Grow facility near Mission, B.C., fights back after being denied a license
Health Canada’s troubled medical-marijuana program is again under fire, with the launch of the first court challenge by a company denied a government licence to grow the product commercially.
Lawyers for New Age Medical Solutions Inc., which has a grow facility in rural British Columbia, filed a motion in Federal Court last week against Health Minister Rona Ambrose, asking that a judge review the decision not to grant a licence.
The company, founded and run by marijuana activist Sam Mellace, applied almost a year ago to become a licensed producer, under new Health Canada rules that are creating a billion-dollar commercial industry.
Health Canada rejected the application Aug. 10, saying the firm had not hired an acceptable quality-assurance specialist.
Mellace retained the Toronto firm Chaitons LLP, which is seeking the court’s permission to extend a deadline for legal action. Papers were filed last week. Mellace could not be contacted and his lawyer declined comment.
An Ottawa lawyer who specializes in assisting companies with their grow applications to Health Canada said the case may trigger other legal challenges from companies denied licences.
“I know, speaking to many applicants, that nobody really wanted to be the first one,” said Trina Fraser. “The barn door is open now.… There’s a feeling there’s strength in numbers.”
Health Canada swamped
As of last month, 226 applications had been refused, said Health Canada spokesman Sean Upton, who confirmed the department has been advised of the legal challenge.
Health Canada has been swamped with more than 1,100 applications from firms wanting to cash in on an industry the government says could be worth $1.3 billion in a decade.
Only 22 licences to produce have been issued, none in the last few months, while some 291 are still in process. (About half of all applications have been returned as incomplete.)
Fraser said the approval process has slowed to a crawl, prompting other complaints to Health Canada as investors get nervous about whether there will be any payback.
'They're burning through money like crazy,'—Trina Fraser, Ottawa lawyer for firms seeking medical-marijuana production licences
“Everybody’s going bananas, out of their minds, frustrated with the process,” she said.
“A lot of these applicants have already started or finished construction, they’ve got investors to answer to, and they’re burning through money like crazy.”
Canada’s commercial medical marijuana industry kicked into high gear in April this year. The department has dramatically changed the rules of supply, from a cottage industry in which approved patients grow their own or buy from small producers, to a free-enterprise system with no limits on the number the large-scale growers charging what the market will bear.
The changeover has come with problems, including a so-far successful court challenge that allows some patients to continue to get their supply under the old rules, three product recalls and complaints about the initially high cost of medical marijuana in a free market.
Company may shut down
Mellace has a 6,000-square-foot facility near Mission, B.C., now empty and not in production. He said he has invested some $1 million in the project, half of it for research and development, and that he planned to employ between 60 and 150 people.
“The failure of the minister to issue the company a licence is highly prejudicial and will cause the company to have to shut its operations,” says the court filing in Toronto.
Many of the 291 firms with pending applications for a lucrative production licence have their own grievances, as an opaque approval process leaves them guessing about when, if ever, they’ll get a licence.
“They’re changing the rules as they go,” said Fraser, who has acted for or spoken to dozens of applicants. “There was certainly a first-mover advantage because the bar is much higher now.”
Health Canada, she said, has cranked up security requirements since the first wave, leaving firms now in a “never-never land, security-clearance abyss.”
Many businesses still in the queue are hurting financially, their lawyers say. Simply assembling the paperwork for a credible application is about a $50,000 investment, followed by leasing costs for facilities and payroll, which can drive costs over a million dollars.
Fraser cites documents she obtained under the Access to Information Act as showing that what had been a two- to three-month application process in 2013 has become an 18- to 24-month ordeal, partly because new security requirements appear to have created a backlog at the RCMP, which does inspections under the new program.
Vancouver lawyer Kirk Tousaw, who has worked with many applicants, agrees that Health Canada’s processing has ground to a halt.
“The application process has essentially come to a standstill and there are dozens, if not hundreds, of people that want to be growing and selling medical marijuana to sick Canadians that have had their applications disappear into the void.”
