Pubdate: Thu, 14 Apr 2011
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Copyright: 2011 The Vancouver Sun
Author: Bradley Bouzane And Jordan Press, Postmedia News


Drug Will Be Legal to Possess If Ruling Not Challenged

When Nick Bala started chemotherapy, he asked his doctor for something
to help with the nausea and vomiting that followed each treatment.

After about four months, Bala asked his doctor for a prescription for
medicinal marijuana.

"I found that it made a huge difference to the nausea," Bala said
Wednesday. "For me and many other people, it made chemotherapy much
more bearable. It's very important this be made available to people
who are suffering."

An Ontario court ruling this week may make that reality sooner rather
than later. An Ontario Superior Court judge found marijuana
cultivation and usage laws unconstitutional and gave the federal
government three months to respond to the decision.

But Bala isn't leaping for joy just yet, knowing that the government
may appeal the ruling. "This could be before the courts for years. It
may have to go to a higher level of court," said Bala, a law professor
at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont.

"I certainly hope we're moving to the day when people who have a
prescription can get access to medical marijuana," he said. "This is
one of those issues that has a moral quality to it when our
politicians have been very slow to act. I think in this case it's been
most unfortunate."

On Monday, the Ontario Superior Court declared the rules that govern
medical marijuana access and the prohibitions laid out in sections 4
and 7 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act "constitutionally
invalid and of no force and effect," effectively paving the way for
legalization of the drug. Section 4 is the section that makes
possession of marijuana illegal and Section 7 makes cultivation illegal.

If the government does not respond within 90 days with a successful
delay or re-regulation of marijuana, the drug will be legal to possess
and produce in Ontario, where the decision is binding.

The ruling stemmed from the constitutional challenge of Matthew
Mernagh, a man who relies on medical marijuana to ease pain brought on
by fibromyalgia, scoliosis, seizures and depression.

The Ontario Court of Appeal had previously recognized that to deprive
someone with a serious illness of medical marijuana if it relieves
their pain is a violation of the Charter of Rights.

As a result, the federal government created the Marijuana Medical
Access Regulations to let people legally get, possess and grow
marijuana if they have a licence supported by a medical doctor.

Health Canada's medical marijuana program regulates and approves the
growers whom patients can buy from and how much they're legally
allowed to use for their treatment.

As of April 1, more than 9,800 Canadians are legally permitted to
possess medicinal marijuana, according to Health Canada. Nearly 5,600
people hold a personal grower's licence and 1,837 people hold a
licence to grow for one other person.

However, Justice Donald Taliano wrote in his decision on Monday that
Mernagh -a well-known marijuana advocate who has been charged for
possession and production of marijuana numerous times -has been unable
to get a doctor to sign off on a medical marijuana licence. Other
patients run into the same problem, the judge noted in his ruling, and
that forces some seriously ill people to obtain marijuana illegally.

"If I hadn't got it the way I did, I would certainly go outside the
system," Bala said. "Even though it may mean breaking the law -and I
do know people who have done that."

The executive director of a Victoria-based distributor of medical
marijuana said the ruling is a step forward on an issue the group has
been advocating.

"The decision itself is wonderful," said Steven Roberts of the
Vancouver Island Compassion Society, which is authorized to distribute
medical marijuana. "It's a huge win."

Roberts said because it's a federal law, he hopes to see similar
action roll across the country, although he said federal regulators
likely will not remain quiet on the issue. He said an appeal of the
decision is almost guaranteed. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.