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Pubdate: March 26, 2007
Source: London Free Press (CN ON)
Address: P.O. Box 2280, 369 York Street, London, Ontario, Canada N6A 4G1
Fax: 1-519-667-4503
Copyright: 2007 The London Free Press

Raid closes local compassion society

Police found 840 marijuana plants, cocaine, LSD and $22,000 in cash.


Two charged in drug raid

A London agency that distributes marijuana for medical use was closed yesterday after a large marijuana grow operation was discovered inside a downtown building.

Members of the London police street drug unit found 840 marijuana plants, marijuana, growing equipment, cocaine, magic mushrooms, LSD and $22,000 in Canadian and American currency inside four units at 343 Richmond St. in a search on Saturday afternoon, police said yesterday.

The London Compassion Society occupies one of the units searched, police said.

The drugs have a street value of $968,000, police said.

Peter Young, 36, of St. Thomas and Rob Newman, 45, of London are charged with several drug offences, including possession of marijuana for the purposes of trafficking.

The compassion society shared its office space with the London Wellness Centre, a holistic spa offering alternative services such as reflexology and massage therapy.

A message on the London Compassion Society's telephone answering service yesterday said that it will be "closed until further notice."

According to its website, the compassion society's mission is to "provide natural therapeutic alternatives to those in need and to encourage a holistic approach to healing and living."

The society is part of a network of similar agencies that have sprung up across Canada to provide marijuana to people who have obtained permission from doctors to use it to treat chronic illnesses or help them cope with pain.

In 2001, the federal government amended drug laws to allow a limited number of patients to obtain a special exemption that allows them to possess marijuana for their personal use.

Steve Hoevenaars, who suffered a major head injury in 1998 and spent two months in a coma, said he has been getting marijuana from the London Compassion Society for a year.

He arrived at the building to get some marijuana on Saturday morning, but instead police greeted him, he said.

"They said you can't be getting marijuana off the street corner (now)," said Hoevenaars, 34.

Marijuana helped restore his sleep pattern, he said, and the society provided him with safe, legal marijuana.

"What I regret about this is . . . I realize how much it's needed," said Hoevenaars, who is a University of Western Ontario urban development student.

What the centre provided was not "street marijuana," he said -- it was legal.

"I was doing it very quietly."

Originally the London Compassion Society shared a database of doctor-approved medicinal marijuana users with the Toronto chapter, its website says.

But as other chapters were created across the country, the London society struck out on its own.

A similar club used to operate on Wellington Road.


Other recent large marijuana grow operation busts across the region:

- In January, Elgin OPP found more than 400 marijuana plants worth about $200,000 on a property on Glencolin Line, north of Aylmer.

- In October 2006, London police found equipment and 229 marijuana plants with an estimated value of $229,000 at 578 Highbury Ave.

- In September 2006, Elgin OPP seized drugs worth more than $600,000 from an address on Furnival Road in West Elgin.

- In August 2006, a marijuana grow operation was found in an old car dealership in Sarnia.

- In July 2006, the largest marijuana bust ever in Chatham-Kent was discovered by police. More than 1,400 plants with an estimated value of $1.4 million were found on a rural property near Muirkirk.

- In May 2006, $4 million in marijuana plants were seized from a home on Heritage Road in Thames Centre, northeast of London. Almost 4,000 plants were discovered along with magic mushrooms.

- Also in May, more than $2.2 million in marijuana was seized from a barn on Thirteen Mile Road in Middlesex Centre. Almost 2,300 plants were found along with grow equipment.

Pubdate: March 26, 2007
Source: London Free Press (CN ON)
Address: P.O. Box 2280, 369 York Street, London, Ontario, Canada N6A 4G1
Fax: 1-519-667-4503
Copyright: 2007 The London Free Press

Two charged in drug raid

The London Compassion Society, providing therapeutic marijuana, has been shut down.


Raid closes local compassion society

Drugs worth nearly $1 million -- including 840 marijuana plants -- were found in several units of a downtown building raided by London drug squad officers.

The office of the London Compassion Society was one of four units at 343 Richmond St. searched by police on Saturday.

Officers seized 840 marijuana plants, marijuana, magic mushrooms, LSD, cocaine and $22,000 in Canadian and American currency, police said yesterday.

Peter Young, 36, of St. Thomas, and Rob Newman, 45, of London, are charged with several drug-related offences, including possession of marijuana for the purpose of trafficking.

Police are continuing their investigation.

Two employees of the Organic Traveller, a store at 343 Richmond St. selling drug paraphernalia, said Young owned the store and also operated the London Compassion Society out of a unit at the same address.

"I came into work Saturday morning and there were cops standing in the lobby," said Matt, one of the workers at the store.

"They marched me in the back and asked me for ID and there were cops everywhere."

The London Compassion Society is part of a network of societies across Canada that opened to provide marijuana to people who use it for medical reasons.

A message on the society's answering machine yesterday said it will be "closed until further notice."

Marc Emery, a former Londoner and one of Canada's best known crusaders for the legalization of marijuana, denounced the police raid on the London Compassion Society.

