Federal Smokescreen Hold it right there.
Before you fire up an extra joint or two to celebrate federal Justice Minister Martin Cauchon's plans to decriminalize the simple possession of marijuana, take a minute to consider what's really being proposed. We do, of course, believe that Cauchon's stated intentions -- if they're actually sincere -- are a step in the right direction.
What he's just signalled, on the heels of a Dec. 12 parliamentary committee report that recommended decriminalization, is that within the first four months of 2003, he'll introduce legislation to the effect that those found with small amounts of weed will only be fined and will not be charged criminally.
What a small amount consists of is yet to be determined, though the committee did recommend a limit of 30 grams (about an ounce, or, say, 50 average-sized joints), and also said people should also be able to grow that much for their personal consumption. Overall, this would be an eminently sensible approach to regulating the drug, given the amount of police and court time eaten up by small-time marijuana offences, not to mention how unevenly simple possession laws are currently enforced and prosecuted across the country.
If legislation actually happens (and there's reason to think Cauchon is bluffing), recreational users will indeed have something to cheer about in the new year. But the troubling part is that medical marijuana users, or federal exemptees -- the people legally entitled to smoke the stuff to alleviate the symptoms of severe illness -- are probably going to be left out of Cauchon's march to freedom. And that, given the legal hoops they've already jumped through, is a national shame.
Under decriminalization, supplying or trafficking in marijuana would still be a criminal offence. Now, some pot advocates will argue that, overall, it makes no sense to decriminalize demand without decriminalizing supply. But this especially holds true when it comes to medical-marijuana users. They need a high-quality, consistent source of the drug -- the kind of supply offered by the compassion clubs and centres that have sprung up around the country, who distribute despite the risk of sudden police busts (you may recall the controversial, out-of-the-blue bust that closed down the Toronto Compassion Centre this summer).
Indeed, medical users won the right to toke in a landmark 2000 court ruling. Yet by all accounts, in practice, they're still screwed. Federal health minister Anne McClellan backtracked this spring on the issue, saying she was experiencing some "discomfort" at allowing exemptees access to the government weed that's been grown in an old mine in Flin Flon, Man., without years' worth of scientific tests or some such nonsense (a court case was launched in Ontario this fall to force the federal government to distribute it). And we note with dismay the recent stories about a cancer patient who fought to have local police return his home-grown plants.
So yes, Minister Cauchon, move ahead with decriminalization this spring. But while you're at it, make sure your cabinet colleagues get their collective ass in gear and distribute the weed that's already been grown under their auspices. Most importantly, as part of your pending legislation, you need to legalize supply, especially in the case of compassion clubs, those organizations dedicated to providing safe, consistent cannabis to people who desperately need it and are legally able to have it.
users have made a lot of noise before, and they'll make it again,
no doubt. If that doesn't work, they'll continue to use the courts
to ensure their legal rights are put into practice.
Man caught toking and driving
denies he was impaired
KILLALOE, ONT. - An Ottawa Valley man stopped by police for smoking pot while driving is challenging the idea that marijuana impairs one's ability to drive. 'The single, common denominator among all the studies of marijuana and driving is that it makes you drive more slowly' —Reimer Rick Reimer, a retired lawyer from Killaloe, Ont., has multiple sclerosis and has a Health Canada exemption to smoke marijuana to deal with his disease.
Retired lawyer Rick Reimer, talking and toking outside the Killaloe courthouse "I can say unequivocally that marijuana does not effect my ability to drive at all," said Reimer. Officer Brad Burton, on the other hand, said he saw Reimer swerving and crossing the centre line. When Burton pulled him over, Reimer stepped out of his car with a joint in his mouth.
Reimer admits that he was smoking pot while he was driving, but denies he was impaired. Because of his Health Canada exemption, the officer didn't charge him with possession of marijuana, but he did charge him with impaired driving.
B.C. police say looser pot laws will make their job harder Reimer is defending himself in the case and on Thursday he cross-examined a toxicologist who said marijuana does impair a person's ability to drive. Reimer presented studies that show the opposite. "The single, common denominator among all the studies of marijuana and driving is that it makes you drive more slowly," says Reimer. Then, when asked to produce statistics to prove the drug caused accidents, the same toxicologist couldn't provide any.
The trial went into recess Thursday and will resume sometime next year.
