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External link to Hitzig V. Canada decision at CANLII

Newshawk: CMAP (
Pubdate: Wed, 15 Jan 2003
Source: Toronto Sun (CN ON)
Copyright: 2003, Canoe Limited Partnership.
Author: Thane Burnett


BURLINGTON -- Appearances can be misleading.

I'm looking at the face that made her a captain of the cheerleader squad and a model.

The face that has the strong bones of her late father.

The face that, as we sit here, is wracked from within by a sharp, ugly pain that she tries to dull by pressing her finger harshly against her high cheek -- while lighting up another joint.

"It'll help ... just give it time," says the 39-year-old former corrections officer, holding the stubby end of the smoke with a pair of scissors, and taking a drag.

A short time goes by, and the pain dulls.

A small pile of the drug -- bought on the street for $300, and a quarter of what she'll need this month -- sits in front of her. Ready for the next time.

Along with morphine and pills, this is her medication.

It is also victory, such as it is, for Alison Myrden, who, suffering from multiple sclerosis, is one of a handful of medical marijuana exemptees who helped persuade a judge recently to strike down the federal regulations governing their use of the drug.

On Jan. 9, lawyers acting for exemptees, including Alison, won the landmark Superior Court decision which found the current Marijuana Medicinal Access Regulations unconstitutional. The courts gave the government until July 9 to fix the regulations or supply the drug itself -- a green thumb task which seems anyone can do in their basement but Canada can't perfect.

Like the MS associated tic which digs into the nerves of Alison's face constantly, the win has been one of several daggers into Canada's weak pot laws.

Nothing On Books

Just days ago, a second Ontario judge this month tossed out a simple possession charge against a non-exemptee, finding there is nothing on the books forbidding the possession of small amounts of the drug.

Since then, a great deal of news ink has been poured into the cracks of prosecuting those found with the equivalent of a joint in their ashtray.

The marijuana laws in this country, it seems, and if you excuse the obvious, are going up in smoke.

But my concern -- and the reason for visiting Alison -- is that I think the fight of exemptees may be clouded by the larger debate of smoking-up in this country.

Let's start from where the Superior Court decision leaves Alison, and others who have Ottawa's blessing, and a doctor's prescription, to use marijuana. On appearance, you would think the win was immediate.

"We're all elated," Alison says. "( But ) it doesn't change anything right now. I still have to buy my medicine on the black market ... on the street."

As we talk, her mother, Joyce Myrden, is nearby. Years ago, she wouldn't have known the smell of pot -- a name which she says degrades the drug. Now, she's driven her daughter to dark haunts to buy her medication from people who don't use full names and give no quality assurance of drugs held in sandwich bags.

In 2000, epileptic Terry Parker won an Ontario Court of Appeal, backing his right to smoke pot for medicinal purposes. We are now in 2003, and the federal government continues to bungle getting seriously ill exemptees a safe, secure source of a drug that is less potent than many over-the-counter medications.

This far into the game, the public debate shouldn't be whether the provisions are unconstitutional, but how much drug plans will reimburse medical users when they submit claims from their corner pharmacy.

While including exemptees into the wider argument of drug use in Canada may make things more difficult, Alison, and others holding plastic, federal-issued permit cards, argue their best chance to get their medicine easily is to simply make it totally legal.

"Put an age limit on it and put it ... next to the cigarettes," she says, as her mom nods in agreement.

That, I suggest, may be a way off. Too far off for the sick and dying who can find relief in marijuana today.

Cruel Hand

I could care less about the 20-year-old loafer caught with a joint. I do, however, believe exemptees have been dealt a cruel hand by Ottawa.

At one time, the sick thought they had won the right to get medicine which clearly helps them. But appearances, when politicians are involved, can be deceptive.

People are dying without the chance. People are in pain. Others won't dare try to seek out marijuana because they're too unsure which alley to walk down.

Most simply can't afford to keep buying it this way.

The court win brings patients like Alison closer to what they deserve. But what they need is more than an appearance of relief. They need their medication.

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