The closed storefront of the Phoenix Society in Parksville.

The Latest: Phoenix raided in downtown Parksville

RCMP make an arrest at so-called compassion club; Phoenix's lawyer says club is 'filling the gap'

Phoenix Pain Management Society’s medical pot dispensary in downtown Parksville was raided by police Thursday afternoon.

“They arrested Karl (Mitchell), Jackson the dog was taken, they took everything including the medication,” Phoenix managing director Akil Pessoa told The NEWS.

The RCMP could not be reached for comment over the holiday weekend but said in a news release: “The Oceanside RCMP will be forwarding a charge of Possession for the Purpose of Trafficking against the (29-year-old) male. Considering the nature of the business, investigators located a quantity of marihuana products inside the store. Police seized dried marihuana, along with other marihuana derivatives, products and cash.”

Mitchell was released from the Oceanside detachment before 8 p.m. with charges pending, Pessoa said, adding that Jackson the dog, “who’s become a bit of a celebrity,” was being well taken care of by the SPCA and would be released after the Easter long weekend.

Upon release from police, Mitchell posted on Facebook: “Just a road bump on the way towards ending prohibition … Stay strong everyone, the future can’t keep us out! They may have slowed me down for the time being, but soon as they realize how many people we help on the day-to-day I’ll be right back at it.”

“RCMP officers love to bust dispensaries right before a long weekend,” said Amanda Orum, mid-Island riding organizer for Sensible B.C.

“It’s a huge kick in the face to the patients who just got a cheque and are now without medicine.”

Around 9 p.m. Thursday, Phoenix’s Facebook page posted that their Nanaimo location was “still serving medicine,” despite their Parksville location’s raid, and they would try to make arrangements to get their product to patients who couldn’t get to Nanaimo.

A red Parksville city bylaw notice on the front door states: “This property has been used in respect of the manufacture, ingestion, use, sharing, sale, trade, or barter of a controlled substance.”

It says that according to the Controlled Substances Property Remediation Bylaw Number 1411, 2006, “no person may occupy, or use these premises for any commercial use, until cleaning and remediation have been completed…” signed by Parksville’s Director of Community Planning, Blaine Russell.

“Like I’ve always said, I take my cue from the RCMP and if they raided it, obviously they felt they had reason to do so,” Parksville Mayor Marc Lefebvre said Friday when The NEWS told him of the raid.

That has been Lefebvre’s position since the dispensary opened in January when he said the RCMP “said it’s illegal so it’s illegal. Whatever the RCMP tell me, the city will comply.”

“Staff Sgt. Hunter told me they’d be on the lookout for illegal activity, but I didn’t know anything about this,” Lefebvre said Friday.

Pessoa referred further questions to Phoenix’s lawyer Kirk Tousaw, who recently argued a dispensary case in front of the Supreme Court of Canada.

“These medical marijuana dispensaries provide a real important service,” said Tousaw. “They are filling a gap in the government regulatory model and providing a community based way to meet the local need other than patients having to turn to the black market.” Toualso said he is talking to Phoenix representatives but hadn’t officially been retained yet, with paperwork slowed by the long weekend.

He said there was no way to know how long the process might be or exactly what charges could be laid until they reach the disclosure stage, which could take weeks.

“This is a long, hard-fought battle that the taxpayers have paid for every step of the way. We’re long past the point where the government should be prosecuting these cases.”

The current Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations came into effect April 1, 2014 and state that people can only access marijuana for medical purposes when supported by a physician and through a designated company, but several court challenges, including by Tousaw, have left the laws in a “grey area” according to him and people like Jamie Shaw, president of the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries.

Shaw told The NEWS in January 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.”

The RCMP could not be reached for comment over the holiday weekend but have previously called the dispensary “completely illegal,” and Cpl. Jesse Foreman said “we’ll do what we have to do,” in terms of shutting it down “if they are doing anything illegal.”

The news release Saturday adds: “Marihuana continues to be regulated as a controlled substance… which the RCMP has an obligation to enforce, where grounds exist.”

Earlier this year, some of the society’s supporters protested at city hall suggesting the city and RCMP should have other priorities, with Pessoa asking: “Why are you bullying sick people? We know that we can help them, we know the country’s going in a direction that will allow them to be helped.”

After the Parksville dispensary opened, Pessoa said they were not dispensing marijuana there but directing people to their Nanaimo location.

In February, Pessoa said they did start distributing marijuana-based cannabinoid products to their members in Parksville.

See Thursday’s edition of The NEWS for more on this developing story.

— With files from Candace Wu

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