THE GAZETTE, MONTREAL, THURSDAY, JANUARY 29, 2004
No Charges For Pot Club
May Open Door For Others To Start
Justice Department drops case against Toronto Compassion Centre
Shannon Kari, Canwest News Service
Toronto - The federal Justice Department dropped its prosecution of a marijuana "compassion club" in Toronto yesterday, potentially opening the door for similar operations to start up and provide a supply to medical users across the country.
Two directors of the Toronto Compassion Centre, which had more than 1,200 clients, were charged with a number of pot-trafficking-related charges after a dozen raided the operation in August 2002.
"The Crown asks to withdraw all, charges," Justice Department prosecutor Wilson said during a proceeding in the Court of Justice yesterday morning.
The crown attorney did not provide reasons for the decision to withdraw the charges, on what was scheduled as the opening day of a preliminary hearing for Warren Hitzig, 27, and Zach Naftolin, 26, who have been free on bail for 17 months.
Similar charges against a Montreal compassion club were thrown out in December 2002 by a Quebec judge.
"I am not saying today's withdrawal is a green light for compassion clubs.
"But perhaps it puts them on a stronger legal foundation than they were before," said Alan Young, lawyer for the Toronto compassion club.
The Ontario Court of Appeal ruled last fall that the federal government's medIcal marijuana regulations were unconstitutional because they required medically authorized people to acquire the drug on the black market.
The court said the Marijuana Access Regulations would only be valid if the government authorized previously "unlicensed suppliers" such as compassion clubs.
Health Canada has not issued licences to compassion clubs, and last month it announced producers would not be allowed to grow for more than one authorized medical user.
The federal government has also approved 43 applications to distribute dried marijuana seeds to medical users, under its marijuana cultivation contract with Prairie Plant Systems Inc.
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