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Six Ontario Outlets Planned For Users With Medical Need
by Randy Boswell

February 14, 1998 - Ottawa Citizen -

The activist group pushing to have marijuana declared legal for medical use has announced the launch of its first six "buyers' clubs" in Ontario.

At a meeting last night in Toronto, the group stopped short of identifying store-front locations selling cannabis. But potential marijuana purchasers in the six cities where clubs have been formed are being advised to simply visit their nearest hemp store -- with a doctor's note -- to get further directions for obtaining the drug.

"We're not going to be hiding," said organizer Peter Young, a Toronto hemp store owner who announced the opening of buyers' clubs in Toronto, Etobicoke, Mississauga, London, Kitchener and Peterborough.

He said the marijuana will not be sold for profit and will be available at locations that are "wheelchair accessible" and "in commercial areas, not private residences." He added that any police officer posing as a patient could "easily" track down the sales venue, but said that "if they're going to bust us, fine -- but the next day we'll be open again."

Mr. Young said "we hear rumours" about a club being set to launch soon in Ottawa, but had no further details.

The buyers' clubs are being organized as part of a broadening movement to give AIDS patients and others access to the pain relief offered by marijuana.

In a letter sent to the federal health and justice ministers last month, the activists had asked the government to exempt the buyers' clubs from the law. The group gave the government until Feb. 12 to respond.

But Mr. Young says that because the group has not heard from the ministers, the club openings were announced as planned to keep the pressure on politicians to confront the issue of medical marijuana.

A spokesman for Justice Minister Anne McLellan has said that the exemptions would not likely be granted "before public policy changes take place," which could "take some time."

Law enforcers have said they don't intend to ignore the buyers' clubs or vigourously pursue arrests.

Individuals connected with the buyers club risk convictions, fines and possibly jail time for trafficking cannabis.

But the group behind the buyers' clubs is pointing to the growing number of public appeals, statements from politicians and recent court rulings that suggest society is ready to permit the use of marijuana to relieve suffering among those seriously ill.

"We are dealing with life-threatening illnesses and enormous suffering, and I do not think it is fair to perpetuate this suffering simply because the medical profession and the pharmaceutical industry have demonstrated indifference to this issue," Osgoode Hall law professor Alan Young has written to the federal government on behalf of the buyers' club organizers.

A recent Ontario court ruling gave Terry Parker, a Toronto man with epilepsy, the constitutional right to grow and smoke marijuana. But the ruling was seen as a specific exemption for Mr. Parker, rather than a precedent applying to anyone, and the government is appealing the decision.

An Ottawa physician, Dr. Don Kilby, has applied to Health Canada for permission to supply Jean Charles Pariseau, of Vanier, with marijuana to help relieve some of his AIDS symptoms. Dr. Kilby has also voiced support for buyers' clubs.

Mike Foster, the owner of Ottawa hemp store Crosstown Traffic, has said he supports the group and would consider organizing a local club.

Another Ottawa resident, Ron Whalen, has said he has been informally supplying people with medical marijuana for the past year, although he is not affiliated with the Toronto-based group.

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