VIA CBC News
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In This Issue:
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Articles: Secret Life of Water, Little Black Book of Marijuana, CHAMPS preview Special, Releaf report, CannaBuzz, CannaChef Interviews: "Joey's Mom" Mieko Perez
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Legalize marijuana sales, say B.C. experts
Prohibition benefits organized crime, group says
The group Stop the Violence, which includes former B.C. Supreme Court justice Ross Lander and B.C.'s former chief coroner Vince Cain, has launched a high-profile political campaign to "end the cannabis cash cow of organized crime."
Panel member Dr, Evan Wood, of the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, says marijuana prohibition is fuelling gang warfare, and school children now have easier access to pot than either alcohol or cigarettes, because of the reach of organized crime.
"Instead of having a regulated market, we've turned things over to this extremely violent unregulated market controlled by organized crime," said Wood.
"Cannabis is more available to young people than alcohol and tobacco, and what we've seen in a government-funded surveillance system is that the price of cannabis continues to go down and the potency of cannabis continues to go up."
Wood said the group is calling for the regulated sale of marijuana similar to cigarettes, so that it can be controlled, taxed and its use eventually reduced.
Former justice Lander said that 34 years on the bench taught him prohibition isn't working.
"The whole exercise is futile. [Marijuana's] being used prominently everywhere, not just in British Columbia but throughout North America, and it's impossible to extinguish," said Lander.
"There's no apparent deterrent to me. It wasn't a deterrent to even those people who were tried and other people who might enter the same trade in dealing with these drugs."
Stop the Violence said that in 2009 there were 43 gang-related deaths in B.C., and 276 drive-by shootings that put the public at risk.
Victoria police officer David Bratzer says his experiences as a front-line officer showed him marijuana prohibition just isn't working.
"I've investigated situations where people have been stabbed in drug deals gone bad over something as small as a simple [$10] bag of marijuana, so its very much based on my personal experiences that I think a public health approach to this issue would be more effective than a criminal justice approach.
The group also released the results of an Angus Reid poll it commissioned that suggested only 13 per cent of British Columbians support keeping the current marijuana laws unchanged.
The poll was conducted with a sample of 800 British Columbians and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 per cent.
RCMP launch aggressive grow op strategy
By Murray Crawford meridianbooster.com
The RCMP's war on drugs has received a new strategy, which targets large-scale marijuana grow operations.
On Sept. 21 the RCMP, along with the federal government and business and community partners, launched the national strategy, called the Marijuana Grow Initiative (MGI).
"Marijuana grow operations pose a serious threat to Canadians, the safety of our communities and the law enforcement officers fighting against these illegal operations," said Shelly Glover, St. Boniface MP on behalf of public safety minister Vic Toews, in a release. "The Government of Canada is taking action to combat illicit marijuana cultivation in Canada, as well as the organized crime elements behind it."
The MGI, co-working with the national anti-drug strategy, was developed with help from experts in the subject matter from across the country. It represents the RCMP's renewed commitment to fight marijuana production controlled by organized crime groups.
Through three components – awareness, deterrence and enforcement – the MGI outlines the way in which the RCMP will work with partners and community members. The initiative helps inform the Canadian public about the consequences, inherent hazards and destructive impacts these activities have.
Included in the initiative is the launch of a new page on the police service's website that will have a database of residences where a clandestine marijuana lab or major grow operation dismantled by the RCMP under the authority of a search warrant. Police said the site will be consistently updated with new properties and provide guidance and resources for landlords and buyers alike concerning the damages these operations have on a property and its occupants.
"Grow operations harm communities," said Mike Cabana, Assistant RCMP Commissioner. "Wherever they exist there's the potential for an increase in criminal activity and a greater chance of fire, explosions and violence. This initiative is part of the RCMP's renewed commitment and priority to combat marijuana production controlled by organized crime groups."
This new initiative has also brought the Insurance Bureau of Canada and Canadian Real Estate Association on board, who also issued statements in support of this initiative.
