Ottawa ON – I would rather have one than not, but living with a Medical Marijuana License from Health Canada has been a bit of a nightmare. For my wife and I, it has been a stressful and humiliating experience on more than one occasion. The fact that we have to carry “Special Papers” with us to keep us out of jail because we have medical conditions smacks of segregation.
Okay, so it isn’t exactly The Gaza Strip or Apartheid or the Warsaw Ghetto, but big things like that often start out as little things like this. I had three of my great uncles go to Europe in the 1940’s to try and prevent exactly this sort of totalitarian nonsense from ever coming to our shores, and now look at us.
First, there is living with a debilitating medical condition itself. People who seek a medical marijuana license from Health Canada do not have intermittent back pain or knee aches that keeps them from tossing around the ol’ pig skin with their grandson, or a bit of nausea when they have one too many chili dogs. The people seeking this medical exemption are people living with painful, debilitating, and often life-threatening conditions like MS, arthritis, crohn’s, PTSD, AIDS, epilepsy, Parkinson’s, and cancer.
Patients are often made to feel worse when they fail to respond to the “standard” medications, and are often accused of trying to hustle doctors into “a prescription to get high”. The irony being, of course, that anyone who has used pot knows that you can get a lot higher with the pharmaceuticals than you can with pot. If getting high were the motive, there are far easier way to go about it than this.
Then there is the paperwork. My wife and I have been exceedingly lucky in this regard, as our doctors were not reluctant to sign. Many patients have difficulty getting their doctors to sign, but not because of pot. Usually, it is because the doctors don’t want to have anything to do with the unconstitutional federal program, or because their insurance, or the clinic where they practice, or the College Of Physicians, has told them “you are on your own” if they sign.
If you are lucky enough to have a doctor brave enough to sign, the paperwork is fairly easy to figure out. There are a lot of pages to the forms, but each applicant only needs to fill out pertinent parts, not the whole thing.
Then there is the 10-20 – sometimes 30-40 – week wait for the paperwork to be processed. Not only is the Health Canada office ridiculously understaffed, the people sending in their applications often make mistakes by forgetting to sign something, or forgetting to check a box, or forgetting to send photos. This slows the process down.
If you call in and ask for an update or a callback to find out what the status of your application is, and that will slow it down even more. Not as a punishment, as some have accused…. the simple fact of the matter is, it takes time to search through a pile of files, find the one in question, review it, call you back, hope you are actually home when they call, etc. etc. At best, they say it will take 8-10 weeks to process renewals and much longer for new applications.
I am confident that the people in the office are doing the best they can with the work they are handed, but the government could literally hire 100 more people, and it would still take 6-8 weeks to get applications processed. It should only take 4-6 days for something like this, but the government has deliberately understaffed the office in order to let the program fail. They are playing politics with people’s lives, all in an effort to never admit that pot is not dangerous!
Keep in mind that the patient cannot start using or growing without the permit in their hands, so they have to choose between suffering with no medicine for weeks or months, or breaking the law. Imagine the doctor giving you a prescription, you go to the pharmacy, and they say “Have a seat, your order will be ready in 70-80 days.”
Once they get the permit, it can take 20-30 weeks to get the first harvest – and the patient has to wait for that as well. The courts have repeatedly established that it is unconstitutional to place patients in this position, and the government has chosen to ignore those rulings. In fact, many permit holders have been charged with various offenses over the past decade simply because Health Canada couldn’t get their act together.
Personally, I spent three weeks this past July waiting for my permit to arrive. My old one expired on June 28, 2011, and my new one didn’t arrive until July 20. Incidentally, the issue date on my new permit was June 20, 2011 – eight days before the expiry date! It took them a whole month simply to mail the already-completed forms out! THAT is how bad the backlog is!
Last year I broke the law for five weeks, risking arrest, confiscation of my medicine (which would ruin my health), eviction, imprisonment, and – in the case of my epileptic wife – even death. All because Stephen Harper won’t allow the sock puppet Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq to hire enough people to get the paperwork done on time.
Then there is supply. Some people have a designated grower, some people grow themselves. The plant limits are arbitrary and do not reflect the realities of marijuana cultivation, but, naturally, the government has deliberately ignored all the science on this issue, and sided with the police, who demanded limits. As a result, patients and growers are placed in a position which forces illegal and/or dangerous and/or outrageously counterproductive activity.
The regulations also limit how much bud we can store to just a one month supply. So, while any Canadian can buy and store up enough food, booze, medicine, fuel, or ammunition for a year – or a lifetime – we are only allowed to possess enough live-saving medicine for one month’s worth of our daily dose. If we get caught with even a smidgen over our limit, we could lose the right to have a permit at all, ever again.
The problem with this is, if you have a crop loss, then you have no medicine – sometimes for months at a time. So maybe you need to buy some from a compassion club or another grower. Both of these actions are violations of the regulations. Maybe you borrow some from a grower to tide you over, then when your crop comes in – if it comes in – you will owe him that much back. This is, of course, completely not allowed by the regulations, but the circumstances often force patients to make choices like this.
If a grower succeeds and manages to grow more than he is allowed to store, he literally has to throw away perfectly good medicine. Medicine that he paid money and spent a lot of effort to produce, he now must throw in the garbage, or face jail time. He can’t keep it, and he can’t sell it, so what can he do? Not that trashing it really helps much. A man in Quebec was convicted of cultivation with intent because of a bag of wet leaves and branches that he was planning to compost in the spring.
