As much as City council sympathizes with people who need medical marijuana to find relief from pain and illness, it cannot endorse an operation that breaks the law.
That was the message Mayor Peter Fassbender delivered to a group of about 25 supporters of a Langley medical marijuana dispensary, which was raided by police in July, when they appeared before council on Monday night.
But it was a message that was not particularly well received, leading to a series of outbursts which were uncharacteristically hostile for a Langley City meeting.
Despite a pre-emptive announcement by the mayor last week that the City could not and would not sanction an illegal pot dispensary, about 25 people, including council candidate and dispensary operator Randy Caine, filled the upstairs gallery in City Hall to urge council to support their efforts.
Speaking on behalf of the group, Daniel Mackle presented a petition bearing more than 1,900 signatures and spoke for his alloted five minutes about the challenges faced by medical marijuana users.
“Four out of five authorized medical patients cannot obtain their medicine and must resort to drug dealers in the dangerous street environment,” Mackle told council.
Many Langley users have been forced to buy from the black market since the raid, he said, leaving them vulnerable to the criminal element and at risk of being arrested.
“You are blocking safe access to basic health care,” he told council.
In other communities, such as Vancouver and Victoria, police are instructed to place medical marijuana enforcement at a low priority, Mackle said.
“We respectfully insist that this council do its duty.”
As he began his response, Fassbender made it clear he was speaking on behalf of the entire council, which had voted unanimously several months ago not to support the initiative.
“This has been an issue of a lot of debate,” he said.
“These are not sanctioned, legal operations. We do not recognize an illegal business and we won’t issue a business licence.”
“You have no compassion for us,” said one woman, who explained she has to grow marijuana in her own home, where she lives with her small children.
When the woman was asked to stop speaking and it became clear to the group that only Mackle’s presentation would be allowed, people began yelling from the gallery, challenging council to engage in a debate on the issue.
“I’m uncomfortable with the suggestion council doesn’t care about people with health problems,” said Fassbender.
“To suggest we don’t care about those people is patently incorrect.”
Every person who needs medical marijuana should be able to get and fill a prescription for it, Fassbender said. Those who are physically unable to get a prescription filled should be able to send a friend or relative to do it on their behalf, he added. But until that is legal, the City’s hands are tied, Fassbender said.
The mayor said the City is willing to work with medicinal marijuana advocates to lobby Health Canada and the federal government to change the laws as quickly as possible, but until that happens, its position won’t change.
“Council is unanimous — we will not break the law.”
Throughout Fassbender’s remarks, shouts of “cowards,” “you will be voted out,” “this is not democracy” and “you ought to be ashamed” were fired at the council table.
The mayor called repeatedly for order, asking the hecklers to “respect the chamber.”
“You don’t respect us,” one audience member shouted back.
“We will have you removed,” Fassbender threatened after one of the women in the audience shouted that council were “ignorant cowards.”
The disturbance carried on as the next delegate attempted to begin his presentation, prompting the man to turn and face the gallery, saying “democracy means others get to speak, too.”
The extended outburst led staff to call police. However, by the time two officers arrived a few minutes later, the disturbance had subsided and the majority of the group had left the chambers.
Later in the meeting, one man returned, bursting into chambers to give council an earful about what was in store for them on election day, before turning and leaving the building.