The new information pages can be found by going to the RCMP website at www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca.
Feds arraign four on marijuana, money-laundering allegations
One of three raided homes was in Vancouver
columbian.com By John Branton Monday, July 11
Four people who allegedly conspired to grow and sell large amounts of marijuana — under the mask of medical marijuana laws — have been arraigned in U.S. District Court in Portland.
Charged on Monday with conspiracy to manufacture and distribute more than 1,000 marijuana plants; manufacturing more than 100 marijuana plants; and money laundering were Tu Ngoc Tran, 37, and Minhthy Ngoc Nguyen, 32, aka Minh Thy Nguyen, Minati Ngyuen and Minthy Nguyen.
Two others who allegedly were involved in the scheme, Kiet Anh Nguyen, 41, and Huy Anh Nguyen, 36, were arraigned on June 28 for alleged drug trafficking, money laundering and making false statements on mortgage applications, according to a bulletin from Gerri Badden with the U.S. Department of Justice.
The case dates back to Dec. 21, when police from Portland and Clark County raided two homes in Portland and one in Vancouver and found more than 500 marijuana plants and more than 100 pounds of processed marijuana, the bulletin said.
Also found, the bulletin said, were forged documents for the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program, but neither home in Portland was a legally registered grow site.
Officers said members of the ring made false statements on mortgage applications to buy homes they used as indoor marijuana-growing operations, and one of the houses is under foreclosure.
The four were released on supervision, with trial expected to be in August.
Officers also seized four cars including a 2005 Porsche Cayenne SUV.
“These allegations are yet another example of criminals exploiting the medical marijuana program to mask sophisticated, multimillion-dollar drug trafficking operations,” said U.S. Attorney Dwight C. Holton. “We will continue to aggressively pursue and prosecute such drug trafficking organizations,” he added.
“This group is just one of many that is operating in Oregon under the cloak of the Oregon medical marijuana laws,” said Lt. Ned Walls, supervisor the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office Investigations Division.
If the ring members are found guilty they could face heavy sentences and fines, the bulletin said.
Under federal law, conspiracy to manufacture and distribute more than 1,000 marijuana plants has a mandatory minimum of 10 years, a maximum of life in prison and a $10 million fine, the bulletin said.
Those convicted of money laundering can be sentenced up to 20 years. Making false statements on a loan application can mean up to 30 years in prison and a fine up to $1 million.
The case was investigated by the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, Regional Organized Crime Narcotics Task Force, Clark-Skamania Drug Task Force, FBI and other police agencies.
Government’s medical-marijuana plan should make us wary
According to the SEC, USA owns Canada.....how long until the Cannabis NWO is here?-UA
A decade ago the federal government hastily cobbled the program together in response to an Ontario court ruling that the criminal cannabis prohibition was unconstitutional if it didn’t exempt those who benefit from the plant’s therapeutic properties.
Today, we are on the cusp of the first major revision of the program that has frustrated and angered patients, incensed law enforcement and made municipalities pull their hair out over thousands of neighbourhood grow operations.
Until now, there were three legal ways to obtain medical marijuana. With a government-issued exemption from the criminal law, a person with a doctor’s prescription could grow a certain number of plants, or outsource the cultivation to a designated grower. They could also purchase it from a government-authorized Saskatchewan company, Prairie Plant Systems Inc. Most patients, however, because of the government program’s deficiencies, bought pot from the illegal network of compassion clubs that have sprung up across the country.
Medicinal marijuana users will now be prohibited from growing their own weed and will have to buy from licensed, tightly regulated commercial producers, federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq says.
“Our government is very concerned that the current Marijuana Medical Access Program is open to abuse and exploitation by criminal elements,” she maintained.
Aglukkaq didn’t provided any details but her broad brush strokes make me leery, and if I were running a compassion club I would be very worried.
She wants to close the dispensaries and eliminate personal grow operations.
I doubt Ottawa has a replacement regime ready to go in spite of her comments, in part because the best growers in the country haven’t a clue what Ottawa is doing.
