CANNABIS CULTURE – Yes you read the headline correctly: Last night Toronto police arrested legal medical marijuana user Matt Mernagh, a well-known activist currently fighting a pivotal court battle over patients’ access to pot, for possession of the drug.
UPDATE: Mernagh has been released by police and all charges have been dropped. See below for more updates.
Mernagh (who is host of The Mernahuana Show and Mernagh Grows Marijuana on Pot TV) was arrested on July 3 at about 9:30 PM at Toronto’s Yonge Dundas Square, where he and friends had gathered to watch the classic stoner film Dazed and Confused during a City Cinema public showing.
Upon arriving at the venue in Toronto’s downtown public square, Mernagh and his group were informed the movie had been canceled “due to weather.” This confirmed a Twitter post from Yonge Dundas Square earlier in the day announcing the cancelation.
Mernagh, who uses cannabis to relieve the symptoms of fibromyalgia, scoliosis and epileptic seizures, won a case in Ontario Superior Court in April 2011 where the judge found that doctors’ “overwhelming refusal to participate in the medicinal marijuana program completely undermines the effectiveness of the program” and that “the requirement for a medical doctor’s declaration has rendered the MMAR unconstitutional”. Mernagh had been arrested for growing his own pot plants without a licence, but argued in court that he had tried and failed to get one because his doctors refused to sign the paperwork.
The government appealed the case, sending Mernagh back to court in May of 2012, and judges are expected to make a decision sometime soon.
Though Mernagh was given a legal right to use marijuana as medicine by the court, he lacks the normal Health Canada licence and paperwork.
As Mernagh and other legal medical marijuana users contemplated the cancelation and hit the bong, a security guard approached and told the group they weren’t allowed to smoke marijuana in the city square. When Mernagh protested that others were allowed to smoke cigarettes without getting harassed and that he had a legal right to his medicine, the police were called to the scene. An officer told the group they were on “private property” and were being told to exit the city square.
“You can leave and do it, but not on this property,” an officer identified by his name tag as M. Josifovic said. “It’s up to the management here.”
When Mernagh argued that Yonge Dundas Square “is actually public property that is managed by a private service” and refused to leave, police surrounded him and put him in handcuffs.
“Sir you are under arrest for possession of marijuana,” an officer said as the cuffs were snapped on and Mernagh was taken away (watch at 1:35 in the video clip below or watch a video of the entire incident).
Mernagh was held overnight and is due in court today at 10am (Old City Hall, Room 101).
UPDATE: 10:11AM Eastern
Hash Mob activist Chris Goodwin reports that Mernagh’s lawyer Paul Lewin will not be available till 2PM. This means court will be postponed till the afternoon session. It also means Mernagh will remain locked up till then.
I spoke with Constable Wendy Drummond of the Toronto Police’s media dept and she verified that Matt has been charged with BOTH possession and trespassing. She promised to get back to me with more information about how (or if) a legal medical marijuana user can be charged with marijuana possession, and if other legal users will be targeted for removal or arrest for medicating in Yonge Dundas Square.
Credible sources at the Old City Hall court say the possession charge will likely be dropped, leaving just the trespassing charge, but I have not been able to independently verify this info.
UPDATE: 4:30 PM
After spending the night in jail and waiting for court, Mernagh was released at about 1 PM and all charges were dropped. The marijuana possession charge was withdrawn first, but it took some time before the trespassing charge was withdrawn. Police did not return Mernagh’s custom RooR bong and about a half-ounce of Lilac Kush, but he was advised by the judge to ask for them back.
“It was a weird and crazy one, that’s for sure,” Mernagh told Cannabis Culture in a telephone interview this afternoon. “We are definitely going to launch a lawsuit against them – not for the money, but on principle.”
Mernagh described the police lock-up as “pretty rough” and said that cops “were acting like dicks” to him – and that he witnessed other inmates smoking crack in the jail cells.
After being released, Mernagh and a few friends went directly to Yonge Dundas Square to medicate. Though he openly smoked marijuana, he was not asked to leave by security or police.
Mernagh said he plans to attend future events at the city square and isn’t afraid to take his medication openly.
“The City of Toronto shows movies there every Tuesday night,” he said. “I’m a citizen of Toronto and I intend to go.”
Mernagh will be my guest on Cannabis Culture News LIVE this Friday to discuss the details of his imprisonment and future plans.
Watch a Pot TV video (originally LIVE) made by Mernagh upon his release from jail:
Watch for more updates on Matt Mernagh on Cannabis Culture and Pot TV.