By Candace Wu and Auren Ruvinsky
firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
A compassion club that nonchalantly opened its door last week in downtown Parksville is coming under fire from Oceanside RCMP and the mayor who say the operation is “completely illegal.”
But Akil Pessoa says he’s here to stay.
“We’re not going away,” vowed Pessoa, managing director of Phoenix Pain Management Society, a non-profit that distributes medical marijuana by donation.
“It doesn’t mean there won’t be knee-jerk reactions causing people to come in here in jackboots once in a while to throw me out in the street, but we’ll just start again.”
Oceanside RCMP Staff Sgt. Brian Hunter told The NEWS Friday the society is “100 per cent illegal.”
Hunter said dispensaries and compassion clubs who distribute marijuana, medical or otherwise, are trafficking an illegal substance.
“As chief of police, I do not support illegal activity in my community,” said Hunter. “Any company that is not authorized by Health Canada to distribute drugs is illegal.”
When asked by The NEWS Saturday, Parksville mayor Marc Lefebvre said it was the first he’d heard about it.
“That’s in Parksville?” Lefebvre asked. “That’s completely illegal.”
Lefebvre said he would contact city staff and police to discuss it but offered “our position is that (the society) is illegal and we don’t support it.”
Despite resistance, Pessoa said he wants to be on the forefront of change.
“Prohibition ends once,” he said anticipating Canada will legalize marijuana in the near future. “I’m not going to be like my parents lying about Woodstock.”
He said “there’s no great event of the next 10 years that I care about this much.”
Phoenix opened a compassion club for medical marijuana users in Nanaimo four months ago and a branch in Parksville last week. Pessoa said they work with members who have a “demonstrated medical need,” and help them manage their pain with marijuana for a donation.
He said people in the industry generally fall into three categories: “criminals of questionable character, business people in it for the money who don’t really understand the industry, and well meaning activists, hippy types who are not very good at the business side.”
Phoenix’s goal is to bridge the gap in the last two categories.
Not a fan of the industrial approach, Pessoa said he gets his product from small scale local growers.
On top of mounting political and medical reasons, he feels “public opinion is way ahead of the legislative process. It’s going to happen, history’s moving in that direction,” and, selfishly he admits, he wants to be involved.
“So I spent a lot of money on some lawyers, spent a lot of time on research and came out and started meeting community members, started meeting activists and people who’d been around doing it,” he said.
Phoenix became a registered society in May and began easing into the existing structure of growers and patients in the region, looking to be as non-invasive as possible.
Pessoa said the goal in Parksville is to “invite people in and they help us build it.”
They are also reaching out to the activist community, and want to be a community hub, or “Block Parents for activists.”
Phoenix now has 230 members, mostly in Nanaimo, and Pessoa said he was surprised by the demographic, from “little old lady growers, great big smiling old men who give me bear hugs, senior citizens who come out and cut the hedges… it’s definitely a mature crowd, but with a lot of young people. But it’s a more conscientious set of young people, this isn’t let’s hang out and get stoned.”
The Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR) came into effect on April 1, 2014. The MMPR and its predecessor, the Medical Marijuana Access Regulations (MMAR), provide the only legal means for Canadians, when supported by a physician, to access marijuana for medical purposes.
Jamie Shaw, president of the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries (CAMCD), told The NEWS there is currently no legislation allowing for compassion clubs or pot dispensaries to operate in Canada, though there are many.
She said the “grey area” regarding federal legislation, coupled with a number of pending court cases has made for an interesting time in the marijuana industry.
There are an estimated 60 dispensaries in the Vancouver area alone.
Shaw said dispensaries and clubs were a response to demand not being met.
“The courts have suggested the government look at the dispensary model and they’re still trying to decide if they are workable exceptions,” she said.
But because they are illegal, there is no formal regulatory body overseeing them.
That’s why CAMCD was formed, Shaw said, in an effort to provide some type of standard for dispensaries who must adhere to strict guidelines to be a member. According to their website, there are eight members at this time including the B.C. Compassion Club Society.
As for Phoenix, they aren’t a member of CAMCD. They don’t even have, or apparently need, a business licence as a society — but Pessoa said they want one.
“We have a point to prove, we’re here representing members of your community, we want to be a part of the community, give me a business licence,” Pessoa said. “We want to know the rules to operate under like everybody else.”
On Thursday, a medical marijuana dispensary in Kelowna was raided by police and the owners of the shop could face potential drug charges after RCMP seized a large quantity of cannabis.
Phoenix Pain Management Society is located in downtown Parksville.
Pessoa encourages and welcomes members of the community to drop by and see what the shop is all about.