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Is Medical Marijuana a Human Right in Canada?

A Canadian man has launched a complaint with the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission after police arrested four people at the unlicensed compassion club where he used to get his medical weed.

by Tamara Khandaker
Nov 10 2015, 3:25pm

Image via Flickr Creative Commons

A medical marijuana user in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan believes the bust of an unlicensed dispensary in the city is discriminatory, and he's filed a human rights complaint with the provincial government about it.

Kelly Anderson launched a complaint with the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission on Friday after police arrested four people at the Saskatchewan Compassion Club, including owner Mark Hauk.

Anderson said the closure of the dispensary, which was operating without a license from Health Canada, denies him access to his medicine and therefore discriminates against him as a person with a disability.

Anderson, who named the local police chief and mayor in the complaint, said the club was the only place he felt comfortable buying weed to treat the chronic pain in his knees. Prior to that, he was buying weed from street dealers.

"The people using this club — we're not talking about a bunch of stoners. We're talking about intelligent people that want access to medicine," Anderson said in an interview.

"I'm 54, I'm not a stoner. We have ladies coming out in walkers who are supporting this, who use medicinal marijuana — they're not stoners," he said. "You don't see any young kids or immature people coming through there."

"You see people going in there to access medicine that works for them."

Related: Canada's Newest Voting Incentive: Weed (and Snoop Dogg)

But it's unclear whether or not his complaint will actually hold up in front of the commission. In an interview, lawyer Greg Fingas said the province's human rights code, as opposed to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, is "fairly limited in what kinds of actions we're able to challenge."

Unlike the Charter, the Saskatchewan human rights code doesn't have the same language on the security of the person, which Fingas said has given rise to some ability to access remedies.

"It's a tough case to make that it's a violation of the code as it's worded," said Fingas, explaining that the code protects people from discrimination in certain contexts, including trade unions, employment, contracts, admission to public spaces, and the purchase of property.

"In all those cases, it's essentially a commercial or employment-type party dealing with a person individually, and you're not, in those circumstances, allowed to discriminate based on prohibited grounds."

"And while it's probably fair to say they shouldn't be discriminating in doing that, I'm not sure [police] choosing which laws to enforce is covered by any prohibitive grounds of discrimination under the code."

On October 29, Hauk and three others were arrested after police carried out two search warrants at the dispensary, which has been open since August and has quickly gained a membership of about 600 people.

Possession and trafficking of marijuana or its derivatives is currently illegal, as is selling or producing it through a dispensary unless it's approved by Health Canada, police noted in a news release, adding that most cities outside of British Columbia don't allow them to operate without a license.

Police say the compassion club received a warning from Health Canada to stop or face legal consequences. However, Hauk argues that the regulations are too prohibitive.

"I hate the insinuation that had we just applied for this license, everything would've been fine," Hauk said. "The whole point of doing what we're doing is that the Health Canada program is unreasonable, and it doesn't allow for storefront dispensaries. They're forced to do it outside of regulation."

"Sick and dying people should not be forced to go without medicine while we flesh out federal regulation for the next six months or a year," he continued.

Hauk said he was shocked by the raid because he'd appeared before city council to ask for a business license and his proposal that the city create regulations for dispensaries had received great public support. He says his very public operation in the heart of downtown Saskatoon hadn't received any attention from police, who used to walk by all the time.

Related: Despite Federal Warnings, Vancouver Votes to License Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

According to police, Hauk's dispensary was allegedly selling "illegally obtained drugs and has allegedly produced resin oils at a home lab that the potential for volatile explosions."

"The product they sell has no regulated THC levels or standards, or procedures for production."

Hauk, who is back in the dispensary offering advice on obtaining prescriptions to customers since the closure, calls the allegations "blatant lies."

"The notion that I have some sort of lab in my home is not even a twisting of the truth," he says. "I have never produced cannabis resin in my home, I don't even know how to."

All of his products come from a "responsible producers" in British Columbia, are lab tested, and dosed and packaged properly, he says.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was elected with a majority government in October, has promised the full legalization of marijuana with strict regulations and controls. According to a recent Forum Research poll, the legal marijuana market in Canada could have as many as 8 million customers. 

Follow Tamara Khandaker on Twitter: @anima_tk

Image via Flickr user Dank Depot