HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Marijuana As Medicine
Pubdate: Mon, 14 Oct 2002
Source: Maclean's Magazine (Canada)
Copyright: 2002 Maclean Hunter Publishing Ltd.
Author: Luke Fisher
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal - Canada)

The Back Page


The Government Lets Me Legally Smoke Pot. So Why Can't I Legally Buy It?

IN THE COUNTRYSIDE of Eastern Ontario, as elsewhere, it's harvest time. 
Produce ranges from corn to . . . bundles of marijuana.

Despite the efforts of the Ontario Provincial Police -- who rent a 
helicopter to scour the region -- much of the illegal crop is now being 
dried and will soon flood the market.

That's great news for me because I suffer from epilepsy.

I am one of the 817 Canadians permitted to smoke marijuana for medical 
reasons. And I have to find the stuff somehow.

It has been an interesting trip for the last couple of years, but there is 
a problem that brings more lows than highs.

I have to spend $500 every month to "score" my prescription across the 
Ottawa River from an acquaintance named Pierre. To watch the evening news 
can be bothersome when it carries clips of the hundreds of different 
strains of cannabis being grown for the government in an old mine in Flin 
Flon, Man. The seeds, confiscated by police countrywide, prove marijuana's 
development in Canada. Alas, Health Minister Anne McLellan has said she 
won't consider releasing any of that marijuana until clinical trials are 

Marijuana was not my first choice for treatment.

Despite an endless series of pills, I suffered from regular seizures for 
eight years.

In 1997, I put my skull under a neurosurgeon's knife.

The removal of a brain lobe the size of a thimble was supposed to improve 
life. But I am among the few whose condition worsened.

I began to have more seizures -- sometimes three a day. They happened in 
places like buses and subway trains and the press gallery of the House of 

In 1999, the government announced a program to make cannabis legal for 
medical purposes only. After chats with my neurologist -- and my wife -- I 
was given the prescription, because some experts consider cannabis an 
anti-convulsant. It was a good decision.

I have fewer seizures when I regularly smoke marijuana.

My wife, who is not a big fan of second-hand smoke of any kind -- or the 
additional expenditure of thousands of dollars annually -- has also 
concluded that there is a link.

Smoking five joints per day is expensive.

I cannot head to a pharmacist with my prescription; I buy my medicine from 
Pierre in clandestine fashion. Every week I call him, and let him know how 
many "minutes" I want for our session. Then a friend drives me across the 
Ottawa River, past the Supreme Court, where marijuana's non-medical future 
will likely be decided.

Within sight of the Peace Tower, I meet Pierre. Because it is Ontario-grown 
weed purchased in Quebec, I think of it as interprovincial trade.

When the bag is in Pierre's hand, it is illegal.

When it passes into mine, everything is OK. But I still must pay for it.

Last week's Speech from the Throne mentioned a possible decriminalization 
of marijuana possession. But the delays in dealing with marijuana prove the 
perception that politicians and bureaucrats move very, very slowly when it 
suits them. Even the word marijuana caused difficulties at Health Canada; 
they started with "marihuana", but their Web site now shows that the "h" is 
slowly being replaced by the more familiar "j." This silliness goes on 
while those with permits see little effort to establish a system that will 
provide them with low-cost access to treatment.

Most discouraging are suggestions that the previous health minister, Allan 
Rock, was about to make pot available to those with permits before he was 
shuffled out of the portfolio last January. I keep wondering whether the 
Prime Minister (who in 1980 suggested the relaxation of laws concerning 
marijuana) concluded that Rock's dealings with late Beatle John Lennon in 
1969 made him the wrong handler of this file. Perhaps Rock is too liberal 
for the Liberal party.

McLellan, meanwhile, is obviously on a mission to cloud the issue, by 
contradicting earlier statements and proposals which had led us to believe 
that a process was about to commence.

I should not, and cannot, feel too sorry for myself.

Others suffer from more serious ailments and pain -- such as AIDS victims 
and cancer patients who endure the agony and side effects of their 
pharmaceutical and chemotherapy treatments. Many find the hunger-inducing 
effect of marijuana a relief from the queasiness and weight loss they 
generally face. Then, consider patients disabled by multiple sclerosis.

How do they acquire their medicinal stash?

Some patients have family and friends who help. But that leads to high 
stress and potentially uncomfortable episodes with the police.

I have not run into anything like that. Health Canada allows me to grow 
four plants outdoors, which when harvested will last me about three weeks. 
Meanwhile, an American, Steve Kubby, who seeks refugee status in Canada, is 
allowed to grow 59 plants at a time and keep 2.6 kilograms in storage.

A doctor has said that Kubby needs to smoke 12 grams per day. I am no 
doctor, but that is an absurd amount (about 20 fat joints daily), even for 
a man suffering from adrenal gland cancer.

When will McLellan allow us other patients a secure, affordable supply of 
medicinal marijuana?

I won't hold my breath.

Journalist Luke Fisher lives in Kanata, Ont.
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