The Liberty Gleaner
Vol3 No1 September 2002
The Community Newspaper For Toronto's Downtown Core
Compassion Centre Raid Sparks Protest
Local councillor critical of federal drug policy
Members and supporters of the Toronto Compassion Centre (TCC), a non-profit facility which provided medical marijuana to hundreds of people, demonstrated outside the Department Of Justice's Exchange Tower offices last month, demanding better access to the drug and calling for the federal government to change its current policies.
The protest followed a raid at the centre in mid-August, in which police arrested four staff members on drug charges, including TCC founder Warren Hitzig, who withdrew as director of the centre after the bust. Hitzig, who also attended the demonstration, says the TCC had been operating for five years out of its offices at Bathurst STreet and St. Clair Avenue West and had never experienced trouble with the police. He wonders about the timing of the raid.
"Was it random? I have no idea. Was it politically charged? It's possible," he says "It came at such an odd time. You know, we'd been running for five years and then all of a sudden they decide to come in. The TCC is demanding that all charges against the centre be dropped.
Demonstrator and TCC member Arthur Hall, who is wheelchair-bound and uses Cannabis to relieve pain caused by a neurological condition, says that since the raid TCC members have been without a reliable source of marijuana. "Where we have to go now for medical marijuana is not safe," voicing a common concern among users of marijuana as medicine. "It's a back alley."
Under current drug laws, certain medically qualified petients may legally possess and even cultivate marijuana for medical purposes, but it remains ilegal to buy or sell. Further frustrating medical marijuana advocates were comments made by health minister Anne McLellan at a meeting of the Canadian Medical Association just before the TCC protest. She appeared to backtrack on the government's commitment to research marijuana as a legitimate medicine.
Area Councillor Joe Mihevc (Ward 21, St. Paul's) says he is sympathetic to the TCC's cause and to the plight of medical marijuana users in Canada, adding that his office has never received a complaint about the presence of the centre. He is highly critical of the federal government's marijuana policies, which he describes as "erratic," and of minister McLellan's approach to the issue. "There's a real need for Parliament to clarify [it's position] and bring forth legislation around marijuana for medical purposes," he says. "They've got to pull it together. Annd McLellan is not doing her job. It's time for some leadership from her."
Mihevc would like to see marijuana decriminalized for medical purposes and a distribution network established. He says medical marijuana "should be taken out of the law enforcement realm and into the medical realm as we would any other drug that helps people with their illnesses." He blames federal policies for creating confusion among law enforcement agencies while preventing thousands of people from obtaining what they regard as medicine.
Warren Hitzig also emphasizes the numbers. "It's not a small percentage of people who are asking for this type of medicine," he says. "In every province there seems to be some sort of court case going on for the dectiminalization [of marijuana] for medical use. It's not one or two people crying out. It's thousands of people. [The TCC] had a membership before it shut down of over 1300."
Although the future of the Toronto Compassion Centre is not clear, Hitzig is urging members to be patient. Hitzig and the other staff charged in the raid appear in court Sept. 30.