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POSTED AT 12:16 AM EDT Wednesday, Jul. 30, 2003

Ottawa endangering lives of the seriously ill: lawyer

By GAY ABBATE
From Wednesday's Globe and Mail

The federal government is endangering the lives of seriously ill Canadians by forcing them into the black market to obtain marijuana for medicinal use, Ontario's highest court was told yesterday.

Lawyer Alan Young told the Ontario Court of Appeal that Ottawa is violating the constitutional right of Canadians to choose their own medical treatment by not making the illegal narcotic available.

"If you can't access the drug of choice there is no choice," said Mr. Young, who represents seven seriously ill Canadians and the operator of a Toronto compassion club which supplied the weed to the sick.

Yesterday's hearing before the appeal court marked the latest legal battle over whether the federal government should provide marijuana to those who are prescribed it to ease their pain when other treatment has failed.

The three appellate judges were asked by lawyer Croft Michaelson, acting for the Department of Justice, to overturn a lower-court ruling.

The January decision by Mr. Justice Sidney Lederman of the Ontario Superior Court concluded that the patients' rights to life, liberty and security of the person under section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms were violated because they were forced to buy their medication on the streets.

Judge Lederman gave the federal government six months in which to pass regulations to ensure a legal supply of pot to medical users or see its entire marijuan-possession law struck down.

Mr. Michaelson asked the court to overturn Judge Lederman's ruling because the constitution does not oblige the federal government to distribute pot.

"Section 7 does not require the government to establish a legal source of unproved drugs because individuals choose to use them," he said, adding that Judge Lederman erred in requiring the government to establish a safe, legal supply.

"This case is not about deprivation," he said.

The act that Judge Lederman found invalid, the Medical Marijuana Access Regulations, was passed in 2000 to replace the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act which the Ontario Court of Appeal had ruled unconstitutional because it failed to provide exceptions for the medical use of marijuana.

Terry Parker, who won in that case, was one of the parties in yesterday's hearing.

Outside court, Mr. Young said the outcome of this case, and likely an appeal by the losing party to the Supreme Court of Canada is important because "we may be on the cusp of discovering the 21st Century panacea."

Marijuana, he added, is a product that "will have more universal applications than aspirin."



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