[Media Awareness Project]

PUB ART: Weed Report

Newshawk: Michael Foster (crosstown@igs.net) Source: 'Vice' magazine Pubdate: November '97 Editors note: Our newshawk and author writes: Here's the December column from Montreal's 'Vice' magazine (banned at Carleton University in Ottawa). 60,000 copies per month, distributed for free in Los Angeles, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Atlanta, Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa-Hull, Montreal, New York and Halifax. If you live in one of these cities and can't find it, e-mail me for locations.

Weed Report

Although I've been a pot smoker for a good number of years, I never really gave much thought to its medicinal properties. I had heard of people suffering from AIDS or receiving chemotherapy using pot to stimulate their appetite and how pot smoking miraculously helped glaucoma sufferers, but until I opened my store, I had no idea of the wide range of ailments that people used marijuana to alleviate. Suddenly, I met people who claimed that it controlled their epilepsy. I met people with Crohn's disease who said that pot was the only thing they found to effectively quell nausea. I met people suffering from severe depression and saw firsthand how cannabis helped them to cope with daily life. I met people in obvious pain and confined to wheelchairs using marijuana to achieve a better quality of life. The most common thread among all of these users' stories was that smoking pot allowed them once again to take control of their lives and to medicate themselves without the side effects of some prescription drugs.

Lynn Harichy is a 36-year-old mother with multiple sclerosis. Her suffering is very real. She finds that smoking pot controls the pain and muscle spasms associated with her illness. It also gives her the energy to be more productive. "I have taken many prescription drugs…for my illness," she told me. "Most cost too much and the side effects are sometimes worse than the illness itself."

A resident of London, Ontario, Lynn recently testified about her medical use at Chris Clay's constitutional challenge to Canada's pot laws. After Chris' conviction, Lynn picked up the gauntlet herself. On September 15 of this year, in the presence of about 50 supporters, Lynn had herself arrested in front of the London Police station. Under Canada's new Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, simple possession of marijuana is a summary conviction offense. It carries a maximum fine of $1,000.00 and/or 6 months in jail. While she smokes marijuana to ease her pain, Lynn does not consider herself a criminal and resents the government's ongoing decision to classify her as such.

"I take full responsibility for my actions" she states. "It would just be a lot nicer if I was given the opportunity to have choices instead of being told like some young child that I'm not responsible enough."

Until July, Lynn was able to access marijuana through CALM (Cannabis As Legitimate Medicine), a Toronto buyers' club. Since it has closed its doors, she is forced once again to buy her pot from the black market. At present, the only 'above ground' buyers' club in Canada is in Vancouver. Police there have assumed a 'hands off' policy as long as purchases are for legitimate medical use. How the nation's other police forces react will surely be seen over the next couple of years as more of these organizations appear and clandestine operations become more visible.

An Angus Reid poll of 1,515 Canadians, taken in the last week of October, shows 83% of the respondents supporting access to marijuana for medical use. 51% of the respondents favoured across the board legalization for any use.

Among the medical community the jury is still out when it comes to the medicinal value of marijuana. Harvard University's Dr. Lester Grinspoon sees marijuana as a great medicine of the future, currently suffering from a negative social stigma. Many doctors, unable for professional reasons to recommend it to their patients, quietly acknowledge that 'it won't hurt ' when patients confide their self-medication. Other patients are met with scorn or derision. One doctor (who shall remain nameless) buys bongs and pipes at my store and thinks that pot is a delightful recreational substance. He remains unconvinced, however of its' true value as medicine and thinks that many of pot's perceived benefits may be psychosomatic. I don't agree with that, but even in cases where it may be true, is the end result not still beneficial? If the patient feels better, aren't his or her interests being served? We could (and probably will) argue for many years over marijuana's effectiveness as medicine. I'm sure that countless studies in the next few years will both prove and refute each other's findings. In the meantime, perhaps we should trust the judgement of the sufferer; the person who claims that smoking a bit of pot each day improves the quality of their lives. Are they not the ultimate judge of what works for them and makes their lives more liveable? As one gentleman said to me, cane in hand, as he maneuvered about my store, "When I smoke pot, I can dance!"

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