Charges stayed in
Medical Marijuana case
December, 2002 - CBC News
- It is unconstitutional to let some people use marijuana for
medical reasons but then deny them an opportunity to get the
drug, a Quebec judge ruled Thursday. He stopped the drug trafficking
trial of two men who had distributed pot through an organization
known as the Compassion Club. A "stay of proceedings" was ordered,
which lawyers said was tantamount to the charges being dismissed.
The decision means the trial will not go ahead. Marc-Boris Saint-Maurice Marc-Boris Saint-Maurice and Alexandre Neron were charged with possession and trafficking the drug in 2000 after police raided the Compassion Club and found 66 grams of marijuana.
Saint-Maurice was the organization's director, and Neron and employee. People who favour relaxing the laws on marijuana as well as people in law enforcement watched the case closely. Quebec court Judge Gilles Cadieux postponed his decision several times before ruling that people who use the drug as medicine need a safe and legal place to acquire it. Otherwise, these Canadians lose basic rights to life and liberty. Although the judge stopped the trafficking trial, he stopped short of ruling on the constitutionality of marijuana laws.
The Crown didn't said if it will appeal the decision. "We've been vindicated," Saint-Maurice told CBC Newsworld after the judgment was released. Montreal's Compassion Club, which was shut down, reopened three weeks ago.
Pot's the only thing that eases woman's pain
Parker of Annapolis County has permission from
THE MARIJUANA issue hasn't been mentioned yet by either of us. Sipping tea in Jane Parker's living room, I wait for her to raise the topic. Which is silly, really. After all, it's the drug thing that's brought me here to this straggle of houses on the South Mountain, near Bridgetown.
Jane Parker is a rare individual; she smokes marijuana on a regular basis, and it's all quite legal. This mother to seven has Ottawa's permission to smoke it for medicinal purposes. Jane, 40, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis four years ago. She says only marijuana offers her a modicum of relief from the pain. "This was not my first choice of drug," she assures me. "I tried everything they gave me (but) I got tired of living with the side effects." Jane is one of 834 people who has Health Canada's permission to possess marijuana for health reasons. Of that number, 700 may also grow their own. Jane is one of them, too.
This feisty woman contacted me, shocked and angered by criticism I'd levelled at another sanctioned marijuana smoker. "Coming from you," she'd remarked, "I wondered how the rest of world felt about us." So here I am, hoping to learn what life is like for someone in such pain that she resorts to an illicit drug for relief. Frankly, this isn't easy for me. I don't do drugs and have little time for those who do, especially the hard kind. Not that I'm perfect. I tried marijuana back in the 60s, but it didn't do anything for me. Jane, too, tried marijuana when she was younger. Like me, she wasn't a big fan. "I gave it up for motherhood and alcohol," she remarks, grinning.
But then came the multiple sclerosis, the same disease which was to claim her mother last December at age 61. Jane was in such discomfort that she took up marijuana again in 1998. She can't work and has no private medical insurance. Her only income is a federal disability pension of $7,000 a year. Despite her battle, she hasn't given up on life. She's studying for a nutritional practitioner's degree, which will allow her to teach others how to eat properly and use vitamins in their diet. Gary Kilburn, whom she married a year ago, is with a private security firm.
As we chat, Jane arches her back, trying to get comfortable on the sprawling old couch. "I took it for granted for 36 years," she says through gritted teeth. "The feel of grass beneath my feet, the feel of my hair through my fingers." "And now?" I ask She shrugs. "Every time I walk, it feels like sharp shards of red-hot glass going through my feet and up my back." She says even her toes are affected. I lean forward. Sure enough, they're twitching uncontrollably.
Jane neither sleeps nor eats properly. She's as slender as a whippet, standing 5-7 and weighing barely 110 pounds. These days, she rarely leaves the house because of the pain. "It's unrelenting," she says. And because she falls down a lot, she's equipped with a cane, a walker and a wheelchair. She's also incontinent. She rolls her hazel eyes. "This disease doesn't have the decency to kill you outright," she growls. Life is "stolen from you day by day." Gary kisses her forehead. "I feel helpless," he says. "There's not a lot I can do except try to look after her." Jane has given up on prescribed medications because of the side effects. Today, the only one she takes is clonazepam, a sedative. And, of course, the marijuana.
As we talk, she rises unsteadily from the couch, takes a regular cigarette from a pack, lights it and shuffles to the open back door. There, she squats, blowing the smoke outside. "I didn't want my second-hand smoke blowing in your face," she calls to me. Concerned about her frail health in the chill morning draft, I beg her to return. "You'd rather be smoking a joint, right?" I exclaim as she sits. She nods, the pain in her eyes now quite noticeable. I urge her to do what she has to. Eagerly, Jane stubs out the cigarette, goes into the kitchen and returns with a lit joint. She says it's her third this morning.
