‘It’s only a plant,’ says Courtenay man filing Charter challenge against marijuana trafficking charge

On behalf of the North Island Compassion Club, a press conference was held Thursday morning at the Courtenay courthouse.

ERNIE YACUB (LEFT) and his lawyer

ERNIE YACUB (LEFT) and his lawyer

On behalf of the North Island Compassion Club, a press conference was held Thursday morning at the Courtenay courthouse to discuss medical marijuana.

NICC, a B.C. non-profit society, has been providing cannabis marijuana in the Comox Valley for medicinal and therapeutic purposes for over 12 years.

NICC openly operated a dispensary at Ernie Yacub’s rented home at 719 Sixth St. in Courtenay for over seven years with no police intervention until it was suddenly raided in February 2011. Yacub, a longtime resident of the Comox Valley who has never been in trouble with the law, has been charged with possession for the purpose of trafficking,

Despite being well-informed that NICC was opening a dispensary, the RCMP never previously came to the house for any reason except once to inform the residents that they were investigating a crackhouse around the corner.

Many NICC members who rely on cannabis for their critical and chronic illnesses were traumatized by the raid and their fear of the police has led them to seek other providers, often turning to street dealers for more expensive and poorer quality marijuana or, worse, suffering without medicine.

“I welcome the opportunity to inform people that the law is broken. It’s wrong,” Yacub said Thursday. “People have a right to this medicine which does all kind of amazing, wonderful things for people. It’s a plant. That’s all it is.”

Yacub’s lawyer, Kirk Tousaw of Cobble Hill, has successfully litigated several Charter challenges to the validity of the federal government’s medical marijuana program.

“It is outrageous that taxpayer dollars continue to be wasted investigating, arresting and prosecuting legitimate medical marijuana providers, particularly when the Health Canada scheme has repeatedly been found unconstitutional in the Courts,” Tousaw said. “On 18 July we filed a Notice of Constitutional Question and will ask the court to throw out the charges against Mr. Yacub and, again, rule that the federal government’s restrictive scheme violates the Charter rights of the NICC membership.”

Many people are under the illusion that possession of marijuana is legal in B.C., that medical use is supported by the government, and that compassion clubs are legal dispensaries. As it turns out, medical marijuana dispensaries like NICC have come under fire repeatedly in recently months.

“We fully expect to demonstrate to the provincial court here in Courtenay that the system the federal government has set up be ineffective and continues to deny patients the ability to access this safe and effect natural health product,” Tousaw explained. “We hope that a successful result in this case will finally drive home to the Harper Conservative government that Canadians — critically and chronically ill Canadians — deserve safe, unfettered access to medical marijuana to treat their serious symptoms and conditions.”

He added the case is another in a long series of Charter challenges.

“I fully anticipate that Mr. Yacub’s actions will be vindicated by the court and that the government will again be told to fix its broken system,” says Tousaw.

Yacub will return to court Aug. 23 to fix a date for trial.

— With a file from North Island Compassion Club

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