Medical Marijuana
in the News!

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Marijuana charges dropped
Founders of 'compassion club' celebrate victory
But new medicinal rules could mean more charges


The federal justice department has dropped drug trafficking charges against a Toronto "compassion club," scoring a new victory for unlicensed groups that provide seriously ill patients access to medical marijuana.

Yesterday's decision comes 17 months after the Toronto Compassion Centre was raided by a dozen police officers in August, 2002. At the time, the centre was providing marijuana to 1,200 patients who had doctors' prescriptions to treat illnesses such as epilepsy, spinal cord disease and multiple sclerosis.

Standing on the steps of Toronto's Old City Hall courthouse following the decision, Warren Hitzig let out a holler and called it a "great victory."

Hitzig is the 27-year-old founder of the Toronto Compassion Centre who was charged in the raid.

"This opens the gates for people who want to fight for their rights to distribute medical marijuana," he said, surrounded by supporters.

Hitzig, along with club co-founder Zack Naftolin, had been charged with possession and trafficking, and a preliminary hearing was set to begin yesterday. Instead, the federal crown asked that the charges be withdrawn.

Despite the jubilation, Jim Leising, the justice department's director of criminal prosecutions in Ontario, said the club could be charged again.

The case against Hitzig and Naftolin, he said, involved unique circumstances in light of last October's Ontario Court of Appeal decision, which recognized the service they were providing in the absence of any government-licensed or sanctioned marijuana supply at the time. Since that ruling — which simultaneously reinstated the law making pot possession illegal — the government has moved to license its own growers and suppliers, he said.

"It just wasn't in the public's interest to prosecute them," he said.

But Alan Young, a defence lawyer who helped set up the Toronto Compassion Centre, said technically compassion clubs still exist "in legal limbo." The fact that the crown dropped charges in this case, coupled with a recent stay of charges involving a Montreal compassion club, "indicates the government is not willing or able to prosecute clubs that are performing a public service.

"I do believe these clubs will flourish and this withdrawal is perhaps some incentive for these enterprises to continue," he said, adding the Toronto club will continue to seek licensing from Health Canada.

Alison Myrden, a 40-year-old Burlington resident who has a federal exemption to smoke pot to treat chronic progressive multiple sclerosis and other ailments, said the Toronto Compassion Centre is able to supply the right "strain" of cannabis to ease her symptoms.

"We need the government to license these compassion centres. Right now the government doesn't give the opportunity for choice."

Naftolin, 26, who works at the Toronto Hemp Company, said he would like to return to helping patients, but "I'm still trying to take it all in."

Hitzig said he's undergone too much stress and won't go back to supplying medical marijuana — "unless the government offered me an administrative job."

© Copyright 2003 The Toronto Star

Study to pin down marijuana doses for chronic pain

December 2003
MONTREAL - After years of delay, a Canadian study on the value of marijuana as a pain reliever is underway in Montreal.

Dr. Mark Ware, a professor of family medicine and anesthesia at McGill University, treats patients with severe, chronic pain. His clinical trial aims to determine the therapeutic value of cannabis for these patients under real-life conditions.

FROM JULY 26, 2001: Health Canada sponsors pot-pain research

Health Canada had held up the study, but the department has now given permission to a supplier to release its product for the trial.

Many of Ware's patients sought prescriptions for medicinal marijuana after other painkillers failed.
Yanick Drapeau injured his spinal cord in a motorcycle accident 18 months ago and is still in great pain.

"It's like electricity on my leg," said Drapeau. "Like a big shock every day."
Drapeau took morphine every day but the side effects were too much for him. Marijuana eased the pain without making him groggy, he said.

Doctors may sanction the use of cannabis as a medical treatment, but they lack scientific facts to pass on to their patients.

"I wouldn't know how to prescribe it because to my knowledge, there have been no studies of smoked marijuana," said Dr. Francois Lehmann, chair of family medicine at the University of Montreal.

To determine the best dosages, Ware's enrolled 32 patients with neuropathic pain. Their skin is very sensitive to touch or temperature, like a sunburn that can't tolerate air flowing over it, he said.
The patients smoke a pipe, now licenced as a medical device.
"We're specifying that they use a certain amount three times a day for a five-day period," said Ware. Patients will randomly rotate through different strengths of cannabis at home and report back.
Patients hope the study will result in easier access to the pain killer. Early results are expected
in early 2005.

Written by CBC News Online staff - Copyright CBC 2004

' Miracle' drug changes lives
Curative properties of marijuana aired
during testimony at Krieger trial

Calgary Sun

It seems that once a month at least, I meet or speak to someone whose life has been remarkably improved -- if not transformed -- by the medicinal properties of marijuana. Many of these people contact me.

Some of them call to tell me that it was one of my columns that spurred them on to try marijuana. I've even had a retired dentist in Hawaii who suffers from multiple sclerosis write to tell me he read one of my columns, tried marijuana and has gone from being confined to a wheelchair and living with incredible pain, to playing 18 holes of golf almost daily! He joked that marijuana improved his handicap in more ways than one!

On Wednesday, I met more than a dozen people whose lives have been improved by marijuana at the trafficking trial of Grant Krieger, Calgary's foremost medicinal marijuana minstrel and primary supplier and distributor of the healing herb for the sick and dying.

Perhaps one of the best examples of marijuana's curative properties I have ever met is Reshma Maharaj Hawn.

Hawn, 23, is a petite, dark-haired beauty who attended Krieger's trial on Wednesday to show her support for the man who provides her with the medicine that has "liberated" her. Hawn has suffered from epilepsy since the age of seven. She is classified as a tonic-clonic. What that means is Hawn's epileptic seizures affect her entire body.

