A controversial compassion club in downtown Parksville is one of the RCMP’s priorities, but operators vow to keep serving local members.
While the operator says he is not distributing pot out of this location currently, the RCMP have called the Phoenix Pain Management Society, which says it helps people get medical marijuana, “completely illegal,” and Cpl. Jesse Foreman confirmed Friday “we’ll do what we have to do,” in terms of shutting it down if RCMP deem there are illegal activities going on at this downtown Parksville location.
“I asked if they had no violent crime or heroine addiction or cocaine to deal with,” said the society’s managing director, Akil Pessoa, after a meeting with Oceanside RCMP last week.
He said he went to see the RCMP “of my own volition” after meeting with Parksville Mayor Marc Lefebvre and he said he asked both: “Why are you bullying sick people? That’s my real question. We know that we can help them, we know the country’s going in a direction that will allow them to be helped.” Pessoa said the RCMP “told me we will be prosecuted to the maximum extent of the federal law, as well as having the full weight of the Controlled Substances Act thrown against us. So the scene we’re about to have, if (the mayor) has his way, is little old ladies with arthritic hips handcuffed and thrown into cars. I don’t want to see that in Parksville, it’s just a bad image.”
Said Foreman: “If they are selling drugs out there, it’s illegal. If the police chief and mayor are in agreement, it’s a priority of the Oceanside RCMP.”
“If they are doing nothing in that building to contravene the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, it wouldn’t be a priority,” said Foreman.
Pessoa said despite his surprise at Lefebvre’s position, “I actually have some sympathy for him. I actually feel bad that the whole thing blew up in his face. He was just caught unaware.”
But now Pessoa said he wants Lefebvre and the RCMP to “just shake their heads. I hope they realize they’re fighting on the wrong side of history. I hope the whole thing just goes away so we can serve some people, because in the end — not even in the end, we’re currently serving them, we’re going to continue serving them — and in the end we’ll be serving them here.”
Pessoa also expressed concern at Lefebvre’s “very high level of deference to the RCMP, which is fine, but they weren’t elected.”
Lefebvre told The NEWS “I respectfully told (Pessoa and associates), they were telling me about their non-dispensing services, types of products for different ailments and I fully understand that but we (the city) take our advice from the RCMP and what they are doing is illegal.”
“They (the RCMP) said it’s illegal so it’s illegal,” Lefebvre said Friday. “Whatever the RCMP tell me, the city will comply.”
Pessoa said Phoenix is not currently dispensing cannabis products through their Parksville branch at 120 Middleton Ave., but re-directing people to its Nanaimo location or finding other ways to help people with “proven medical ailments” get “the medicine they need.”
He said he asked Lefebvre and the police: “What are we doing that’s illegal? We’re providing information. It’s freedom of association and free speech and we’re just bringing information and education. I’d like to understand what the issue is.”
But Lefebvre said that while Pessoa called it “a grey area,” Lefebvre said “If it’s not legal, it’s illegal.”
The mayor was asked if his support for the Wildflower Inc. proposal for a medical marijuana growing facility on city-owned property in the industrial park, coupled with his opposition to the compassion club, constituted conflicting messages.
“First of all it’s apples and oranges,” said the mayor. “Wildflower would be sanctioned and approved by Health Canada. You won’t be able to go to Wildflower and say I want a few grams of marijuana.”
“The sad thing is we’re on the same side,” Pessoa said. “I don’t want people walking around high all day, I don’t want kids smoking, I don’t want drug dealers in the alley.”
Amanda Orum, mid-Island riding organizer for Sensible B.C., met with Pessoa and The NEWS Friday and stressed the idea that the whole province and country is moving towards decriminalizing, but the laws still have to catch up.
She pointed to the 2012 Union of B.C. Municipalities’ resolution to decriminalize.
“When I hear that our compassion clubs are being threatened, that goes against what our elected ancestors have said.”
She also pointed to places like Vancouver where “police have indicated that dispensaries are not a priority.”
Jamie Shaw, president of the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries, told The NEWS that compassion clubs “continue to exist for the same reasons they started: there are some very ill people whose lives can be greatly improved by cannabis, and due to the legal status of this plant as a controlled substance, they either can’t access it, can’t access it affordably, can’t access it in a form that works, can’t access it safely, or consistently, or can’t access a safe supply without dispensaries existing.”
Said Pessoa: “What I’m hoping is, in the end, (Lefebvre) takes the position of doing the best service for the community he’s elected to serve.”
Lefebvre said the only community response he’s received is one e-mail questioning why the compassion club is illegal.
Pessoa pledges to be at every Coffee with the Mayor session, Thursdays at
2 p.m. at city hall, for discussion.