Pubdate: Thu, 23 Sep 1999
Source: London Free Press (Canada)
Copyright: 1999 The London Free Press a division of Sun Media Corporation.
Author: Julie Carl


Lynn Harichy's long-awaited day in court should be a short one. The London
grandmother and multiple sclerosis sufferer expects to have a charge of
marijuana possession against her stayed in court Monday.

Instead of fighting a courtroom battle to make medicinal marijuana available
to people with MS, cancer, AIDS, epilepsy and any other illness it can ease,
she plans to spend her waning energy on a bureaucratic fight to allow her
alone to grow and use the weed.

If successful, she'd be only the third person -- and the first without a
terminal illness -- to be exempted by Health Canada from prosecution on
marijuana cultivation and possession charges.

The exemptions are part of a plan Health Minister Allan Rock announced this
spring to weigh marijuana's medicinal use.

It's been two years since Harichy, 38, pulled out that joint on the steps of
the London police station. Her political statement -- that marijuana eases
sick people's suffering and makes a relatively normal life possible -- was
one she wanted to continue in court.

In July 1998, in another step in that fight, she and her husband, Mike,
opened the London Cannabis Compassion Centre, a club that supplied medicinal
marijuana to sick people with a doctor's note. The club closed in March
after Rock announced the government would hold trials of medicinal
marijuana, but not before Mike Harichy was arrested and charged with

His trial starts Oct. 5.

That worries Harichy. But she doesn't worry about the outcome of her own
charge, which -- if stayed -- could be reactivated against her within the
next year.

"If I end up in jail it's no different to me from not having my medication.
I end up in pain either way."

Being in jail would at least have the advantage of exposing people in the
system to her agony without marijuana, she says.

When she has the drug, she's relatively symptom-free. It takes about eight
days after her last toke for the tingling and numbness to start. Not long
after, Harichy's balance is shot. She's often paralysed on one side. She
sometimes goes blind.

The pain is overwhelming.

And the disease's traditional medication makes it worse, she says.

Since her arrest on the police station steps, two other medicinal marijuana
cases have successfully wended their way through the Ontario courts and
proven her point. In one case, a temporary exemption was won; in the other,
a permanent one, now under appeal.

As Harichy waited out the postponements and delays -- on pricey lawyer
time -- her health deteriorated. Tiny and frail, she can no longer afford
the energy or the money to continue.

And that's disappointing to her.

She remembers her mother, in the final stages of breast cancer in 1991 --
before Harichy was using marijuana to treat her own illness -- begging her
for some marijuana.

"All I could think was my mother would go to jail, and she wouldn't have any
health care at all," Harichy recalls. "I know now her final days didn't have
to be so bad.

"It shouldn't have to be like that. A mother shouldn't have to ask a
daughter to sneak her something. She should be able to have a doctor oversee
her medication."

Osgoode Hall law Prof. Alan Young, who represents Harichy, said she
shouldn't feel bad. Although her case wasn't a landmark, she helped pressure
the federal government to take a more "accommodating and sensitive position"
on medicinal marijuana.

But how much longer is it going to take to show that new-found sensitivity
to all people with an illness that can be eased by marijuana?

The government must move faster on its trials of medicinal marijuana.

And while that's moving ahead, it must quickly clear up the 90 or so
backlogged applications for an exemption like the one Harichy is seeking.

Many of Young's clients are sick people -- many of them dying -- who are
forced to break the law to get relief. If they're caught, as the law stands
now, they're criminals. They have to waste their precious time defending
themselves when they should be living out their days with dignity.

Surely, Canada can do better.

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