enough amendments were made, however, to send the Bill back to the House of Commons when Harper prorogued Parliament,  extinguishing legislation that was in limbo. Last month,  Bill S-10 was introduced. "It's pretty much the same bill,"  Leung says.

On a more positive note, the Bill has allowed medical cannabis supporters to dispel some misunderstandings. Most medical cannabis users are "well-integrated citizens. They really don't fit the stereotypes."

The grey zone

For now, Lenug says, a legal “grey zone” exists in Canada because the "Federal Programs have been too inadequate over the past nine years to meet the needs of medical marijuana patients. It has been consistently challenged in the courts and various regulations keep being deemed unconstitutional. So, the compassion clubs step in and fill that void to provide the service and quality that the Federal government isn’t willing to provide."

“The senate committee, on illegal drugs in 2002, said Health Canada needs to learn from the proven success model of the compassion clubs. They really need to provide the services and the quality that patients need.”  

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