Jim Wakeford - Canada's best hope for medical marijuana?
"I nearly died twice this year," says Jim Wakeford. "The first near-death experience was caused by the AIDS medications I'm on ? the second time, it was from wasting [syndrome]."
Wakeford relays this in a causal voice, as he lounges in his spacious, sun-drenched Toronto apartment. 53 years old, Wakeford was diagnosed HIV positive in 1989. The medicines that keep him alive also make him nauseous, which is why he only weighs 129 pounds on a 5'8'' frame. He'd weigh even less if he didn't smoke pot each day to stimulate his appetite and soothe his nausea.
Wakeford doesn't look strong enough to take on the federal government in court, although that's exactly what he's doing.
Wakeford - who ran a drug treatment facility for teens in the '60s and a hospice for AIDS victims in the '80s ? is suing the feds to get access to "good, clean and affordable marijuana."
A medicinal cannabis user for two years, Wakeford wants state-provided pot because black-market grass is inconsistent in quality and too expensive.
With the help of Osgoode-Hall lawyer Alan Young, Wakeford launched a constitutional challenge in Ontario Court's General Division. The feds were charged with violating Wakeford's life, liberty and security by denying him the medical use of marijuana.
Young ? a long-time drug reform activist who defended hemp store owner Chris Clay ? paraded an impressive line up of witnesses and sworn statements before Justice Harry LaForme for several days this August.
Among those offering Wakeford support were two prominent cancer patients: Professor Stephen Jay Gould and lawyer Tim Danson. Gould is a world-renowned Harvard academic who used pot after undergoing chemotherapy. Danson, who represented the families of Paul Bernardo's murder victims, stated in an affidavit that marijuana offered "the difference between feeling human and not human" after he received chemotherapy.
Even the Crown's only witness, Dr Harold Kalant of the University of Toronto Pharmacology Department, said he believed Wakeford could benefit from medicinal marijuana.
Ironically, the feds are funding Wakeford's attempt to sue the federal government.
Wakeford received $50,000 from the Court Challenges Program, a Winnipeg- based initiative which doles out cash for "court cases that advance language and equality rights guaranteed under Canada's constitution," according to their website. The program is funded by the Federal Department of Canadian Heritage, which suggests all federal bureaucrats aren't as opposed to legalization as the Justice Department.
Young contends that, as an AIDS patient, Wakeford's equality rights are being violated because the feds won't let him use the one medicine that improves his quality of life.
Back in the '70s, American glaucoma patient Robert Randall sued the US federal government to get access to marijuana. Thanks to his actions, a small handful of American medical pot users were granted immunity from prosecution and supplied with government-grown weed. This handful of medical pot patients were covered under a now discontinued initiative called the Compassionate Investigative New Drug Program.
Wakeford hopes his case does the same trick in Canada.
"I'm hoping a victory for me will be a victory for everyone with HIV and AIDS," says Wakeford, "and everyone else who uses medical marijuana."
On September 7, Wakeford's suit against the government was dismissed by the judge, who ruled that although marijuana has medicinal value, it is up to Parliament to overturn the law. Wakeford and Young will be appealing the decision on an expedited basis.