HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Government Policy Keeps Couple Apart
Pubdate: Thu, 21 Feb 2008
Source: Muse, The (CN NF Edu)
Copyright: 2008 The Muse
Authors: Sheena Goodyear and Tariro Mudede


Student says people won't take them seriously because of boyfriend's
medical marijuana

When MUN student Kirsten Joy moved in with her boyfriend Mike Dawe,
she thought it would be forever.

But a year down the line, a government policy forced her to pack her
bags and move across town, when she got a letter warning that she was
not allowed to receive two forms of income support at once.

Joy receives a full student loan and Dawe collects government aid
because he has a rare and debilitating genetic disorder called Marfan
Syndrome, which affects his body's joints, connective tissues, and

"So I thought, 'That's weird, I don't even get any of Mike's money,'"
said Joy.

But because they lived together as common law, their income was
considered shared, and legislation forbids one household from
collecting two forms of government assistance at the same time.

Soon after, Dawe's funding was cut off.

"I really don't consider a student loan a form of income because it is
something that I have to pay back," said Joy.

But provincial Minister of Human Resources Shawn Skinner says a
student loan is considered part of an individual's total income, and
must be declared as such.

"Potentially someone could have a student loan that is considered
income, and that could reduce the amount of income support they
receive," he said.

The couple appealed the decision twice, contacted their MP, their MHA,
the Human Rights Board, the provincial Department of Human Resources,
Labour and Employment (HRLE), and the provincial Department of Justice
- - all to no avail.

Joy spoke before a disabilities committee public meeting with Skinner
in attendance. Still nothing changed.

Skinner says he's unfamiliar with the case, but that if Joy and Dawe
contact him personally, he'd be happy to review it.

"Call my office, and I'm very hands on, and I try to be as flexible as
possible," he said. "The idea is we try to assist people - we don't
try to prevent people from getting ahead."

Marfan Syndrome is characterized by unusually long limbs - Dawe is six
feet, nine inches tall. Chronic pain from the disease, and from a rib
that was displaced during a teenage surgery, prevents him from
entering the work force. He also has a steel aortic valve and an
elastic sleeve in his heart, which makes taking high-powered
painkillers, like morphine, impossible.

Instead, he uses medical marijuana. He can legally grow 49 plants, and
has a prescription for 10 grams a day.

"He grows his medicine because he needs it," said Joy.

Joy says her student loan is not enough to cover both their bills and
the cost of the plants, so she had no choice but to pack up and move
in with her mother across town. She has since received her full loan.

But Dawe's HRLE funding is still not coming in because Joy's decision
to leave was considered "a move of convenience." As far as they know,
he will not be compensated for the money he's lost.

"I sold every bit of furniture when I moved in with Mike, because in
our minds, it was a forever thing," she said. "I'm moving out because
I'm not going to be able to afford to live here, and they can call it
convenient all they want, but it's not convenient."

With his HRLE funding cut off, Dawe's only income is $400 a month from
Health and Community Services - not even enough to cover his power
bill, let alone fund his medical grow-op.

"If you were on morphine or Demerol you would get everything paid for
you, because you're taking an addictive narcotic rather than something
that's natural, and not addictive, and this is why I think we are
getting mistreated like this, because they don't understand med
marijuana," said Joy.

Skinner says an individual's expenses - medicinal or otherwise - are
not taken into account when calculating support. Only the total income
in a household is measured.

It's no small feat to grow all those plants - Dawe, who studied botany
at MUN, spends hours caring for them.

"He works harder than anyone I know," said Joy. "It's not just popping
a seed in the soil and watering it and expecting it to grow. In order
to grow good medical pot - there's cloning, there's chemistry, there's
mixing nutrients, there's getting water PH balanced."

And with seeds, soil, equipment, and light, the cost of growing pot
can run quite high - Joy estimates about $1,500 a month.

While Joy explains all this in what used to be her living room, Dawe,
who declined an official interview, is busy upstairs working with his

He later comes down and introduces himself. Despite the drugs, he is
perfectly lucid.

Upstairs, he has two bright rooms for growing the plants, which are
almost as tall as he is. Their smell penetrates the whole house.

Tucked away in a corner, past the two rooms, is the bedroom that Joy
and Dawe used to share.

In the meantime, Joy will stay with her mother until she finishes
school - either at the end of the summer or a few years down the road
if she decides to pursue an honours degree.

"I want to live with Mike," she said. "I know policy is policy, but
compassion should override policy in situations like this."

Skinner agrees that sometimes policy needs to be flexible.

"As we all know, there's always exceptions, and there's always times
you need to fine tune your policies, or even change them for that
matter. Maybe it needs to be changed. But until I know more detail,
there's not much I can do to help," he said.
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MAP posted-by: Derek