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Medicinal Marijuana Trio Released On Bail


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Released on bail after a drug bust of a so-called medicinal marijuana centre in London, three men vowed yesterday their story will come out.

"There's always two sides to every story," Pete Young, 36, owner of the Organic Traveller and a director of the London Compassion Society, said as he left the courthouse.

Also charged in the weekend police raid was Rob Newman, 45, an HIV-positive man who was thrust under the media spotlight more than a decade ago after he lost his wife and young son to AIDS.

Newman declined comment.

Kurt Fisher, 27, was also charged.

All three face drug counts including trafficking.

Police said they seized drugs worth nearly $1 million -- including 840 marijuana plants -- while raiding four units at 343 Richmond St. on Saturday.

"It's really upsetting," said an emotional Albert Hannon, who lives with HIV.

Hannon does maintenance work for the Compassion Society, which is housed in one of the units.

Hannon was among more than 12 people outside the courthouse to back the trio.

"His son died, his wife died and now this . . ." Hannon said of Newman.

Newman's wife, Kim, died in 1993 and his son, Robby, in 1995. Newman and another son, Tom, still live with the disease. The four were all diagnosed in 1991.

Only one child in the family, Jennifer, Kim's daughter from a previous marriage, was spared.

Newman has served on the board of London's AIDS Committee and been an advocate for medicinal marijuana.

The London Compassion Society was closed yesterday.

"This is going to kill some people," said Hannon.

"We have patients who couldn't get out of bed without medical marijuana, who couldn't eat a meal without vomiting. But now they live a normal life," he said.

Across Canada, compassion societies help people who use marijuana to ease the pains of diseases to acquire the drug.

The federal government strictly controls use of medicinal marijuana, through permits for patients and by licensing the marijuana supply to Health Canada.

But critics, such as pot-legalization crusader Marc Emery, formerly of London, say Ottawa has only one supplier and only about 1,500 people have been given the go-ahead to use pot -- and then must grow their own.

That, he said, despite a 2003 ruling by Ontario's highest court that said compassion centres "should get special consideration by police and, hopefully, by lawmakers" because they were the only available option to some.

Reached in British Columbia where he lives, Emery wondered why organizers of London's Compassion Society didn't have a police relationship that might have prevented such a bust.

"The thing is, 800 plants is clearly a large amount to be growing, so it probably would have been better to establish it with police," he said.

Ian Downie, a member of the London Compassion Society, wouldn't say what his illness is, but that the drug helps him cope with the side effects of needed medication.

The society's pot was "a clean drug" of good quality.

People were surprised police said they found drugs and magic mushrooms along with the more than 800 pot plants, said Steve Plantinga, a massage therapist at the Wellness Centre attached to the compassion society's offices.

"I've known Young and Newman for three years," he said. "They're all about organic stuff, not about anything hard-core."

Police said they couldn't ignore the Richmond Street operation because of potential danger. "Grow ops are fire hazards," said Const. Amanda Pfeffer, adding: "This is a building where there were other tenants living that had absolutely nothing to do with the compassionate society."

Mini pot factories, illegal grow operations generate high heat, humidity and even mould that can be harmful.

Often, their patchwork electrical wiring can also be a fire hazard.

Newshawk: CoZmO - 420Magazine.com
Source: London Free Press (Canada)
Contact1: obrien@lfpress.com
Contact2: jsims@lfpress.com
Copyright: 2006, Canoe Inc.
Website: London Free Press
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