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Finding Medicinal Pot in TO

Compassion Clubs

Tanya Gulliver

Despite new regulations for the legalized use of marijuana now in effect, Toronto residents suffering from chronic pain can access two "Compassion clubs" both located near the gay village.

The new rules aren't all they're hyped up to be.

"The new approach now makes things harder," says Ottawa doctor Don Kilby of the new federal government guidelines, which came into effect Jul 31 - He's a longtime advocate for medicinal marijuana.

"These am people who are not that mobile, can't get around and are often plagued with multiple appointments. The bureaucracy has made a mockery of the health minister's intentions."

Accessing marijuana through Health Canada can take more than a year. It requires proving every other medical treatment has been exhausted, and insists on referrals from several physicians and specialists.

Locally, the Toronto Compassion Centre (TCC) and Cannabis As Living Medicine (CALM) both provide information and access to low-cost marijuana for people who meet their qualifications, which are much less stringent than Health Canada's.

The centres require a letter from your family doctor indicating that you have an illness that would benefit from the use of marijuana. Qualifying illnesses include AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, epilepsy, arthritis or intractable pain, hepatitis C and fibromyalgia.

At TCC, seniors (ages 65 and over) can have unrestricted access without a doctor's letter.

Staff at both centres both refused multiple requests for interviews.

So this reporter called and posed as a potential client.

A woman named Mary Jane, who answered the phone at TCC, said the centre is five years old. "We run strictly on balls and tolerance. We have the nerve to do it."

She added that police, including Toronto Chief Julian Fantino, don't want to be seen arresting sick people, and know that it would become a huge media story.

A representative from CALM said: "You absolutely are breaking the law - we survive by medical necessity. We give you a membership card that has worked for some people okay, not for others. It depends a lot on the cop, what kind of day they are having, what kind of mood they are in, etc."

Sgt Jim Muscat, of corporate communications at the Toronto Police Service, says, 'We enforce the law as it's written and let the courts decide. If it's a Criminal Code offence we enforce iL If it's a Narcotic Control Act offence then we will enforce it"

When asked about the idea that a club card will help someone get off the hook, he replied: "You mean a discretionary thing. I'm not in the officers' shoes. I don't know what they would do."

The TCC volunteer claimed that no one from the centre is in jail or has been busted; CALM said that the first person was caught in November.

Mary Swale (a pseudonym, because her pot use is not legal is a woman in her late 60s who says she's suffered from arthritis for 10 years.

After sudden rapid deterioration and prescription drugs only partially helping, she decided to try marijuana and her doctor started the application to Health Canada in June.

Swale found connecting difficult at first but eventually got registered with CALM and is now getting marijuana delivered weekly.

She says: "It does make some difference, although not as much as I had hoped. A nice little buzz is pleasant." CALM is at (416) 367-3459. TCC is at (416) 654-6120.

with files from Capital Xtra

Xtra Aug25,2001 News Page 11

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