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No fuss, no muss and no fanfare at medicinal marijuana store

You need a licence or a doctor's note as compassion club opens shop quietly

By ROB SHAW
Friday, September 24, 2004 - Page A11

Toronto's oldest cannabis compassion club made a big deal, but little noise, out of the grand opening of its new medicinal marijuana store yesterday.

The new facility is being called a practical approach to medicinal cannabis, but it still flies in the face of legal and Health Canada restrictions.

So the club, run by the group Cannabis as Living Medicine, doesn't want its address published, and doesn't want to give too many details about its members. People find it by phoning a number listed on the CALM website."We believe we have a successful method of distribution for other clubs to follow," said Neev Tapiero, its founder.

"We offer a basic service that affects people in a minor but profound way. Being able to sleep sounds minor, but it's a major thing."

Since Health Canada's medicinal marijuana program started in 2001, the government has issued 747 marijuana licences for terminally ill patients or those who suffer chronic pain.

But only 118 users are registered to grow their own plants or receive the government's dried marijuana and seeds. The remaining 629 get their pot elsewhere.

Those looking to buy medicinal marijuana at CALM need to present their government licence or have a severe medical problem, with a doctor's note, Mr. Tapiero said.

New members get a 20-minute information session at which one of the club's 10 volunteers helps them pick a cannabis blend.

Mr. Tapiero wouldn't reveal exactly how many members CALM has, but he said more than 100 of them have Health Canada licences. About 40 per cent of the members are HIV-positive.

CALM does sell marijuana, but users don't smoke it in the store. Mr. Tapiero insists the club operates in a grey area.

CALM exists because the federal government can't get its act together on medicinal marijuana, he said. For one thing, its Manitoba-grown product is too weak, he said.

"And there's a huge gap between people who can access cannabis and people who feel it is medically beneficial," he added.

Inside the spacious and newly decorated club is a list of today's menu items: Chernobyl, Hawaiian Punch and Blueberry-Hashplant cannabis mixes. Each has a separate mixture purported to relieve physical symptoms below the neck, including spasms, and to relieve mental symptoms such as depression, he said.

"People experiment a little and tend to find something that really works for them," said Mr. Tapiero, 33, who started CALM in 1996.

The federal government has said it plans to reintroduce legislation this fall that would decriminalize possession of small quantities of marijuana. A bill to that effect died when the last election was called. Recent court rulings have questioned the constitutionality of current possession laws, and police have been laying fewer charges.

Still, earlier this month in Vancouver, police raided Da Kine Smoke and Beverage shop and arrested its owner, Carol Gwilt, who is accused of selling marijuana over the counter.

In August, Toronto police shut down a parade to promote legal marijuana, organized by the group Cannabis in Canada.

In 2002, the Toronto Compassion Centre, one of Toronto's three medical marijuana clubs, was raided and the club's two founders, Zack Noftolin and Warren Hitzig, were charged with possession and trafficking. The charges later were dropped.

Mr. Tapiero admits he's a bit worried about publicity, and won't comment on whether he expects police to shut him down.



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