More MS news articles for July 2001

Compassionate about people, not law

New organization set to provide cheap pot to very ill

Thursday 19 July 2001
Susan Hagan, Journal Staff Writer
The Edmonton Journal

A new organization plans to supply cheap, high-quality marijuana to people suffering from illnesses such as AIDS and multiple sclerosis.

Working outside the law, the Edmonton Compassion Network will also push for reforming marijuana laws and speak up for sick people, spokesman Munir Ahmad says.

"We want to be closely involved because we are the people with the knowledge and the supply. I'm frustrated by the drug laws. That is why I'm acting now."

Ahmad shouldn't expect any compassion from city police.

City police were not aware of the Compassion Society, but a spokesman said if anyone is caught growing or trafficking drugs, police have to lay charges.

"There would be no exceptions," said Dean Parthenis. "Police have no choice but to enforce the law.

"Unless the laws changed in a dramatic way, that is what officers would have to do."

Health Minister Allan Rock announced in April new regulations that allow certain people with serious illnesses to use marijuana to ease pain. But many say marijuana access is limited and exemptions take too long, prompting activists to organize.

About 200 people in Canada have court exemptions that allow them to consume and grow marijuana.

The Edmonton organization, based on a similar group in Britain, will apply for non-profit status and direct the $8 per gram they earn from sales back into operations. Members must have a doctor's note and sign a release form. So far, they have no members.

Ahmad, a 23-year-old University of Alberta student, said amounts will be limited to doctor-recommended dosages. People who have cancer or AIDS-related wasting syndrome, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, chronic pain or epilepsy are eligible to join the group, which will deliver marijuana to their homes.

While Ahmad is uncomfortable flouting the Criminal Code, he said the Compassion Network is about morality, ethics and compassion, not laws.

"I believe in the full legalization of marijuana ," he said. "I am concerned (about breaking laws), but it is an important thing I have to do now. We plan to speak with police. They have no idea who we are."

In Canada, more than 31,000 marijuana-related charges were laid in 1999, two-thirds of them for possession.

The fledgling group has gained support from AIDS workers who want seriously ill people to have better access to marijuana.

Sherry McKibben, executive director of HIV Edmonton, which provides support and counselling as well as education programs, said if it takes a rebel group to break laws and build awareness, she backs their efforts. Marijuana eases pain, increases appetite and reduces nausea, helping people with AIDS to lead more productive lives, she said.

"We would support increased access for marijuana," McKibben said. "Of course they need to operate outside the law. But perhaps it is the laws that need to change."