Suffering from the chronic pain disease fibromyalgia, three herniated disks in her neck, a spasmatic colon, irritable bowel syndrome and possible multiple sclerosis, 37-year old Dianne Bruce of Colborne, Ontario spent six days in an overcrowded jail cell. Deprived of her medicinal marijuana and pharmaceutical painkillers, she was left suffering painful spasms on a cold cement floor beside a toilet.
In April 2001, Bruce applied to Health Canada for a legal exemption to use medical pot, but hasn’t heard a thing since. Regardless, she was growing medicine in the garden outside of her home for herself and those who had received exemptions from Health Canada.
Everyone knew about her grow operation, including a police officer who, says Bruce, was photographed beside her luscious garden. Health Canada knew too. Under medical pot regulations created last July, exemptees can apply to the ministry to designate another person to grow for them. Many medical pot exemptees had designated Dianne Bruce, but Bruce hadn’t heard back on that matter either.
Getting a reliable supply of marijuana is a big issue for exemptees because not all of them are able to grow for themselves. Many lack expertise, need a physical support team to accomplish the task, or are too sick to even leave their beds. Despite the difficulties faced by exemptees, not a single designated grower has been okayed by the ministry as of mid-November, 2001.
Some med-pot exemptees ? like Marc Paquette, who received his exemption early in 2000 ? were told they would get pot within two months, and never did. Others hoped that the promise of clinical trials would give them the opportunity to get pot from the government. Nearly a year later, however, the clinical med-pot studies have yet to arrive, and there are still no buds flowing from the government’s pot-growing contractor in Flin Flon, Manitoba. Many of the medical pot exemptees that I spoke to suspect that Health Canada never meant for the program to be anything more than empty public relations.
Desperate exemptees, physically weak and susceptible to ripoffs by street thugs, banded together to do what they couldn’t do alone: produce their own legally prescribed medicine. Starved of their medicine by the government, the police made sure that they would stay that way, cruelly raiding exemptees’ operations again and again.
In July 2000, Ontario exemptee Stephen Bacon, planning to supply eight to ten exemptees, had his grow operation raided by police. In March of last year, Ontario exemptee Jim Wakeford, also planning to supply medical users, had his grow operation raided while he was in court arguing fruitlessly about how difficult it was for medical users to get a supply (CC#31, Busted up dates). After the busts went down, Bacon, Wakeford and other med-pot users turned to Dianne Bruce, who by fall of 2001 was growing for 56 exemptees: one in six of every exemptee in Canada! Even Health Canada referred people to her, said Bruce.
“They had a disturbing call from an exemptee who was raided by police, and he was too sick to grow more, and they asked me to help,” said Bruce. Although the official who called Bruce was reprimanded and never gave her the exemptee’s name, Bruce would later learn that the sick man who needed her help was Robin Hoyer, who was sexually assaulted at the age of 17 and diagnosed with HIV the next year. In fact, all of the people Bruce supplies suffer from debilitating and fatal illnesses. Stephen Bacon lives with hepatitis, Marc Paquette with hepatitis and fibromyalgia, Don Appleby with AIDS, Jean Charles Pariseau with AIDS and epilepsy and Robert Neron with a rare and crippling chronic pain disorder called dystonia.
Dianne Bruce’s voice grew soft as she remembered the time Stephen Bacon brought over Pariseau who was, along with Wakeford, the first of two people in Canada to receive their exemptions. “It was the first time in 18 years he has been away from his wife,” said Bruce. “He came into our home and spent the night, and we took him out of his wheelchair and put him in the garden. He was like a little child.”
Growing for 56 exemptees is no small chore, and many of them shared the work. As the summer of 2001 grew ripe, 51 plants with stalk-bending buds bloomed majestically above Bruce’s 10-foot high fence. That’s when the ripoffs started. On September 18 she found two people on their backs in her field.
Hoping to persuade the public to leave her garden alone, she went to a local reporter, Tom Philip of the stand-alone local newspaper, The Independent. His piece, ‘A Joint Affair: the suffering few who legally possess marijuana,’ was published on October 10. The next night, thieves struck again.
“We shut the lights off,” said Bruce. “A van pulled into the driveway. Two guys got out, one carrying a shotgun, the other carrying a handgun, and they took four steps away from the vehicle to approach the house. We were all in the darkness and I tripped the silent alarm to get the police, I called 911, and I fired a flare gun at them. A big ball of fire coming at them! They jumped into the van and took off.”
Eventually, the police proved to be the most successful jackals of all. When they answered Bruce’s alarm, they did more than gather evidence against potentially murderous thieves ? they also cased her home. On October 19, they were back to search her home and seize 18 kilos of partially processed marijuana medicine.
Police charged her with cultivation, possession, and possession for the purpose of trafficking. Cops also charged Bruce’s 18-year old daughter, and her fiance, Zeljko Kresoja, who is now on the run. Then they hauled Bruce to prison. Although she’s out of jail now, she will appear in court on December 5, and her daughter on December 3.
“These people don’t get it man,” said Dianne Bruce, now in tears. “What makes me happy is if I can put a smile on these people’s faces. Right now with the judge doing what she did to me I don’t have a life, I don’t have an identity, I am useless. So I sit at home with my daughter and clean up the mess I have left.”
On October 29, 2001, John Turmel appeared in court with exemptees Appleby, Paquette and Neron to demand back the medicine that Dianne Bruce was growing for them. “Under Section 24.1, the law says that if someone has a legitimate claim on a controlled substance then they can get it back from the police,” said Turmel, who provides legal assistance for several medical users (CC#32, Med-pot madness in Canada). “Police have to give back anything they don’t need for evidence.”
Between the three of them, Appleby, Paquette and Neron are allowed to possess 12 kilos of pot, leaving only 6 kilos to be claimed. “By the time we are done,” said Paquette, ” there won’t be any pot left for them to charge her with.”
On November 7, while I was on the phone to Dianne Bruce, she received a call on her other line from Tom Philip, the reporter who wrote about her before the raid on her home. Police were executing a warrant on his newspaper office, looking for photographs and notes from his interviews with Bruce. Warned of the raid, Philip had gallantly locked his notes in his lawyer’s safe. Although Philip is a former police officer, he believes that cops have a one-track mind when it comes to demonizing medical pot users.
“They think ‘marijuana-bad equals these-people-bad,’ therefore they must find a way to convict. Yet I certainly don’t read it that way. There is absolutely nothing in my notes that would incriminate these people. I was telling a story of compassion. I can also tell you that I think it may well be a bit of pay back here? because their officers were identified in my stories as having had a long-time knowledge of this grow.”