Toronto Star, page A26
Dale Anne Freed
Medical Pot Users To Form Buyer Network
'We're not a bunch of back-alley drug dealers'
They smoke marijuana and they proudly inhale.
They say they don't do it for pleasure but to reduce pain.
But those in the group of about 50 people who met at 519 Church Street community centre last night must produce a letter from a doctor before they can get marijuana through the non-profit Medical Marijuana Buyer's Clubs of Ontario, said Neev Tapiero, who represents a Toronto buyer's club.
The club opened a location in Toronto more than 18 months ago; another is scheduled to open soon. Mississauga, Oakville, and Etobicoke are accepting applications. The London centre is expected to open in late March, Peterborough and Kitchener in April, and Guelph in May.
Only one other marijuana medical buyers' club exists in Canada, said Alan Young, a lawyer for the group. The Compassionate Club is located in Vancouver.
The group cautions that it sells to medical users only: "We're not a bunch of back-alley drug dealers," Tapiero said.
Those receiving the illegal drug must claim to have conditions ranging from cancer and AIDS/HIV to muscular dystrophy, glaucoma, epilepsy and paraplegia or quadriplegia.
Lawyer Alan Young told those gathered that selling pot was not something to be taken lightly. Those who sell cannabis "potentially face life imprisonment for trafficking," he said.
Federal drug laws make it illegal to possess cannabis or its derivatives which include marijuana, resin and hashish.
The group promises to sell marijuana which is pure and free of mould at prices below street value. Members say they plan to keep about 30 grams on hand in their buyers' locations.
Street value for marijuana is about $90 for 7 grams, the group said.
Lynn Harichy, 36, who with her husband Mike operates a buyers' club in London, says the paralyzing effects of multiple sclerosis are greatly reduced when she smokes marijuana.
"I smoke 5 or 6 joings a day," she said. "If I don't smoke for eight days, then my mind is denser. I'd shake a lot." She noted marijuana reduces her pain and nausea, too.
Her husband Mike thinks it is a lot safer for people who need the drug for medicinal purposes to buy it from a recognized group. "Otherwise you put yourself in jeopardy," said Mike who has bought his wife marijuana from biker gangs.
AIDS activist Jim Wakeford, 53, was noticeably absent from last night's meeting.
Wakeford wishes the medical marijuana clubs well but is skeptical about their hopes for success: "I think their hearts are in the right place."
Wakeford was part of such a group called CALM last winter, started by Tapiero. But, after 4 1/2 months, the club closed - in part "because of people's fear of entrapment," Wakeford said.
At this point, Wakeford smokes half a joint a day to ease nausea from a potent cocktail of 40 AIDS pills he must swallow each day.
The former executive director of the Casey House Foundation is going to court hoping to change the law so people with HIV and AIDS can use marijuana.
"If my case can help others I would be the happiest man in Canada."
Wakeford's case is to open in Ontario court, general division, May 4.
In December, a provincial court gave epileptic Torontonian Terry Parker the right to smoke marijuana to ease his symptoms - a ruling that has been appealed to a higher court.
Wakeford hopes to raise $15,000 to bring medical experts from abroad to testify to the medical benefits of marijuana for those with AIDS. (Those who want to help him can reach him at 540 Church Street Apt. 311 Toronto Ont M4Y 2E1.)