"It's clearly an injustice and clearly they're going to hurt people by this action," he said in from Vancouver, where he now resides.

"It's a terrible tragedy because otherwise people will be grubbing around on the streets" to obtain marijuana they are legally entitled to, Emery said.

Growing equipment and 840 plants in various stages of growth were found in three units at at 343 Richmond St, police said.

Though marijuana grow operations are common in homes, they have rarely been found in London apartments.

Grow ops can be found within a 15-minute walk of any house in London, police Chief Murray Faulkner said last night.

"This is a significant drug bust but by no means will it slow our drug squad down at all," he said.

"Drugs are driving a lot of criminal offences in our city."

A resident in the building said he was not surprised to see police early Saturday morning.

"I saw a lot of police, but here that can mean anything," said Jamie Nagy.

"I didn't hear anything about this, but it surprises me. If it was a grow house, you think I would have smelled it."

Matt and David, another employee of the Organic Traveller who would only give his first name, questioned why police would crack down on grow houses, when violent crime and harder drug use is common.

"Why are they busting grow houses when there are crack houses nearby?" said David. "They never touch them. People are out there, stabbing and harassing others, and they come here."

The workers also praised the compassion society as offering a necessary service to those with medical needs, and questioned why police would shut it down.

"There are people there with arthritis, or in a wheelchair with AIDS and cancer, and they eat cookies and brownies that make them feel better," Matt said. "They are very transparent about what they do."

The centre requires medical proof of illness and have to apply for admission.

Newshawk: Herb
Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Trio released on bail in controversial bust

Pot bust: Medicinal use or drug trafficking?

London Free Press

Rob Newman waves to supporters after being released on bail from the London courthouse yesterday. Newman, 45, who is HIV-positive, was thrust into the media spotlight more than a decade ago when he lost his wife and young son to AIDS. (MORRIS LAMONT, Sun Media)

Released on bail after a drug bust of a so-called medicinal marijuana centre in London, three men vowed yesterday their story will come out.

"There's always two sides to every story," Pete Young, 36, owner of the Organic Traveller and a director of the London Compassion Society, said as he left the courthouse.

Also charged in the weekend police raid was Rob Newman, 45, an HIV-positive man who was thrust under the media spotlight more than a decade ago after he lost his wife and young son to AIDS.

Newman declined comment.

Kurt Fisher, 27, was also charged.

All three face drug counts including trafficking.

Police said they seized drugs worth nearly $1 million -- including 840 marijuana plants -- while raiding four units at 343 Richmond St. on Saturday.

"It's really upsetting," said an emotional Albert Hannon, who lives with HIV.

Hannon does maintenance work for the Compassion Society, which is housed in one of the units.

Hannon was among more than 12 people outside the courthouse to back the trio.

"His son died, his wife died and now this . . ." Hannon said of Newman.

Newman's wife, Kim, died in 1993 and his son, Robby, in 1995. Newman and another son, Tom, still live with the disease. The four were all diagnosed in 1991.

Only one child in the family, Jennifer, Kim's daughter from a previous marriage, was spared.

Newman has served on the board of London's AIDS Committee and been an advocate for medicinal marijuana.

The London Compassion Society was closed yesterday.

"This is going to kill some people," said Hannon.

"We have patients who couldn't get out of bed without medical marijuana, who couldn't eat a meal without vomiting. But now they live a normal life," he said.

Across Canada, compassion societies help people who use marijuana to ease the pains of diseases to acquire the drug.

The federal government strictly controls use of medicinal marijuana, through permits for patients and by licensing the marijuana supply to Health Canada.

But critics, such as pot-legalization crusader Marc Emery, formerly of London, say Ottawa has only one supplier and only about 1,500 people have been given the go-ahead to use pot -- and then must grow their own.

That, he said, despite a 2003 ruling by Ontario's highest court that said compassion centres "should get special consideration by police and, hopefully, by lawmakers" because they were the only available option to some.

Reached in British Columbia where he lives, Emery wondered why organizers of London's Compassion Society didn't have a police relationship that might have prevented such a bust.

"The thing is, 800 plants is clearly a large amount to be growing, so it probably would have been better to establish it with police," he said.

Ian Downie, a member of the London Compassion Society, wouldn't say what his illness is, but that the drug helps him cope with the side effects of needed medication.

The society's pot was "a clean drug" of good quality.

People were surprised police said they found cocaine and magic mushrooms along with the more than 800 pot plants, said Steve Plantinga, a massage therapist at the Wellness Centre attached to the compassion society's offices.

"I've known Young and Newman for three years," he said. "They're all about organic stuff, not about anything hard-core."

Police said they couldn't ignore the Richmond Street operation because of potential danger. "Grow ops are fire hazards," said Const. Amanda Pfeffer, adding: "This is a building where there were other tenants living that had absolutely nothing to do with the compassionate society."

Mini pot factories, illegal grow operations generate high heat, humidity and even mould that can be harmful.

Often, their patchwork electrical wiring can also be a fire hazard.

London Free Press

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