Oceanside RCMP Staff Sgt. Brian Hunter makes his annual speech at the Parksville and District Chamber of Commerce dinner at the Quality Bayside Resort Thursday night.

Police chief says there are no grey areas in pot dispensary laws

Oceanside RCMP Staff Sgt. Brian Hunter was addressing members of the Parksville and District Chamber of Commerce

Parksville’s chief of police Brian Hunter attempted to clear the haze around medical marijuana in a speech to Parksville and District Chamber of Commerce members Thursday at The Bayside.

“There’s nothing grey out there,” Hunter said of medical marijuana regulations.

However, he admitted “there’s a lot of folks, including police officers, that should know, but don’t know what the rules are out there” because of two looming court cases and legislation currently in flux.

He said the Marijuana Medical Access Regulation (MMAR) program was supposed to end April 1, 2014. It would have stopped home-grown pot production, directing thousands of medical marijuana licencees to purchase from large-scale facilities approved by Health Canada and regulated by the government under the new Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR) program.

Hunter said the old system didn’t work because “there were very minimal avenues to keep these folks in check, including zero authority within the police.” He said “organized crime grabbed a hold” of lax regulations and illegal grow operations flourished.

But a last minute court injunction stopped the change, with some patients claiming it was unfair for existing licence holders to adapt to a new program. A court decision is expected this month.

“I 100 per cent support people who need marijuana medicine to make their lives better, 100 per cent, absolutely,” said Hunter. “This is not a ‘medical marijuana, does it help me?’ situation,” he said before explaining the 2009 Owen Smith pot cookie case.

Smith was charged with possession of a controlled substance for the purpose of trafficking after police found him with 200 pot-laced cookies. Smith argued that he was licensed by the government under the MMAR program.

However, both the MMAR and MMPR programs limit access to marijuana to dried bud, making cannabis products including creams, salves, oils, brownies and cookies illegal.

“It’s going to be interesting and also important and it kind of makes sense… Why should it just be dried marijuana if it’s medicine?” Hunter asked.

“Those are two big court cases that I think have to come to fruition before we see what happens further down the road.”

After a long pause, Hunter resumed: “So, under the MMPR how do I get my marijuana?… You don’t go to a dispensary.”

He repeated his recent message that “dispensaries, compassion clubs, pain clubs, heaven is awesome clubs — whatever you want to call it — the issue with those is there is absolutely no mechanism in law in Canada, or anywhere, for those to exist.”

Hunter pointed to a list of 15 approved Health Canada facilities that provide medical grade marijuana to licence holders via mail.

He noted critics say these facilities cost more and provide lower quality pot than dispensaries, but called that a myth.

“There are a lot of myths out there, people talk, you know it’s way more expensive, the quality is horrible… and not having tried it, I’ve done a lot of reading and those are myths out there. (Marijuana) is actually quite often less expensive to get from Health Canada.”

Hunter estimates Alberta has two medical marijuana dispensaries, Manitoba has one, Quebec has four and British Columbia has 95 — 60 in Vancouver, one in Parksville.

Pheonix Pain Management Society opened a compassion club in downtown Parksville last month. After coming under fire from the mayor, organizers said they aren’t distributing marijuana on site, but directing patients to their Nanaimo clinic to access product. Pheonix members are fighting to stay in the city and have held two protests at city hall to date.

Parksville mayor Marc Lefebvre has repeatedly stated that he takes direction from the chief of police, who’s deemed the society illegal.

“I’m not against people getting marijuana for medical purposes that makes their quality of life better… but being chief of police I do want to have a safe community and any action I take in this community is in the interest of the community,” said Hunter.

He said at the end of the month he will be calling a meeting with CAOs, mayors and electoral area directors to see where they want him to prioritize policing efforts.

Hunter did note that large scale medical marijuana production is a “blooming industry” that would “provide a good economic stimulus” — if a facility regulated by Health Canada were to set up locally.

“Things are going to change, the laws are going to change, I think that’s inevitable and we all know that, and as the laws change I’m here as your chief of police to enforce whatever laws are there and make your community safe.”

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