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Cannabis Culture Magazine
CC15 -> Medical Marijuana in Ontario
by Dr Alexander Sumach (01 Nov, 1998) The inside scoop on Ontario's thriving pot clubs.

Starr`s light burning bright for Kitchener med-pot users

Ontario's medical pot clubs are quietly thriving, despite the harsh legal climate.

In Ontario, the police are not sweethearts when it comes to the scent of marijuana wafting through the air. Here, the police will follow the fragrant trail of smoke and bust you as if marijuana was a major violation of the social code.

Starting up a medical marijuana club in the tolerant pot-playgrounds of the West Coast is one thing, but homesteading in the social jungle of mega-urban Ontario is quite another. The medical marijuana clubs in Ontario are setting up shop in a war zone and do not enjoy the aura of whateverism that the western division can count on. This is "Pot is Bad Land" and to toy with that concept is to invite disaster. It's inch-by-inch gains here, and the gnawing fear that the police may at any moment burst into the room hovers over the Ontario clubs.

But enough of that crap – onwards to victory over darkness.

A vague cease-fire has been negotiated with the pot hawks of Ontario, thanks in large part to the efforts of Prof Alan Young, Canada's top pot-defence lawyer. Young acts as council to Ontario's medical marijuana clubs and shepherds them towards credibility. It has not been an easy task.

The police are well aware of the Ontario clubs and their diplomatic service bringing pot to real honest-to-goodness sick people, without any law to give them permission to do so. As long as proper procedure is followed, the police seem to be content watching the clubs from afar, ready to pounce if there is any of that California hanky-panky that got Saint Dennis Peron into such trouble. As long as the salad goes to registered medical patients and none whatsoever leaks into recreational lungscapes, unblinking Ontario cops will allow some playtime activity, for now at least.

Even one sale to the recreational market will blow the Ontario clubs to dishonour. Like banks, where the tellers play with wads of cash each and every day but cannot take even one coin home as a souvenir, the clubs are learning that the privilege to dispense marijuana - a controlled substance - is hardball and not to be screwed around with in any degree. It's a sacred trust, don't fuck it up.

Of the four Medical Marijuana Clubs in Canada, one is in Vancouver and three are in southern Ontario cities: Toronto, London and Kitchener. The Ontario clubs are very loosely associated and operate under very different management styles.That's pioneers for you – non standardized but pursuing the same survival goals.

Toronto: paranoid teflon-tummies

The Toronto club is very secretive, formal and somewhat stand-offish. Its directors conduct business behind a steel door on the 8th floor of a downtown Toronto commercial office building, which they share with numerous left of centre and eco-benevolent organizations. Toronto's leading headshops and AIDS support groups all offer sustainable support to the Toronto Club, both financially and materially.

The Toronto club brings medical pot to deserving registered patients in proper order, but I didn't find them to be super-fun guys… in fact, a little paranoid. But that is hardly surprising considering the nature of their work and the severity of the law. It takes a certain type with teflon stomach linings to do this sort of work in a city that calls itself "The Big Smoke" – referring to the quality of breathable air rather than the headquarters for medical marijuana clubs.

London: Harichys are downtown & open

In sharp contrast are the Medical Marijuana Clubs in London and Kitchener. These are much smaller operations and run by resident pot goddesses who are fun and compassionate people. The London Cannabis Compassionate Club is run by Lynn Harichy and her husband Mike.

Lynn Harichy was busted in the spring of 1997 for one skinny joint, however she did actually hold it aloft in front of the London Police Headquarters to draw attention to her plight as a Multiple Sclerosis sufferer who can obtain some degree of relief with marijuana.

The Harichys have recently rented a small storefront office in downtown London where they openly operate their medical marijuana club. London police are aware of their activities and are carefully watching for any variation in service to the patients. Although no uniformed officers have dropped by to snoop around, Harichy is fairly certain that they are on top of what is going on in the club. She doesn't seem to care as she is behaving, well, properly under the circumstances.

Kitchener: Starr light, Starr bright

The undisputed Queen of Medical Marijuana in the city of Kitchener, Ontario, is a charismatic young woman known locally as "Starr". She began her "Marijuana Used for Medicine" club at about the same time that her friend and pot colleague Harichy started hers in London: the winter of 1998.

Starr runs her medical marijuana club single-handedly. She sources out the finest buds the region can produce for her 50 registered patients. She signs up about 5 new patients every week, which is about one every working day. Each patient comes with a complete recommendation from a real medical doctor, paperwork is a big part of her day.

