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'Compassion club' providing medicinal marijuana shut down by police

When the burning becomes too much, Josh Dvorkin pulls out his lighter, lights up a joint and fires back.

Mr. Dvorkin, who injured his spinal cord when he fell during an epileptic seizure five years ago, has since relied on medical marijuana to relieve neuropathic pain. To get the drug, he takes his Health Canada licence to buy five grams of pot a day and rides his electric wheelchair to CALM - which stands for Cannabis As Living Medicine - a compassion club that operates behind an unmarked storefront on Queen Street East.

"Agitated" would be a more apt name for the club since Toronto police raided it last Wednesday. Undercover officers, armed with a warrant and backed up by uniformed officers, arrested nine workers and seized 16.5 kilograms of marijuana, 1.9 kg of hashish, 200 grams of hash oil, a quantity of cash and the club's computers.

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The raid, which came 14 years into CALM's otherwise hassle-free existence, has left a trail of questions in its wake. The most immediate one for Mr. Dvorkin and nearly 2,000 other members is, where will I get my weed?

"I don't know," Mr. Dvorkin said Sunday at the club. It remains closed indefinitely, but he was there with owner Neev Tapiero, club lawyer Ron Marzel and others to plot next steps, including a protest outside police headquarters next Sunday. "It just makes every day that much more unliveable," the 34-year-old Ryerson University journalism student added.

Detective Jim Brons, the investigating officer who led the raid, was off duty and unavailable to explain the raid. A police source, however, said "I don't think it's done arbitrarily." Mr. Tapiero said officers told him only that they were "acting on complaints."

Advocates for looser pot restrictions are pointing to the raid - caught on several of the club's security cameras and since posted on YouTube - as a sign of the ineffectiveness of the federal medicinal marijuana program.

"The simple solution to all this is for Health Canada to licence large-scale medical cannabis production facilities," said Mr. Marzel, one of a handful of lawyers who specialize in challenging the country's marijuana laws.

As it stands, licensed patients can buy their pot from Health Canada, grow small quantities for themselves or designate someone to grow it for them. However, many argue the regulations make it overly difficult to obtain the drug in sufficient quality and quantity, and instead buy from compassion clubs such as CALM.

Various courts have upheld patients' complaints about the Health Canada program, and other club operators have seen similar charges - namely, possession for the purpose of trafficking - dropped in previous cases.

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