Supporters say police raids on medical marijuana shops stink

PROVINCE by Kelly Malone


I don’t usually spend my afternoons in marijuana dispensaries but after a recent police raid I went to the Saskatchewan Compassion Club to find out why Kevlar-vested officers stormed through their doors.

During the federal election the Liberal Party promised to revisit Canada’s marijuana laws and now with a majority government it seems all but inevitable. But that didn’t stop around 10 police officers from crashing into the downtown Saskatoon Compassion Club on Oct. 29, leading owner Mark Hauk out in handcuffs.

“They just poured in one after another and right away just started rummaging through the medicine that we had,” Hauk explained a few days after the raid.

Hauk is facing multiple charges, including trafficking and possession of marijuana. Three other people, including a former University of Saskatchewan Huskies star with Crohn’s disease, were also charged.

Hauk was scheduled to head back to court on Nov. 12 (the day this paper comes out) but with the charges casting a heavy shadow over his future he’s worried that the “dyed-in-wool Conservative ideologies” of the city’s leadership means he might watch the national changes to pot laws roll out from behind bars.

Before The Raid

Hauk was a health and safety manager in private industry for 14 years before he started the Compassion Club around six months ago.

“I was a patient and endeavoured to get my own medicine, and went through a bad experience,” he says, explaining why he started the service.

In 2001, Health Canada became responsible for overseeing medicinal marijuana after a ruling by the Supreme Court said it was a constitutional right. Getting a prescription was still difficult on the often anti-pot Prairies, but once they had one plant, people could grow  more or buy from small-scale producers.

Nearly a decade ago, I was living in a dilapidated apartment above a Saskatoon bar with a friend with multiple sclerosis. My friend had been diagnosed young and had major mobility loss while he was still in his ’20s. I saw firsthand how difficult it was to get a prescription and how my friend gave up on the system and went to the streets.

For him, medicinal marijuana was a life- and game-changer that helped him stay off of disability and out in the real world.

It became even more difficult when the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulation (MMPR) came into force in 2013. A commercial industry was suddenly responsible for the production and distribution of medical marijuana, and complaints over high costs and lack of access abounded.

Before the storefront opened in August, Hauk went in front of a city council committee to ask for specific regulations around a dispensary similar to those in Vancouver and Victoria. He also reached out to the police chief for a meeting. His goal was to provide reasonable access for the more than 600 members of the Compassion Club.

“There was civil discourse taking place, constructive conversations. I have formal correspondence from the City saying we will be back to you by October with an answer,” Hauk said.

“So did it catch us by surprise? Most definitely.”

Saskatoon Cops Act Alone

Most of the club’s work is helping people get prescriptions and basic information. They also make derivatives like oils and suppositories which a recent Supreme Court ruling said is a constitutional right.

When the club did hand out dried marijuana, Hauk said it was in small amounts because their clients couldn’t afford the large orders demanded by the dysfunctional national system, or the wait times.

“If you only have $5 today we can sell you that amount of medicine. Who would argue that they don’t deserve to buy whatever quantity of medicine they can afford at that time?” Hauk asked.

“Would any of us be okay if we went to the pharmacy right now to pick up penicillin or any other pharmaceutical and were told that it would show up in the mail in two weeks? No way, no how.”

In September, Health Canada sent a cease-and-desist letters to 13 dispensaries across the country but Hauk chalked it up to election pandering by a Conservative government trying to looking for tough-on-crime headlines before people went to the polls.

“I don’t honestly think this is connected much to the letter itself… It speaks to the dyed-in-the-wool conservative mindset of our police force and our officials. That’s all I can make of it,” Hauk said, adding that Saskatoon Police are alone in their action on the warning.

“The federal regulations are the same for every city in this country so the only thing different here is the police and mayor decided to act on this for reasons many of us can’t understand.”

The dispensary in Whitewood. is still operating.

Saskatoon Police Stay Silent

Since the matter is before the courts, Saskatoon Police are not commenting and pointed to a press release.

“At this time, it is a criminal offence to have in your possession or to sell (traffic) marihuana or its derivatives. It is also illegal to sell or produce marihuana through a dispensary unless approved by Health Canada,” the release stated.

Numbers from the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics show Saskatoon has the fourth highest rate of possession charges in the country at 120.2 per 100,000 people. Regina followed closely behind at 118.21. Like my friend, many people with medical issues are going to the streets for their medicine and sometimes walking away with a criminal record.

“[The police] continue to repeat the same old thing — it’s technically illegal. We understand that but that’s not the heart of the issues. What’s at the heart of this issue is that the law is bad and it causes people to suffer. Quit hiding behind it, step up like the other progressive mayors and leaders across Canada and look after your citizens,” Hauk said.

Even if it’s a bad law, the City hasn’t made local regulations and the federal changes could take awhile. Hauk’s freedom is hanging on a hope.

Human Rights Complaint Filed

After the raid, Kelly Anderson decided to volunteer at the club because he says jailing people who are trying to ease suffering is wrong. He’s launched a complaint with the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission.

“The objectives of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Act is to promote recognition of the inherent dignity and equal inalienable rights of all members of the human family and to further public policy in Saskatchewan that every person is free and equal in dignity and rights to discourage and eliminate discrimination,” Anderson said.

“We are a culture. We have the right to medicate ourselves. We have the right to dignity. That’s what they took away from us, our dignity.”

It’s unclear how long that process will take.