Pubdate: Fri, 19 May 2000
Source: Ottawa Sun (CN ON)
Copyright: 2000, Canoe Limited Partnership.
Author: Kathleen Harris


Pembroke lawyer devoted to fight for legalized marijuana

For years, he was a lawyer who blatantly broke the law on principle.

Now Rick Reimer can openly indulge in his illicit act with impunity -- he's
got the federal government's okay to toke.

A partner in a conservative, prestigious Pembroke law firm, Reimer was
diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in the fall of 1998. A longtime
recreational user of marijuana, he says smoking two to five joints a day
helps ease symptoms of the disease.

Rick Reimer, a longtime recreational pot smoker, uses marijuana legally
these days to relieve the symptoms of MS. The Pembroke lawyer is leading the
fight to legalize the 'weed.'

"It invigorates me when I get fatigued -- somehow it works in reverse for
me," he says. "It also controls the nausea and makes me feel better."

Health Canada has granted the 46-year-old lawyer an exemption under the
Controlled Drugs and Substances Act that allows him to use and grow
cannabis. He's among a small group of 40 Canadians who have won the

With a first-hand perspective, Reimer points to the inherent flaws in the
system -- beginning with the frustrating, lengthy application process for
using medicinal marijuana. It took him more than a year of letter-writing
and waiting to get an exemption.

And once patients have permission, it's still tough to get a supply. Reimer
is allowed to possess three mature plants, four immature plants and 30 grams
of the product -- but there's no legal source and he doesn't have a green

For those who do grow their own, the law doesn't permit caregivers or
relatives to help with the gardening. Technically, someone is breaking the
law by watering or tending to the plants of someone with an exemption.

Still, Reimer is pleased the federal government is finally moving to
decriminalize pot for the sick and dying, and he's advocating legalization
for all.

"I'm tired of Canadians letting the Americans lead," says Reimer, who
believes our strict drug policies on soft drugs are dictated by laws south
of the border.

Prosecuting drug charges is enormously costly in tax dollars and expensive
in its damaging human toll, Reimer says. He points to one high-profile
client, hepatitis C victim Robert Brown, who has suffered by being charged
and dragged through the court system. Describing himself as "emotionally
labile," Reimer cries at the drop of a hat. That symptom of MS, along with
others such as loss of balance and co-ordination, blurry vision and bladder
control problems, have prompted his decision to retire from practising law
next June.

Reimer said he has never smoked pot before representing a client in court,
but since he has increased his consumption for relief he occasionally takes
a toke during work hours.

But he's committed to his clients, and says he always makes sure marijuana
doesn't interfere with his work.

"It doesn't impair my mind -- it expands it," he says.

Only two clients have expressed concern with him using marijuana. One even
fired him -- but later hired him back. And if the law society has privately
raised an eyebrow, it has never brought any concerns or complaints to his

"I'm not the only lawyer in this province that smokes marijuana," he said.
"I do my job and I do it well."

Health Canada warns exemptees they don't escape other criminal charges, and
recommends they don't drive after consuming marijuana. But Reimer insists
lighting up a joint behind the wheel of his black Jeep, which has a "Weed
Man" sticker on the rear, actually makes him a more relaxed, safe driver.

"It affects me like a seasoned drinker would be affected by one drink," he
says. "It doesn't deaden my mind."

Reimer has been smoking marijuana for 30 years, except for a couple of
two-year periods when he quit. The first break came during his law school
days, when he wrestled with the ethical question of whether it was right for
a lawyer to break the law. The second came during a fierce but short-lived
health kick, when he gave up pot and swore off cigarettes and alcohol.

Reimer has always enjoyed outdoor athletic activities like golf and sailing,
but the MS has forced him to give most of them up. Strumming the guitar and
playing the viola give him pleasure, and he relaxes in Jamaica during his
down time.

He also feels at home at a Killaloe radio station, where his volunteer work
gives him a forum to help push the cause of legalizing marijuana.

When he retires, Reimer plans to spend more time at the station and step us
his legalization crusade. Plans to organize a giant rally on Parliament Hill
before the next federal election are already in the works, and he hopes to
lure representatives from each electoral riding in the country.

"I'll have more time and I'll use it to promote causes that I believe in,"
Reimer says. "I'll try and make a difference while I can."
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