Pubdate: Sun, 30 Jan 2011
Source: Lethbridge Herald (CN AB)
Copyright: 2011 The Lethbridge Herald
Author: Dave Mabell


Taber woman fighting for access to medical marijuana

In summer, it's one of Canada's iconic tourist attractions. In winter,
Ottawa is just another snowy city. But that's where Tamara Cartwright
is speaking Monday an Albertavoice on Parliament Hill.

The Taber woman, who's living with chronic colitis, flew east to be
part of a national rally urging better access to medical marijuana.
Medical uses have been legal for more than a decade, but she says most
Canadians who could benefit are being blocked by the federal
government's red tape and political antipathy.

More than 6,600 Canadians have been licenced to use medical-grade
marijuana, she says.

"But there are about three million of us who can't find a way to get
licenced," because most doctors in Alberta and rural parts of Canada
are afraid to sign the authorization.

As a result, Cartwright says, they're denying pain relief and a better
quality of life to millions suffering from cancer, hepatitis C, HIV,
multiple sclerosis and other debilitating illnesses.

Diagnosed with lymphatic ulcerative colitis, Cartwright says her
illness fits into a second tier of conditions including chronic
depression and epilepsy which is also proven to respond well to
prescribed doses of medical marijuana. Health Canada is recording that
information, she says.

"We're all human case studies," says the mother of four. "We're
showing it works."

Using an aerosol vaporizer, rather than smoking the marijuana,
Cartwright is able to eat and digest some foods and keep working daily
as a hairdresser. Before starting treatment, she says, she was too
frail to walk.

"It was like anorexia."

Doctors first prescribed cortisone and steroids, Cartwright adds but
they provided little benefit. Now she's getting her medication from a
"compassion club" in Vancouver.

And today she's strong enough to join other patients from across
Canada on Parliament Hill, where they'll speak to MPs and senators and
call for an authorization system which will meet more Canadians' needs.

"What we're protesting is that the system is not working," she
explains. "Health Canada can't keep up with the applications," though
it demands a new one every year.

"They just don't have the staffing."

That's why qualified patients must wait many months for their permits
often as much as six months, a B.C. physician reports. Without those
permits, they can't grow their own plants legally.

"A lot of these patients are resorting to buying these products
illegally," Dr. Gwyllyn Goddard warned last year.

Health Canada's program for medical marijuana was launched 10 years
ago, long before Stephen Harper's party won power. But now, Cartwright
says, the Harper government seems determined to cripple it and her.

"We feel it's political," she says. "They'd rather build jails and
fill them with innocent people."

Cartwright says Canadians who use marijuana for medical or
recreational purposes see the current government's hard line on "soft
drugs" as a parallel to the anti-alcohol "Prohibitionist" campaign 90
years ago.

"They're making the criminals rich."

South of the border, meanwhile, Cartwright says many Canadian-style
"compassion clubs" are now able to provide safe medical doses for
patients who aren't helped by conventional medications. She hopes to
explain the role these non-profit groups are playing, during meetings
planned with Ottawa medical personnel after the Parliament Hill event.

Cartwright, originally from Lethbridge, is also speaking out against
another anti-marijuana provision in the Harper government's latest
"tough-on-crime" bill. For the first time, she said, Canadians will
face harsh penalties for adding the plant to their brownie mix.

Under the proposed law, she said, they would be considered a
"manufactured product."

"So anyone making brownies could face 14 years in prison," she

"That's just ridiculous."
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MAP posted-by: Matt