When I asked her why she sells pot at cost to sick people she smiles, "Because there is a need and I can do it." She is indeed a mighty woman and I pity the poor mortal who crosses her on a bridge of moral uncertainty. She is altruistic without being flakey, has a clearly defined goal and a well researched strategy about how to get there, with back up plans if people along the way let her down or get shot down themselves.

I travelled with her on her rounds, delivering pot to her registered patients, and I will vouch that these people are not faking to get pot. These are serious cases that find a puff or two of righteous weed helps considerably to bring some modicum of comfort to their seriously pain compromised daily lives.

Some of these people ingest medical morphine like breath mints, and find that pot helps them deal with pain, while morphine masks pain but leaves them mumbling morons in its wake, constipated and confused. Pot is also fun, and fun has a high value in these cases, let me tell you.

The outstanding feature of Starr's operation in Kitchener is the high level of professionalism I encountered. She is not a medical patient, and has never been busted for pot, but she has indeed smoked the herb and knows her way around the myths and and sinkholes of marijuana lore in the late 20th century. This is very helpful when she goes out to inspect pot suppliers' gardens and make inventory purchases.

She has a high degree of insight about the curious nature of the cannabis plant in general and cannot be persuaded to purchase anything but the best and freshest well grown medical produce for her patients. If you can imagine a modern-day Florence Nightingale with a bong instead of a lantern, you have some idea of how the future of medical marijuana clubs will be.

At present, Starr buys high end pot from local growers at slightly below wholesale prices, but looks towards the day she will be able to grow even finer pot herself on-site at a fraction of the cost, for her patients' joy and pleasure. "There will never be a reason to import marijuana from beyond our borders," she tells me over coffee, "The material available in Ontario is perfectly fine."

She spends about $300 for 28 grams of the finest dry, manicured primo marijuana. There is no tax on illicit goods at this point in time, in Ontario at least. The quality is at least as good as the finest recreational pot that can be had anywhere on earth.She makes this material available in 7 gram units to her patients at about $10 per gram, hardly a major profit margin.

At about three medical joints from each gram of high end pot, it costs the registered patients about $2.50 - $4 per dose joint. This is about half the price of "legal" joints purchased in any Amsterdam cafe.

Delivering medical pot in such small units of 7 grams maximum ensures freshness and prevents the patients from being tempted to sell any of their medicine for recreational purposes. Again, this was carefully considered by Starr as a gesture of responsible action well in advance.

Starr enjoys a puff of weed from her own little bag at the end of a hard day like anyone else, but you will not find her dipping into the medical stash, that would be unethical. "I don't smoke pot when I am working," she tells me. "It's not professional to be stoned at work."

The Future

Starr hopes to have an office within a year staffed by qualified herbalists and volunteer assistants. Many of the club patients are eager to help out in any way to ensure that the club succeeds. There will not be a smoking room, this is for certain. The club is not a smoke hole, a lounge, a country club or a drop in centre – it is a medical centre.

Starr points to the pharmacy across the street and notes that the customers walk in with prescriptions prepared by their doctors, obtain their medicine and go home to use it under direction. They do not open their prescription bottles and down a few pills in the store. The same would hold true with the medical marijuana club policy: go home with your medicine, we are here only to answer your questions and provide your medicine in a safe and professional atmosphere,

Starr agrees that the ultimate goal is the lofty ideal of "get free – give free." This I understand as meaning gifts of premium bud from benevolent growers would be accepted on a free basis and handed out free to the patients. This would shatter the drug monopoly and reduce the weed to the basic herb in service of humanity that it could and should become. It is the tree of life, and it will still be some time before we are able to transfer it for the healing of the nations. Maybe in our lifetime will this great shift in the social axis occur.

Till then, Starr is preparing for the day when the law of the land reflects social reality. Right now, society at large pretty much supports the idea of legalizing marijuana for medical purposes. The law has only to catch up with the wake of society to climb aboard the ship of reality, rather than water ski far, far behind.

Pot may not be legal in Ontario, but brave people of the feminine persuasion such as Lynn and Starr are behaving in a dress rehearsal as if it already was. That is, with responsibility, a certain amount of respect, and lots of fun, for fun is a critical aspect of health care that cannot be replaced with anything else.

• Marijuana Used for Medicine, Kitchener, Ontario: Starr at (519) 744-4721;
• London Cannabis Compassion Centre, London, Ontario: Lynn & Mike Hiarchy at (519) 474-3982 or 474-3943
• Medical Marijuana Research Centre, Toronto, Ontario: Warren Hitzig at (416) 961-6672
• Cannabis Compassion Club, Vancouver BC: Hilary Black at (604) 258-7458
• Lawyer Alan Young, Toronto, Ontario: (416) 736-5595;

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