The smell is unmistakable.
There must be a small mountain of pot lying somewhere in a back room of the storefront office on St-Laurent Blvd. That thick, skunky aroma – strong enough to trigger memories of a misspent youth – is apparent the moment patients are buzzed through the front door of Fondation Marijuana.
A whiteboard by the reception desk advertises strains with names like Grand Daddy Purps, Jean Guy and Blue Magic.
Despite the overwhelming smell, despite the fact that there are untold kilos of cannabis stored behind the sheetrock wall, the office has a distinctly sterile feel to it: medical forms, filing cabinets, a photocopier and two security cameras pointed toward the centre of the room.
This storefront on Montreals iconic main drag is one of the few places in Quebec where a person can legally buy cannabis. That is, until the Trudeau governments proposal to legalize marijuana takes effect.
Last July, federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould announced a task force to legalize marijuana – a process legal experts say could take years, even under the best circumstances.
In the meantime, one way to buy weed without risking arrest is to get a doctors prescription, schlep up St-Laurent, and ask for Boris.
Marc-Boris St-Maurice emerges from Fondation Marijuanas back room sporting a ruffled dress shirt and a pair of Ray-Bans that rest atop his thinning crop of hair.
People started calling him Boris while St-Maurice played bass for Grimskunk – a staple of Quebecs punk scene in the 1990s – but the moniker stuck as he moved from punk rock to the rough-and-tumble world of politics.
Its difficult to talk about legalizing marijuana in Canada without Boris St-Maurices name coming up. He founded the federal Bloc Pot party in 1998 (you can probably guess what its platform was), ran unsuccessfully for Montreal city council in 2009, has been an active member of the Liberal Party of Canada for the last decade and registered as a lobbyist this year.
Lately, hes been lobbying the city administration in the hope that it might help regulate medicinal marijuana dispensaries in Montreal. His cause, he says, isnt high on their list of priorities.
Asked if his pleas have gained traction among the federal Liberals or earned him an audience with party leader (and prime minister) Justin Trudeau, St-Maurices face lights up.
Have I met with Justin? Quite frequently, says St-Maurice, who sat down with the Montreal Gazette at a caf near his dispensary. He knows me by my first name. I saw him in those conventions 10 years ago, when he started in politics, we would run into each other all the time and debate it. At first he was hesitant, he wasnt sure, but over time he got better educated and now Im relieved that he finally realizes its a good policy for Canada.
I like to think that our work helped nudge the Liberal government toward their stance on legalization.
For 17 years, St-Maurice has acted as a go-between for people with a legitimate medical right to marijuana and those who break the law to grow cannabis and supply patients with that product.
Were straight up: people need it, were going to get it for them, St-Maurice says. Its an act of civil disobedience because were breaking the law to get it to them. Its nice to see the social climate has caught up to what were doing.
By his reckoning, St-Maurice operates in a legal grey zone.
Though theres one licensed producer of medical marijuana in Quebec – Hydropothecary, an 80-acre farm near Gatineau – St-Maurice says that isnt enough to meet his clients needs. So he also deals with people who operate outside the law.
Of course there is a criminal element out there, but there are also many, many, if not the majority of these, (who are) mom-and-pop producers who have small- to medium-level productions, St-Maurice says. And theyre maybe making $20,000 a year, maybe $100,000, but you know thats not Al Capone by any stretch.
People have this thought, you know, they watch the news and see a bust thats worth $3 million. I talk to the people who run that house and they say, Man, if thats worth $3 million I would have retired to the Bahamas years ago.’
Criminal groups have long played a role in the industry. They provide cash for grow-ops, oversee distribution and extort protection money from producers. They fill the provinces regulation vacuum by providing their own set of rules – held together with the implied and often explicit threat of violence.
But St-Maurice says its labourers and farmers who form the backbone of Quebecs illegal marijuana trade, experiencing the time-honoured trials of running an agricultural business: crop failures and cost fluctuations.
Many of those mom and pop operators, he says, need to have a place at the table when recreational marijuana becomes a legitimate business.
Theres a lot of expertise there, a lot of talent and brain trust youd be throwing away if you didnt include these people, said St-Maurice. Regulation will probably make the industry a lot less attractive to criminals and thats a good thing.
The patients who come to Fondation Marijuana suffer from a variety of debilitating conditions: they are in the advanced stages of HIV, they cant hold down meals because of the nausea that comes with chemotherapy or are grappling with the crippling symptoms of multiple sclerosis. Many struggle with chronic pain.
Our membership fluctuates. People go into remission and dont need chemotherapy anymore, but people also die and we never see them again, he says. There was a case early on, Claude Messier, he had muscular dystrophy. He was shrivelled up, he couldnt walk, he got around on a motorized wheelchair. He had vicious, vicious muscle spasms all the time. Smoking was what helped him.
He was like a die-hard activist, a published author, a really bright guy and sadly he passed away a few years back.
Messier was among the 18,000 Canadians licensed, by Health Canada, to use dried cannabis for medicinal purposes. Most get their product by mail order from a regulated supplier. Others reach out to compassion clubs like St-Maurices.
Access to marijuana for medical purposes has been legal since 1999, but Quebecs College of Physicians does not recognize it as a form of treatment. Under the colleges guidelines, patients can only receive a prescription for research purposes.
Even so, St-Maurice says his dispensary has thousands of members, each of whom has a valid prescription – the Fondations staff call doctors offices to confirm. But that hasnt stopped police from cracking down on St-Maurice because of his precarious legal situation.
Officers first raided his shop in 2000, snatching a few ounces of weed before they charged St-Maurice with trafficking narcotics.
He fought the charge, spent two years in court and was acquitted.
The second time around was much costlier. Police seized pounds and pounds of St-Maurices stash in 2010, costing him hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost product and legal fees.
St-Maurice blamed the 2010 raid on the opening of some rival compassion clubs on the West Island that did not screen customers properly and were aggressively trying to expand.
That rubbed some people the wrong way. Because once they looked into it, they saw, Oh, maybe these people arent that medical after all. And the decision was made that they raided everybody in Quebec. We get swept up in that as well.
But Manuel Couture, a spokesperson for Montreal police, said police only apply the law.
We apply the criminal code, its not a question of an officers discretion. Even if were talking about some marijuana flakes in someones pockets, thats possession of marijuana, he said.
St-Maurices dispensary remains one of the rare ones in Quebec. Because of the dubious legal nature of its existence, it is still vulnerable to police intervention.
But St-Maurice says he invites regulation and has been pressing the city to create its own marijuana bylaw, in hopes of laying down ground rules for dispensaries. In Vancouver – home to about 100 dispensaries – the city council is studying a bylaw that would regulate medical marijuana shops.
In the meantime, St-Maurice is hopeful for the future.
The establishment is waking up to the reality that (medical marijuana) does work, he says. Theyre still struggling with the issues of limiting access, making it legal while its illegal recreationally, theyre trying to navigate this but theyre learning fast.
Now when it comes time to legalizing marijuana? Thats a whole nother can worms.
News Moderator: Katelyn Baker
Full Article: Medicinal Marijuana In Montreal – Just Ask For Boris
Author: Christopher Curtis
Photo Credit: Dario Ayala
Website: Montreal Gazette