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Thursday, August 15, 2002
Raid hurt the sick: Pot activist
Four suspects freed on bail

By JASON BOTCHFORD, TORONTO SUN

Warren Hitzig's dream of helping sick people officially ended yesterday when he was released from custody with the bail condition that he could no longer run his "compassion club" that openly sold pot.

He was arrested with three others Tuesday night when police raided the Toronto Compassion Centre that had become a medicinal-marijuana haven for more than 1,200 sick and terminally ill clients.

In 1998, Hitzig began his operations when he was among eight southern Ontario club operators who publicly announced they were starting to sell pot to people with AIDS, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and other ailments.

The operation that started on his skateboard, so he could deliver the goods, ended at gunpoint during a nighttime raid Tuesday.

"It was terrifying ... it was hell," Hitzig said yesterday after leaving court. "I've never been in a fight, never stolen anything, never kidnapped anyone, and here I was treated like someone who did something terrible."

TIMING AN ISSUE

But why would the cops choose now to bust up an operation they knew about for years?

Those in the marijuana movement believe it began when the Toronto club was robbed last December.

When police arrived at the crime scene after being called by staff, they found not just ounces of pot set aside in bags for sick people but kilos of marijuana stuffed in garbage bags.

GROUP IS SUING

"It's an amount that should never have been there," said lawyer Alan Young, who was at the scene and often represents medicinal marijuana users. "It was an amount that was hard for the police to ignore."

Young also believes the bust was politically motivated, stemming from the lawsuit he launched in May against the federal government for a group of eight people. The group, including seizure and chronic pain sufferers, are suing because they say it's impossible to get safe, affordable marijuana for treatment.

"The arrests are part of a political move to discredit the whole marijuana movement," Young said.

Police Chief Julian Fantino said: "We deal with criminal offences for what they are."

Along with Hitzig, Zachary Naftolin, 24, Andrea Horning, 40, and Markos Koutoukis, 25, were charged with possession of marijuana for the purpose of trafficking.

All four were released on bail.

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