And there are few companies that could meet the security and organic farming standards necessary to begin producing a range of specific marijuana strains to meet medical demand from a standing start.
That’s not even to mention that there are numerous patients forced to grow their own medicine who would prefer to keep doing it. That right should be sacrosanct.
The current problems flow from the expectation of the federal government 10 years ago that only small numbers of terminally ill patients or those with debilitating ailments would want cannabis. Boy, were they wrong.
[You can read the decision that prompted Ottawa to set up the program here http://www.canlii.org/en/on/onca/doc/2000/2000canlii5762/2000canlii5762.html.]
Still, the idea of offering tens of thousands of Canadians a variety of strains of marijuana for everything from chronic pain, AIDS and chemotherapy was never envisioned. Yet that’s what the medical market is demanding.
The Harper Government is deaf to that clamour. It wants out of the marijuana business and to calm stormy neighbourhood concerns.
Aglukkaq says she is open for input until July 31 on how to go about implementing her changes.
In response, those in the drug policy world are hanging on the Supreme Court of Canada decision on Insite.
If the country’s high court endorses the view that provincial health powers trump the federal criminal law, Ottawa will face a constitutional challenge aimed at establishing medical marijuana programs under provincial jurisdiction.
That would be a made-in-B.C. solution, and I’m told the Liberals and the NDP, behind the scenes, are in progressive agreement.
After all, if the doc says its OK and it helps the patient, why should it concern the cops, the courts, the federal government or some Neanderthal municipality like North Vancouver?
I’m all in favour of overhauling the medical marijuana program but instead of Aglukkaq’s proposals, why not have a real discussion with the compassion clubs and create a workable plan?
Marijuana-smoking minister jailed 3 months
2.5 months.....why even bother? seems like a big waste of resources......-UA
May 30 2011 peter small thestar.com
Shahrooz Kharaghani, 32, was previously found guilty of trafficking and possessing cannabis for the purpose of trafficking in a Queen St. E. neighbourhood.
Ontario Superior Court Justice Thea Herman said Monday she accepts that Kharaghani, who sold pot from the group’s Beach-area storefront church, was not motivated by profit and believes pot-smoking is beneficial.
“There were likely people who lived in the vicinity who do not share this view,” Herman said.
Kharaghani will serve 2 ½ months, after credit is given for pretrial custody.
Crown prosecutor Nick Devlin had originally recommended a six-month community sentence, likely to involve one or two months of house arrest, a curfew afterward and some form of community service.
But Kharaghani’s lawyer, George Filipovic, told his sentencing hearing earlier this month that given house arrest, his client would immediately smoke pot to commune with God, which would mean violating a condition to “keep the peace and be of good behaviour.”
The breach would land Kharaghani in jail, so he might as well go to jail straightaway, Filipovic argued.
Kharaghani and co-accused Peter Styrsky, 53, are ministers in the Assembly of the Church of the Universe, which has an estimated 4,000 congregants across Canada.
They smoke dope as a spiritual practice and wear cotton and hemp beanies as religious headgear.
Both Kharaghani and Styrsky have been convicted in a case that dates to 2006.
Styrsky has been sentenced to a six-month jail term, but was immediately released because of credits for pre-trial custody.
At their trial the two men lost their constitutional challenge, on religious grounds, of Canada’s pot laws.
Herman ruled that group members were earnest in their beliefs and agreed that their religious rights were being limited.
But the judge dismissed their challenge because she did not think it was possible to create a workable religious exemption to Canada’s pot-smoking and selling prohibitions.
But both men are going to appeal Herman’s constitutional ruling, Filipovic told reporters outside court.
Filipovic said his client is doomed to a life in and out of jail because he will never give up smoking pot.
Devlin, who prosecuted the case with Donna Polgar, told reporters that selling pot is a crime, and the court found that there are no religious exemptions.
“Members of the community can be satisfied that the courts won’t permit people to set up residential drug conveniences stores in their neighbourhoods whether under the guise of a religion or otherwise,” Devlin said.