Compassion Club in Courtenay still helping people
Police seized several pounds of marijuana and arrested two people last week at the North Island Compassion Club.
It was the second bust this year at the Sixth Street establishment in Courtenay, the first happening in February when four people were arrested.
Club manager Ernie Yacub, who is also a director of the non-profit society, was arrested last Wednesday but released with a promise to appear.
"People are scared," Yacub said. "They're scared anyway. They're afraid to talk to their family, they're afraid to talk to their doctors, they're afraid to come here to get their medicine. And now that we've been busted again, they're afraid that they're not going to be able to get their medicine anymore."
The club's clientele includes retirees, people on disability and those who work. Aside from different strains of marijuana, the club sells cookies and cannabis-infused oil that allows people to ingest the medicine rather than smoke it.
"We're providing what we consider is an essential service that the medical community will not provide," Yacub said. "The medical health community across the country is failing its sick people. Particularly people with cancer."
Yacub said the only legal way people can obtain cannabis is with a licence from the medical marijuana program, which he said government was forced to develop about 10 years ago because the courts recognized people's rights to use cannabis marijuana for medicinal purposes.
"People can get a licence to possess, a licence to grow and a licence to designate somebody to grow for them," he said. "There are people in the Valley who have their licences who buy from us. Those aren't the only people that we provide services to. It's very difficult for people to get licensed. My family physician of 30 years would not sign for my papers, even though I have a Category 1 disability."
Category 1 includes hepatitis C and cancer.
Yacub notes a recent Ontario court decision where a judge said the government program is not working and needs to be changed for people to obtain licences.
"The judge used the word boycott, that doctors are boycotting the program," Yacub said.
Which is one of the reasons the compassion club started 10 years ago. It has operated seven years at the Sixth Avenue location. It is not licensed, which amounts to a kind of "grey zone" or political situation where "police know we're doing a good thing but bust us because it's something they're told to do.
"The Harper government has consistently said marijuana is a serious offence, so they're cracking down," said Yacub, noting a compassion club in Langley was also busted last week.
"Basically, people either come to us to get their medicine, or they go to the crack dealer down the road. That's a scary proposition, it's expensive, they don't know what they're getting...Would they rather people come here and get medicine from us, or get it from a heroin dealer? This is where the government is pushing people."
Before the federal election, Yacub notes the Tories announced a plan to invest $10 billion into new prisons, even though crime rates in Canada are dropping. He also notes a 14-per-cent increase in pot busts in Canada last year.
Before the first bust at the club, he said RCMP had told Courtenay council that crime rates in the Valley are dropping consistently.
Until recently, Jacub said the club has operated for upwards of seven years "without incident" in terms of police visits or complaints from neighbours.
Though the dispensary is not open, the club is still providing services to clients.