Patient Asking Ottawa for Pot

URL: Newshawk: Dave Haans
Pubdate: Fri, 21 Jan 2000
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2000, The Toronto Star
Contact: [email protected]
Author: Tracey Tyler, Toronto Star Legal Affairs Reporter

A Toronto AIDS patient who won the legal right to smoke marijuana is asking the federal government to supply him with the drug.

Jim Wakeford and his lawyers launched a court action asking that Ottawa be ordered to give him a safe and clean supply of marijuana so his earlier court victory isn’t rendered hollow.

A judge granted him a constitutional exemption last year allowing him to smoke pot to relieve nausea and other side-effects of AIDS treatment. But criminal charges can be laid against anyone selling or buying the drug on his behalf.

Wakeford raised his concerns at a Queen’s Park news conference yesterday, where he said two of his caregivers have been arrested and he doesn’t want to put his friends at further risk.

He has neither the money nor the expertise to set up his own cultivation operation, hydroponic or otherwise, he added.

“Now that winter has approached, I can no longer even try to cultivate on my balcony as I did last summer,” Wakeford, 55, says in an affidavit for an Ontario Superior Court hearing set for March 17.

“I am not in a position to spend money on purchasing this equipment, and I already have developed a conflict with Revenue Canada, who have disallowed my 1998 medical expenses relating to the purchase of marijuana.”

Wakeford and his lawyers, Alan Young and Louis Sokolov, say Ottawa should get the drug from British firm G.W. Pharmaceuticals, which is licensed to grow marijuana in England for clinical trials in British hospitals.

Young said he received a letter last week from the company’s financial director, saying G.W. has offered federal health officials access to its cannabis and is committed to helping sick Canadians.

“All Canada has to do is make the request and sign import and export papers, and it should be here in 90 days,” Young said.

Black-market marijuana carries the risk of contaminants that could be dangerous to patients with suppressed immune systems, Wakeford added.

His court documents paint a contrast between the federal government’s public statements about opening the door to “medical marijuana” and its approach in Wakeford’s case.

Health Minister Allan Rock has announced plans for clinical trials, but his officials recently refused Wakeford’s request for the drug.

In a Dec. 29 letter to Young, Dann Michols, director general of Health Canada, said supplying Wakeford with marijuana for compassionate reasons could “establish a precedent.”

The federal government then might have to supply the drug to all Canadians who obtain constitutional exemptions for medical reasons, Michols wrote.

So far, about 19 other exemptions have been granted.

“What they’re saying is, `We can’t do the right thing, because we’d have to do the right thing 19 times over’ – and that’s just the weakest argument I’ve ever heard,” Young said.

“What the government is doing is very admirable in terms of addressing the needs of science, but it isn’t really meeting the needs of sick people, and that’s why we’re back in court.”

Michols said Ottawa has no access to “a legal source of research-grade marijuana.”

But Wakeford said health officials told him in discussions last fall that they might be able to get it from a crop grown at the University of Mississippi, which supplies it legally to eight sick Americans.