May. 22, 2002. 09:30 PM
TORONTO - A 38-year-old Burlington woman will be one of seven seriously
ill Canadians who will step into the spotlight at a Queen's Park press
conference in Toronto today in a bid to force the federal government to
provide them with medical marijuana they are legally entitled to use.
The seven are named in a civil lawsuit being launched by Osgoode Hall law professor Alan Young and three of his former law students against Health Canada for its failure to "attend to the medical needs of sick people who use marijuana for therapeutic purposes".
Alison Myrden, who lives in Burlington, suffers from multiple sclerosis. She smokes marijuana every day when she can get it. She lives on a disability pension, so her mom and her boyfriend often provide the money to pay for it. She needs it to relieve otherwise constant facial pain from MS. Other applicants named in the legal action suffer from AIDS, hepatitis C, a spinal cord injury, epilepsy and depression. One is from rural Nova Scotia; six are from southwestern Ontario.
Myrden says she and hundreds of others with special authorization to use marijuana for medical reasons find the current laws "unacceptable." They can use marijuana without fear of being charged by police, but most have to buy it illegally from drug dealers and pay up to $300 for an ounce of the drug, the current black-market price.
"It's not a monetary suit. It's a civil suit because we're trying to get attention and change the Constitution," Myrden said in an interview.
Young expects an application to go before the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in July. Federal lawyers have already objected to two dates he has requested, yet Young believes a court date will be set sometime in July. Too many sick people are involved to justify a delay, he said.
"The government has a nonsensical drug policy," said Young. "None of us are interested in suing for money. We're suing for binding legal rulings which will compel the government to do the right thing."
Young and his colleagues are suing under the Charter of Rights. They want the Marijuana Medical Access Regulation, which came into effect on July 30, 2001, struck down as unconstitutional, based on a failure of the federal government to attend to the needs of sick people.
The regulation allows people who are terminally ill, or those with MS, spinal chord injury or disease, cancer, AIDS/HIV infection, severe arthritis and epileptic seizures, to smoke marijuana. As well, those who have a serious medical condition in which conventional treatments have failed are also eligible, with declarations from two medical specialists.
In a release, Young and lawyer Leora Shemesh say they want the court to order the federal government to deal with the "thorny issue of supply and access."
The MMAR permits medical marijuana users to cultivate their own plants, or designate someone to grow marijuana for them, but Young and Shemesh say many are too ill and don't have the resources to look after cultivation.
The lawyers, in their release, say they want Ottawa to begin distributing "the hundreds of pounds of marijuana recently harvested in Manitoba under federal contract by Prairie Plant Systems. It is a cruel joke for Health Canada to have contracted for the production of medicinal marijuana and then simply allow the medicine to be destroyed because Health Canada has not yet established any distribution network for the provision of this medicine to exempted Canadians."
Andrew Swift, spokesperson for Health Canada, said Prairie Plant Systems, which has a $5.7 million contract to grow marijuana at an underground mine in Flin Flon, Man., hasn't produced a "standard strength" of marijuana. It harvested 75 kilograms (165 pounds) of marijuana but its strength wasn't consistent because the seeds came from RCMP raids. "The intention was to use seeds from the National Institute on Drug Abuse in the U.S., but they were not available." Swift stressed that once a strong and even strength strain of marijuana is produced, it will go to medical researchers for clinical trials.
Meanwhile, the number of authorized medical marijuana users in Canada grew by 50 from April to May. Swift said 255 people have received approval under the recent regulation and 658 were given federal exemptions starting in 1999, before the new guidelines were introduced.
"It's growing every month," said Swift.
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