VICS Constitutional Challenge of Health Canada Medical Cannabis Program Successful!

Dear friends and supporters,

It is with great pleasure that I announce the successful outcome of the Vancouver Island Compassion Society (VICS) Constitutional challenge of Health Canada’s medical cannabis program and practice. On Monday, February 2nd 2009 Justice Koenigsberg ruled that the federal regulations limiting the number of people who could grow cannabis in one location, and the rules limiting the number of patients that a producer could grow for were arbitrary, served no public interest, and were therefore unconstitutional. She stayed her decision for one year in order to allow the federal government to amend their medical cannabis regulations to reflect her ruling.

Although Justice Koenigsberg went on to find the defendant, Mr. Mat Beren - who was in charge of the Vancouver Island Compassion Society’s production and research facility - guilty of cannabis possession and cultivation for the purpose of trafficking, she then immediately granted him an absolute discharge, essentially exonerating him of all charges. In granting Mr. Beren the discharge, the judge stated that "In my view, it would be contrary to public interest for Mr. Beren to have criminal record. If ever there was a case where an absolute discharge is appropriate, it's this one." She also urged Health Canada to establish regulations that would legally authorize organizations like the Vancouver Island Compassion Society that are legitimately helping medical cannabis patients through research and distribution to continue their good work without the ongoing threat of arrest and prosecution.

This important legal decision came about as result of a nearly five year Charter challenge which stemmed from a 2004 police raid on the Vancouver Island Therapeutic Cannabis Research Institute (VITCRI), a cannabis production, research and breeding facility owned and operated by the Vancouver Island Compassion Society. The judge has yet to issue a written decision, and we will make it available as soon as it becomes available.

This marks the fifth time that this program has been found unconstitutional since 2001, and although it is a major victory for Canadian medical cannabis patients and those working to help them, the decision didn’taddress and remedy ongoing access problems. Judge Koenigsberg noted that Health Canada has only granted legal access to medical cannabis to about 2600 people so far, despite there being between 400,000 and 1 million medical cannabis patients in Canada, but failed to find the access regulations unconstitutional. However, as a result of her ruling patients will be able to benefit from the economies of scale in regards to the production of their medicine, and experienced cultivators will have more freedom and motivation to assist authorized patients.

The VICS and its 850 members would like to thank our amazing legal team for this historic victory. Lawyers Kirk Tousaw and John Conroy QC both worked tirelessly on this challenge at greatly reduced legal rates, and they deserve much of the credit for this win. We’d also like to thank our lay and expert witnesses, who gave so much of themselves and whose testimony formed the foundation for Justice Koenigsberg’shistoric decision. Lastly, a huge thanks to our supporters in both Canada and the U.S., particularly the Marijuana Policy Project, Robert Field, and the Drug Policy Alliance, without whose financial support this challenge would not have been possible.

Philippe Lucas
Founder/Executive Director – Vancouver Island Compassion Society
Graduate Research Fellow – Center for Addictions Research of B.C.
Victoria City Council

P.S. If you have any questions about this legal decision or its impact, please feel free to contact me at 250-884-9821, or Kirk Tousaw at 604-836-1420.

B.C. Supreme Court rules in favour of medical marijuana

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A relieved Mathew Beren (right) looks on as lawyer Kirk Tousaw and Vancouver Island Compassion Society founder Philippe Lucas brief media on his precedent-setting trial.

Compassion clubs and other medical marijuana distributors should have restrictions on them lifted, a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled on Monday. To the delight of a packed courtroom in Vancouver, Justice Marvyn Koenigsberg said federal regulations that limit people's access to medicinal cannabis are "constitutionally invalid" and gave the government a year to amend the rules. The current rules under the federal medical marijuana program limit a supplier from providing marijuana to more than one patient and restrict growers from sharing a common space. Koenigsberg made the ruling during the trial of Vancouver Island resident Mathew Beren.

In 2004, RCMP raided a grow-op Beren ran in Sooke and charged him with trafficking. Koenigsberg found Beren guilty on two drug-related charges Monday but granted him an absolute discharge because he grew marijuana exclusively for the Vancouver Island Compassion Society. The discharge means Beren may continue to grow marijuana for the VICS, a non-profit that distributes marijuana to 850 patients.

"In my view, it would be contrary to public interest for Mr. Beren to have criminal record," Koenigsberg told the courtroom. "If ever there was a case where an absolute discharge is appropriate, it's this one."

Outside the courthouse, Beren told media he was overjoyed by the decision. "We're talking 14 years to life for what? For helping people?" he said. "I want to make sure people that need medical marijuana can get it without the dangers of the street. It's an awesome day."

All the pot news fit to print

Monday Magazine (Victoria, B.C.)
Posted By: Jason Youmans
02/04/2009 8:00 AM

The Canadian government’s crumbling monopoly on the production and distribution of medical cannabis was dealt another blow Monday with a B.C. Supreme Court decision that effectively exonerated a grower who supplied the Vancouver Island Compassion Society with the good grass.

The charges against Mathew Beren stemmed from a 2004 RCMP raid on a VICS facility in Sooke. The compassion society and its lawyer, Kirk Tousaw, argued that since the federal government was failing to provide citizens with a safe and secure supply of medicinal marijuana, compassion societies and their growers fulfilled a critical service.

Justice Marvyn Koenigsberg agreed, calling the government restrictions on medical marijuana access unconstitutional, in the process striking down the rule prohibiting more than one medicinal marijuana grower from using the same facility.

“She cited in her decision, on a number of occasions, that Canadians deserve to get their cannabis from organizations and institutions that they trust,” says VICS founder and Victoria city councillor Philippe Lucas. “And they clearly have no trust in the Government of Canada.”

Koenigsberg actually found Beren guilty on two drug-related counts, but granted him an absolute discharge, citing the fact that he was growing exclusively for the compassion society.

Lucas says it’s business as usual for him.

“The VICS will just carry on doing the good work and research that we’ve been doing for nine years, and we’re currently helping 850 people in the Greater Victoria area—all that have doctors’ recommendations for cannabis,” he says. “And we’ve had recommendations locally now from over 300 doctors, so physicians clearly support our work.”

B.C. court rules medical marijuana program unconstitutional

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By Ian Mulgrew, Vancouver Sun

February 2, 2009 1:01 PM

A B.C. Supreme Court justice has endorsed a recent Federal Court decision that the federal government's marijuana program is unconstitutional.

Justice Marvyn Koenigsberg gave the federal government a year to fix the medical marijuana access regulations so compassion clubs or groups of users can get together and have a common grow operation.

At the moment, any licenced grower is restricted to supplying only one licenced user.

And although Koenigsberg found the regulations constitutionally wanting she still convicted Mathew Beren of Vancouver Island of trafficking, though she gave him an absolute discharge, meaning he will have no criminal record.

Beren had been growing pot for the local compassion club and argued he should not be convicted because the reguations were an unreasonable barrier to patients' access to needed medication.

The judge however said many of those served by the club lacked a government licence to use.

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