Wednesday June 20 11:46 PM EST
CALGARY (CP) - Medical marijuana crusader Grant Krieger was justified in breaking the law and selling pot to chronically ill people, a jury ruled Wednesday night. The one-man, 11-woman panel accepted defence lawyer Adriano Iovinelli's argument his client was saving lives when he supplied marijuana to the sick.
"It's fantastic, I feel great," Krieger said moments after the verdict was read.
"I'm ready to start providing medicine for people who are ill. This is a major step forward."
Krieger, 46, who has multiple sclerosis and has been fighting for more than five years to have the drug legalized for medical purposes, had been charged with one count of possession for the purpose of trafficking.
Iovinelli said outside court the verdict reflected public opinion on the current state of Canada's laws on using marijuana for medicinal reasons.
"It's a message to the government that we've got to change the laws," he said.
During final arguments Iovinelli said his client was clearly in possession of the drug for the purpose of trafficking, but broke the law out of necessity.
"This is the first time I've ever said to a jury 'my client did it,'" Iovinelli told jurors.
"Mr. Krieger believes what he is doing is not wrong, what he believes is he is supplying individuals with medicare they can't get anywhere else."
Krieger readily admitted growing 29 pot plans in his home in August 1999. He said the crop was designed to help the chronically ill - who came to his Universal Compassion Club - ease their pain and suffering.
Crown prosecutor Scott Couper argued despite Krieger's motivation, he didn't meet the strict legal test of necessity.
"Ask yourselves whether Mr. Krieger's belief of imminent and pressing peril compelled him to set up this grow operation," Couper told jurors.
But Iovinelli argued Krieger knows first-hand to what depths individuals might go to ease their suffering.
"At the end of the day it was necessary for Mr. Krieger to provide marijuana to his clients out of fear that they would commit suicide," the lawyer said.
"You can shut your door, you don't have to have humanity, you don't have to help anyone else ... Mr. Krieger made it his problem because this is who (he) is."
Const. Christian Vermette had testified he arrested Krieger when he spotted two pot plants on a table in the backyard of the home while he was there on unrelated business.
Vermette said Krieger immediately told him he had other marijuana plants growing inside the house.
In April, the federal government announced people suffering from severe forms of arthritis will be given the right to possess and smoke marijuana legally if they can prove they can't be treated with other drugs to alleviate relentless pain.
The regulations also allow terminal patients, and people with AIDS, multiple sclerosis, spinal-cord injuries, epilepsy and other serious conditions to use the drug if it eases their symptoms.
The measures also allow the government to license third parties to grow marijuana for individual sufferers who can't grow it for themselves.
The new rules create three categories of people who can possess the drug: those with terminal illnesses with a prognosis of death within one year, those with symptoms associated with serious medical conditions, and those suffering from symptoms with other medical conditions.
For those who will be allowed to produce the drug, the rules will set maximums for the number of indoor and outdoor plants to be grown, authorize a grower to receive and possess seeds and allow for site inspections and criminal-record checks of designated growers.
In December, Ottawa awarded Prairie Plant Systems Inc. of Saskatoon a contract to grow marijuana for Health Canada for research purposes.
The first crop is expected to available later this year.