Easing onto the couch, she closes her eyes and inhales deeply. The pungent aroma fills the room. Within minutes, literally, Jane is a changed woman. The arched back is gone; her limbs are relaxed; even her toes are still. The effect is remarkable. So is her determination to continue using marijuana, even if she has to do it illegally, just like before - which, she tells me, may soon be the case. Saturday, Part 2: Ottawa changes the rules, causing a crisis for Jane.
- Part 2 -New rules, however, are threatening her situation.
Red tape slows getting pot for pain
November 16, 2002
SHE PUTS what's left of the joint in the ashtray, sinks back into the couch and closes her eyes. Moments ago, she was in such pain that her back was arched and her limbs were stiff. Now, she's snuggled into the cushions, wiry frame relaxed, bare feet no longer twitching.
Even to someone as opposed to drugs as I am, it's hard not to be awed by the difference in this 40-year-old. "It still hurts," she murmurs, "but it's not as bad as it could be." Jane was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis four years ago.
Her husband, Gary Kilburn, stands behind her, stroking her long dark hair. "In all the years I've lived with Jane," he remarks, "I haven't seen her stoned." It's mid-morning and this is her third joint. "I'll be fine until the afternoon," she murmurs. When she's having a "good" day, she'll smoke four or five joints. On a bad day, it'll be twice that. "I'm not a criminal!" she assures me. "This is not something I do recreationally!"
Since last November, Jane has had federal permission to have on her person 150 grams of marijuana and to store another 1,125 grams. She's also allowed to grow 25 plants outside or 10 plants inside.
Sadly, Jane's battle for relief is far from over. For one thing, there's no legal way for her to obtain the marijuana plants she needs. Like a scenario from Alice in Wonderland, Health Canada gives Jane and more than 800 other Canadians permission to use the drug, but doesn't actually supply it.
Federal experiments with confiscated marijuana plants have run into problems. Jane has managed to obtain some seeds and is growing them in buckets. The problem is, the plants won't be ready for harvesting until next year. Until then, she must buy from the street and that bothers her. "Every time I have to buy, I'm trapped," she exclaims. "I'm committing a crime, but I have no other source to get from." Buying from dealers means Jane can never be sure of the quality of what she's getting. "I've got some really good stuff and some really bad stuff, for which I paid $280 an ounce." Her pain is so unrelenting that she needs three to five grams of pot a day, which means her ounce is gone in a week or less. To date, Jane estimates she's spent about $10,000 on pot. "I'm putting it on my tax as medical expenses," she vows in all seriousness.
In the early days of her disease, Jane took a cocktail of prescribed drugs to ease the debilitating effects of her disease. The side effects were so severe, however, that she had to stop taking all but one. Hence the marijuana. "It eases my pain and gives me an appetite," she says. "It helps me sleep, helps my mood. I don't feel so sorry for myself any more." Jane continues to be awed by the effects of the marijuana. "Six years ago," she relates, "I was bed-bound, wheelchair-bound and I slept all the time. People had to come and bathe me." Today, she's better able to care for herself and her family and is even studying for a degree. She feels she has regained a quality of life she'd lost to the disease. Unfortunately, pot permits are valid for only one year, which means Jane must reapply. And therein lies a big problem. Originally, permits were granted based on a two-page letter from a family doctor. Today, there's a new application process, one involving a 32-page form and requiring the signature of a pain specialist. Jane is disheartened. "Who knows more about me than my family doctor," she fumes.
Frustrated but realistic, she's made an appointment at the pain clinic in Halifax. Worryingly, the earliest appointment she could get was in 19 months. "So, what will you do?" I ask. "I won't stop," she growls. Jane is lobbying Health Canada fiercely for an extension. The last thing she wants is to be sent to jail and denied access to the one substance that helps her. "Guaranteed, I'll come out in a wheelchair and need hospital," she growls. Personally, I doubt it'll come to that. After spending a morning with Jane, my bet is that Health Canada stands no chance against this tigress. At least, I hope not. Postcript: Jane has been granted a one-month extension to her permit with the likelihood of a further five months to follow.
more information on the medical use of marijuana, check
Copyright © 2002 The Halifax Herald Limited
Legal grass advocates share in bitter harvest
Man grows marijuana for friends who need the weed to feel better