Pubdate: Wed, 13 Apr 2011
Source: Niagara This Week (CN ON)
Copyright: 2011 Metroland Printing, Publishing and Distributing
Author: Mike Zettel, Staff


Ruling Stems for St. Catharines Medical Marijuana User

Matthew Mernagh says he's on cloud nine now that a judge has ruled the
marijuana laws he was charged with are unconstitutional.

The former St. Catharines activist and medical marijuana user was at
the centre of an Ontaro Superiour Court case heard in St. Cathairnes
in January, which stemmed from his arrest nearly three years ago for
growing plants in his apartment downtown.

Reached Wednesday, a day after he first read the ruling in his Toronto
lawyer's office, Mernagh said he's estatic and still getting over the

"I was like 'Oh my God. I got everything I asked for from the court,'"
he said.

He explained he had no intention of pleading guilty to produciton of

"We decided we would go all the way," he said of he and lawyer Paul
Lewin's decision to fight the charge on constitutional grounds.

Justice Donald Taliano ruled that the country's medical marijuana
program is unconstitutional because doctors have for the most part
refused to participate.

In his April 11 ruling, Taliano gave the government three months to
repair the issue or face marijuana essentially being legalized.

Taliano found doctors have "massively boycotted" the program by not
signing off on forms giving sick people access to necessary
medication, meaning patients are resorting to illegal means.

In his ruling, he wrote that doctors' unwillingness to participate
undermines the program's effectiveness.

"The effect of this blind delegation is that seriously ill people who
need marijuana to treat their symptoms are branded criminals simply
because they are unable to overcome the barriers to legal access put
in place by the legislative scheme."

The ruling covers more than medical marijuana, as Taliano also
declared laws prohibiting possession and production of cannabis to be

The judge suspended the ruling for three months to give the federal
government time to fix the program. If the issue isn't resolved, the
law will be overturned.

Mernagh said they brought 21 witnesses to the stand, patients from
B.C. to P.E.I. who testified they were rejected by doctors.

He said the case involving attending court once a month for two years,
followed by four months of preparation everyday in his lawyer's office
and 12 days of court.

It was worth it, he said.

"Our hard work has paid off," he said.

Mernagh said he'd like to hear the government say they'll work to fix
the medical marijuana program, which he called a sham, but isn't
holding his breath.

"I'm sure they're going to appeal," he said.

If the ruling stands up to appeal, the government faces the legitimate
possiblity of marijuana being decriminalized.

Lawyer and longtime activist of marijuana legalization Alan Young told
The Toronto Star that the government will be caught between a rock and
hard place if the ruling is upheld.

"They don't have an alternative program in mind," he told The Star.
"They don't have a plan B. They're in trouble."

Mernagh said that while he counts both medicinal and recreational
users as friends, his main concern in this case is the medical
marijuana program, and that he'd be perfectly happy if the issues
surrounding it were resolved, allowing the marijuana law to stand.

Mernagh suffers from fibromyalgia, scoliosis, seizures and

He was an early member of the Toronto Compassion Scoiety, which
distributes medical marijuana, and founded a chapter in Niagara.

He also ran to represent the New Democrat Party for St. Catharines,
but was not selected by the riding association.

He moved to Toronto shortly after he was arrest by Niagara Regional
Police in 2008.

Wednesday has been a whirlwind day for Mernagh, as he's been
interviewed by several media outlets.

He said he continues to marijuana for medicinal reasons, and even lit
up for the cameras.

"I just smoked one," he said.

- -With files from Torstar News 
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.