She averaged eight to 10 full body seizures every day. Think about that. Think about the pain, the exhaustion, but most of all, the inability to function normally on a daily basis. "I couldn't walk across the street alone. I had to hold someone's hand, just in case I got a seizure. I couldn't swim, because if I got a seizure I would have drowned," she says.

For Hawn, a seizure always started with her eyes blinking. "My head then turns to the left and then everything just seizes up. When I wake up, my head is always in tremendous pain because all of my muscles lock up on me." Her jaw aches and all of her muscles and joints are sore. In Grade 8, Hawn's seizures grew even more frequent, forcing her mother to pull her from school for one month until another harsh medication could be
found that might improve things. Hawn was put on a new drug and the number of seizures decreased -- for a while anyway -- to two to four every day.

Hawn rattles off a list of the pharmaceutical drugs she has taken over the past 15 years. The last drug she was on was Carbamazapine. With this drug, her seizures decreased to three to four a day -- much better than eight to 10 a day -- but still too many to lead a normal unencumbered life. What's more, the 1200 milligrams of Carbamazapine she had to take daily was starting to damage her liver. It was a rock-and-a-hard-place decision. Let the seizures wrack her tiny body or damage her liver and suffer from fewer seizures.

But then Hawn's mother read an article about epileptics using marijuana. Her mother was so uncomfortable about encouraging her daughter to try something that wasn't even legal that all she said was, read this.

Hawn, who married her husband Joseph Hawn in June 2002 in Toronto, contacted Epilepsy Canada and someone there put her in contact with a local Compassion Club. In January of this year, Hawn started putting marijuana in her food and making tea out of the plant and she hasn't had one seizure since! Not one seizure since the first day she started taking marijuana!

"I've never felt so ... I can't explain it," she says, her face beaming. "I've never felt so free, so liberated." So, too, does her family. Her mother tried everything, saffron, naturopathic remedies everything, but nothing worked. "Marijuana proves to be the only medication that has worked for me. In my own terms, it's a miracle drug." And so she sits in a courtroom watching the persecution and prosecution of a man who also has been liberated from the bondage of MS seizures and spasms and is out of a wheelchair because of marijuana.

Hawn, a sales representative with Suzy Shier, obtained a licence to possess up to 90 grams of marijuana for medicinal purposes. Now she buys all of her marijuana from the Krieger Foundation -- which she says is organic and pure.

Some of the other pot she has bought gave her heart palpitations, she suspects from the pesticides used by some growers. While she is sorry for the Krieger's misfortune, she is very grateful he has sacrificed so much for people like her.

Does she wish she had learned about marijuana earlier?
"No, not really," she says. "Being that sick and then having that anguish lifted from me has given me a better appreciation of life. I'm glad that everything happened the way that it did. "Now I can walk down the street without holding someone's hand. I can use a public washroom and lock the cubicle -- I could never do that before -- I'm taking swimming lessons. It's wonderful. It's a miracle."

And one day, maybe our laws, police and courts will reflect this miracle and stop prosecuting those who help others. In the meantime, Krieger plans to appeal his latest criminal conviction. There is still way too much wrong with this story.

© Copyright 2003 The Calgary Sun

Marijuana activist dies following explosion

James Gordon - The Ottawa Citizen
Saturday, November 01, 2003

Don Appleby died of his injuries suffered in an Oct. 12 explosion while he was trying to make a concentrated oil using marijuana and butane.

Don Appleby's fight against the aids virus that was sapping him was made more difficult by a tragic paradox. While the Ottawa man was one of the few Canadians who could legally smoke marijuana for medicinal purposes, he could rarely afford it due to his minuscule disability pension.

In the end, he was killed in the struggle to produce the drug that was helping him survive.

On Oct. 12, Mr. Appleby was in the bathroom of his Blake Boulevard apartment, trying a dangerous method to get some use out of the non-smokable parts of his marijuana plants.

By injecting butane into a plastic container with the plant in it, he hoped to make a concentrated oil he could use. Friends suspect he then tried to light a joint, igniting an explosion that blew the bathroom door off its hinges.

Residents of the apartment above his heard the explosion, and rushed him to the Ottawa Hospital's General campus. It's where he remained in intensive care since the incident, and where he died Thursday morning.

Ron Whelan was Mr. Appleby's close friend, and was living under the same circumstances. He said yesterday that Mr. Appleby never should have died the way he did.

Both 44, they received about $900 a month on disability, not nearly enough to pay for both marijuana and food. While the government would pay for the $1,500-$2,000 of aids medication Mr. Appleby needed, they wouldn't pick up the cost of the marijuana. Nausea was a side-effect of the pills, and without the drug, he couldn't keep them down.

Forced to buy marijuana himself and pay rent, his friends say Mr. Appleby was reduced to scrounging through dumpsters to find the food he could no longer afford. He would go searching behind restaurants late at night so nobody would see him. At the same time, he wasn't shy about asking people with marijuana gardens to help him.

"You do what you have to do to survive, whether it's beg, borrow or steal," Mr. Whelan said. If one had a bag of dry macaroni from the food bank, he would often go to the other's place to share.

Mr. Appleby decided to try and save some money by growing his own marijuana, and after two failed gardens, things were starting to work out for him. Still, the cost to grow was still high. With no other source of medicine, he resorted to the butane method. He never recovered from the burns that covered 75 per cent of his body and his scorched lungs.

Mr. Whelan said although Mr. Appleby experienced difficult times in the past, he really blossomed after meeting people similar to him. He loved participating in marijuana rallies, and helping others.

"The world needs more people like Donny," he said. "He was there for the underdog, and it's a terrible loss for everyone who knew him."