On March 3, 1999, Canadian Minister of Health Allan Rock made a seemingly wonderful announcement: the Canadian government is going to undertake clinical trials of medical marijuana. Cannabis enthusiasts were expected to celebrate.
When reporters asked if he had ever smoked marijuana, Rock smiled the grin of a cheshire cat who had just swallowed the world’s largest hash brownie. Meanwhile, he remained adamant that he was not talking about legalizing cannabis for recreational purposes.
“This has nothing to do with legalizing marijuana,” he told reporters. “This has to do with the fact there are people in Canada suffering from terminal illnesses who have symptoms which are very difficult, and who believe that smoking marijuana can help them.”
Despite an abundance of high-quality marijuana available all across Canada, the Canadian Health Department has already announced they will seek to acquire their pot from the US Food and Drug Administration, sadly known for supplying medical patients and researchers with schwaggy buds full of seeds and stems.
The Bloc Challenges the Rock
Canadian marijuana activists are not convinced of Rock’s sincerity. It’s been over a year since he and Justice Minister Anne McLellan first promised to open debate on the issue. Yet Rock’s announcement came only a week before a planned Bloc Quebecois motion, led by MP Bernard Bigras, to legalize medical marijuana.
“I think it’s a minister’s campaign to destabilize all the people working on the proposal,” said Bigras. Despite Rock’s announcement, Bigras introduced a motion on March 4 that the government would officially continue doing everything it could to legalize medical marijuana. Bigras has challenged Rock to vote in favour of the motion when it comes to a vote in June.
With both the Tories and NDP on his side, Bigras plans to send out 10,000 postcards to rally support from Canadians.
Refusing to help
Allan Rock has already demonstrated his intransigence with his refusal to assist AIDS patient James Wakeford, who launched a civil suit against the government last summer, demanding access to life-saving medicinal marijuana.
The court ruled that Wakeford had to first apply for a special ministerial exemption, which Rock’s department had never mentioned despite years of correspondence. After six months of letter written requests for an exemption, Rock would only reply that he was giving Wakeford’s desperate plea his “careful attention.” Wakeford is now back in the courts, claiming that he is being ignored by the federal government, and that his right to effective medical treatment is being denied.
Medical marijuana busts
On March 5, Allan Rock’s spokesman announced that the RCMP had not been instructed to change any of their marijuana policies, and that until the law was actually changed it was still open season on medical pot growers and users. “The law remains the same for now,” said the spokesman.
As if to make the point clear, that same day police raided the London Cannabis Compassion Centre. The club had been openly operating since July 1998, and had actually announced that it was going to close down, pending the outcome of the clinical trials announced by Rock. Perhaps police were afraid that their investigation would be ruined if the club shut down, but they launched their raid on the club’s last day, minutes before the very last delivery was about to leave.
Compassion Centre manager Mike Harichy was arrested and faces charges of possession and trafficking. His wife, Lynn Harichy, is owner of the Centre. She was not charged, although she still faces charges from a 1997 protest where she smoked a joint in front of police.
Two weeks later, on March 17, police raided the Ottawa medical marijuana grow operation of Aubert Martin, who provided pot for a “small circle of AIDS and cancer sufferers” under the name Canna Pharm Canada. Police targeted another site apparently related to Canna Pharm later that afternoon.
One of Martin’s clients was AIDS patient Jean Pariseau, who lives in the apartment above Martin. Pariseau has himself been busted for pot plants twice before, and was also publicly involved in advocating for Bigras’ legislation.
In December 1997, Health Canada rejected an application by Pariseau for him to receive marijuana under Health Canada’s Emergency Drug Release Program. In that application, Pariseau had indicated that Aubert Martin would be the supplier of the medical marijuana.
Pariseau wept as he watched police destroy Martin’s hydroponic equipment. “If I have to buy on the street I won’t know what I’m getting and that scares me,” said Pariseau. “I don’t know what I’m going to do now.”
If Rock wants to win the trust of Canadian medical-marijuana advocates, he will have to take a much bigger step, and make cannabis legal for those who need it to survive. Not after drawn-out clinical trials to prove what thousands of patients already experience, but now!
? Lynn Harichy: tel (519) 474-3982; email [email protected]
? Jim Wakeford: (416) 922-3337; email [email protected]
? Bernard Bigras: tel (613) 992-0423; email [email protected]
? Allan Rock: (613) 947-5000; email [email protected]