CANNABIS CULTURE – Vancouver activists held a protest yesterday in memory of Marilyn Holsten, a diabetic double-amputee who died from a heart attack shortly after she was given an eviction notice by her landlord for using medical marijuana.
“It’s incredibly inhumane that anyone could treat someone like that in this country that we call civilized,” Marilyn’s sister Moira O’Neill told Cannabis Culture and other media attending the memorial protest. “I’m hurt over my sister’s treatment and incredibly anguished over how she had to spend the last few days.”
Nearly one-hundred people attended the solemn event, including NDP MP Libby Davies and marijuana activist (and CC publisher) Marc Emery, to call for an end to the mistreatment of medical marijuana users like Marilyn.
“My own feeling is that the management here did not act in a responsible, caring way,” said Davies. “The experience that Marilyn had was terrible. This was a woman who had major health, financial, and physical obstacles in her life. I’ve never seen anybody so grounded, so able to focus on what she needed to do, and to literally take on the system.”
Marilyn Holsten was a 48-year-old resident of the Anavets Senior Citizens Housing Society who was diabetic, confined to a wheelchair after having both her legs amputated, and nearly blind. After finding out the hard way that doctor-prescribed opiates were not right for her, she obtained status as a legal medical marijuana user.
After eight years at Anavets, she was served an eviction notice in April 2009 because of complaints of the smell of marijuana coming from her apartment. With the help of Marc Emery and lawyer Kirk Tousaw, Marilyn appealed the decision but was denied by the B.C. Residential Tenancy Branch and forced to move by the end of August. Her story was covered in detail by The Province newspaper.
Marilyn suffered a heart attack and passed away before she was removed from her home, but her family and friends think the extreme stress of the situation led directly to her untimely death.
“All she was asking for was just the right to stay in the building she had been in for eight years,” Emery said at the protest. “People in this building smoke cigarettes and second hand tobacco is a dangerous carcinogen and kills people. Second hand marijuana smoke is of no harm to anyone and any bit of research would have proved that to the Anavets management. But they persisted in a very cruel and vindictive pogrom against Marilyn, such that I believe it gave her a lot of stress and contributed to her early demise.”
“There shouldn’t have been an issue about her using medical marijuana,” MP Libby Davies said. “The government had given her the permit and [Anavets] shouldn’t have tried to evict her on that basis. The system completely failed her, and unfortunately she’s not alone.”
In a similar case of abuse reported yesterday, an Okanagan care home resident was confined to his bed against his will after his wheelchair was confiscated for a week – all because he smokes medical marijuana to relieve his Multiple Sclerosis.
Davies said Marilyn’s situation is indicative of a larger failure of government to provide real open access to medical marijuana.
“It’s never been a system that served medical marijuana users well…but I think there’s very strong public support in Canada for the program and people want to see it work properly. If you’re sick and you need medical marijuana why should you have to fight the government? You have to fight tooth and nail through the bureaucracy to make this program work for you, and Marilyn was an example of that.”
“I would like no one to have to go through this again,” Marilyn’s sister Moira said. “I’d like the government to pull up socks and stop crusading against marijuana as a painkiller for whatever medical reason. Don’t make them take something that makes them sick, like opiates do with a lot of people. Don’t be political over this, be humane.”
Protest organizer Jacob Hunter of WhyProhibition.ca told CC the gathering was intended to memorialize Marilyn, “but also to help bring attention to the struggle of medical marijuana users and to make sure that residents like Marilyn are protected from eviction in the future.”
Other activists, medical marijuana users, and friends of Marilyn attending the protest hoped her situation would shine a light on an issue rarely addressed by the mainstream media or politicians.
“People who are in pain need to be respected and I didn’t see that happening here,” Ian Gregson of Amputee-Online.com told CC at the protest. Though Gregson is not a medical marijuana user, he says he respects its use as a medicine. “I know marijuana helps people; it’s part of the solution.”
“People need to be comfortable in their homes to use medicine,” said Craig, a medical marijuana user who came to remember Marilyn. “Your home is your sanctuary, the place you need to be safe and your place to heal, and if you don’t have that place you can’t get better.”
Sister Elizabeth Kelliher, Chairperson of the Vancouver Downtown Eastside Residents Association board, was at the meeting wearing a sign around her neck that read “Tenants have Rights to Standards of Maintenance By-Laws.”
“Why should anyone try to evict a person because they are taking a medication that the administration doesn’t seem to like,” she asked. “I believe that every one of us has a responsibility to speak up when anyone is treated unjustly, because of the need for everyone, and the right of everyone, to live with peace and dignity.”
“In some ways I hope what happened to Marilyn serves as a warning,” said Davies, “and helps people understand that we have to be ever-vigilant to make sure our health care system is accessible to people.”
Moira O’Neill also hopes her sister’s death was not in vain.
“She wanted something to change,” Moira said, “That’s why she went to the public. She was a very caring person, and she didn’t want anyone else to have to suffer that way.”