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June 2, 2004 - The Sooke News Mirror (CN BC)

Pot Bust Sends Society Reeling

By Robin Wark, Sooke News Mirror

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

Last week's RCMP bust of an East Sooke marijuana grow-op has deprived almost 400 people from the medicinal pot they desperately need, according to the president of the Vancouver Island Compassion Society.

Phillippe Lucas said the Victoria-based society's 399 members, who are battling critical and chronic illnesses, are now forced to look to the black market for their marijuana.

"It is an incredible shock to all of us," Lucas said of the Thursday afternoon bust. "It was the best and safest supply in Western Canada."

West Shore RCMP members seized more than 900 plants from a house and an outbuilding on the same property in the 5000-block of Mt. Matheson Road Thursday, said Cpl. Brian Kerr of the detachment's street crime unit in a Friday interview. RCMP arrested a pair of men on the property for production of cannabis and for possession of a controlled substance for the purpose of trafficking. The charges are under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Both men,whose names have not been released, are expected to appear in court this summer, Kerr said.

However, Lucas is seeking to have the Crown prosecutors drop the charges against the two men because the marijuana was being grown for medical purposes. The president identified the two men as being the paid caretaker of the facility, which is known as the Vancouver Island Therapeutic Cannabis Research Institute, and a friend who dropped by.

The facility was a lab-style operation and was very clearly marked by signs as an operation of the compassion society, Lucas said. Kerr described the operation as "very sophisticated" and noted that "a lot of time and money went into it." It is one of the largest he's seen in his 20 years in this kind of work.

The society's president was in contact via phone with Kerr several times during Thursday's operation, Lucas said. He alleges the RCMP were trying to clarify with Health Canada how many plants could legally be grown but this could not be accomplished because the offices in Ottawa were closed. Kerr could not be reached for comment Monday on the matter.

The facility had been operating for about 15 months and was licensed to have 70 plants, according to Lucas. When asked why there were more than 900 plants, the president said they were for research and to supply the society's members. There were 35 different strains of marijuana. Each was cultivated to treat different medical conditions.

"Every gram that was produced by the facility was accounted for by the compassion society," Lucas said. "Our entire goal was to do this in a way that provided the safest and most secure supply and broke us away from the (vagueness) of the black market." Lucas would not speak about who actually owned the Mt. Matheson property, but said himself and the society were leasing it.

Though he would not say how much members were doling out to acquire marijuana from the facility, the president said the East Sooke operation caused a dramatic drop in price. Now, Lucas said his organization must find growers to supply its members, who are fighting such illnesses as cancer and AIDS. As well as the loss of supply and research, Lucas said the bust means the society is using its energies in court and in justifying its work, rather than serving its members.

When asked if the society would reestablish the research institute, Lucas said "The compassion society will do what we can for the members."

The information leading to the RCMP executing the search warrant last week is sealed by court order, Kerr said, and is part of an ongoing investigation. Sooke RCMP Staff Sgt. Jennie Latham said her detachment was notified about the operation, but was not involved.

The raid seems to have surprised Mt. Matheson Road neighbours as one male resident said himself and those he has spoken to on the road were not aware of the marijuana growing operation. However, now that people know about it, he is concerned for the neighbourhood's safety. He worries people trying to rip off grow-ops might comb the neighbourhood looking for it and increased traffic could endanger the children living nearby.

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