And of course, this is stressful for patients, which is by design of the mad punishment-fetishist, Stephen Harper. Harper is a bully, and bullies like to watch weak people suffer. Stephen Harper, it seems, is doing this because he wants me, my wife, and every other pot user in Canada to suffer and to feel scared. He wants the program to fail because we medical users represent the human rights “foot in the door” towards full-on legalization, and that is why he is punishing us.
I mean, look at his new policy of taking away people’s licenses to grow. Why is he doing this? Because of a few reports of some growers possibly growing more than they were permitted to (by an unconstitutional program). Imagine having your car confiscated by the government because someone in BC may have driven over the speed limit. “For the sake of public safety, all cars are now illegal and all citizens are forced to walk or take public transit.” That would be absurd, but that is what is happening to medical pot users. Harper is issuing some mass-punishment to all medical pot users because he is displeased with the successes we have made so far. Bully to the core.
Cops have told friends of mine “You are only supposed to use it at home.” which is not true at all. According to the regulations, we are allowed to use our medicine anywhere that tobacco is legally being used. That means I can smoke my joint on the sidewalk, in parks, or anywhere outside of designated non-smoking areas, like around building entrances. We cannot use it on the property of a liquor-licensed establishment like a bar or restaurant. But cops and security guards often like to treat us like common street urchins.
Just this past weekend, an LCBO security guard asked me to smoke “across the street” while I waited on the sidewalk for a bus.
Then there is the media. When it comes to marijuana, these foppish clowns will regurgitate whatever tripe the police and government feed them. When we point out – with reams of proof – how they are wrong, or lying, or citing debunked science, we get the brush off. For example, the story about pot being “closely associated” with mental illness has been mutated and hyperbolized to the point of absurdity. The study – actually a “mega-study”, or study of lots of other corresponding studies – showed that it was equally as likely that mental illness sufferers were self-medicating with cannabis. Meaning the symptoms brought on the pot use, not the other way around.
How does the media report this? Huge headline with a big smokey joint photo: “Pot Linked To Increased Schizophrenia”. Meanwhile, the stories I keep sending them about recent science showing how pot shrinks tumors and does dozens of good other things, they won’t print. Or they print a small blurb on the back pages.
Even if the reporter is okay and writes a decent story, their editors are usually tired old farts who think pot is a “fringe issue”, so they report it as a “fringe issue”, and the public continues to think of pot as a “fringe issue”. When people like me try to point out that, no, it isn’t a “fringe issue”, it is, in fact, an issue that is intrinsically linked to global crime, civil liberties, government waste and overstepping of authority, racism, poverty, health, the environment, and energy sources, and so on, they just scoff. They have been indoctrinated into thinking pot is bad, period. When confronted with new evidence, they willfully ignore it.
Then there is the public. Media-addled nincompoops who actually want to have their old opinions confirmed rather than possibly learn anything new. I cannot even count the number of conversations I have had with people who flatly refuse to even look at new evidence. They act as if the issue is closed already:
“Pot is illegal because it is bad.”
“No, actually, it is illegal because it is medicine, and here is the science: 20,000 studies done over the course of a century showing pot’s safety and efficacy.”
“Shut up stoner. Go kill your brain cells somewhere else.”
And so on.
They will contradict themselves too: “Pot should be legal to use, but people who grow it and sell it should go to jail.” When I ask them “Where would the pot come from, and how would people get it, if no one is allowed to grow or sell it?” I get blink blink blink.
Remember the days when it was a “commonly held belief” that people of color were a lower species than white people, and therefore incapable of voting and so on? That was just before WW2.
Remember when women were considered too stupid and “emotional” to be allowed to vote, or drive, or own property, or make their own choices about who they could marry, or whether or not they could have sex out of wedlock, or have an abortion, or hold higher positions of authority in society, or get equal pay for equal work? Some of those rights didn’t come about until the 1970’s.
Remember when homosexuals were considered mutants who needed to be treated with electroshock therapy with an aim to “curing” them of their same-sex tendencies? That was the rule as recently as 1965.
During those times, there were people who decried the old ways and demanded newer, fairer treatments for these people. They faced police and bigots and violence and discrimination. They were lied about in public, called perverts and criminals and sinners and ne’er do wells. They had their detractors – racists, sexists, homophobes – who called them people crazy, attacked them physically, and called for their imprisonment and even execution.
Today, while sick people like me fight for the rights of sick people and healthy people alike, we are called all manner of names by the media, the government, the police, and the public. Take the comments forum on this page, for example. The kind of things that are people say about pot users would be actionable if said about many other groups, but because we are just stoners, editors and webmasters and the CRTC and the Press Council and every other authority just lets it go. Why? because we are not people in the eyes of the general public.
The media seems to consider medical marijuana users a novelty, much the same way they regarded “gay rights” and “women’s rights” activists with amusement and incredulity in the early 1970’s. They have, over the nine years that I have been haranguing them, gone from “incredulous” to “respectful”, but they still get so much of it wrong that it is sometimes hard to imagine that they aren’t doing it purposefully. When they use the word “dope”, or put quotes around the word medical when they talk about the issue, they diminish us. They know this, and they do it on purpose. They want to discredit the medical users. Why? Because if they admit that pot is good for “medical” users, then they have a hard time justifying the prohibition that everyone else must obey, so they keep it simple and just discredit us all. Easier for the public to absorb, you see….
Meanwhile, the government calls marijuana a “dangerous narcotic”, yet claims to be committed to giving we sick Canadians quick access to quality medicine. They lie on both counts. Pot is neither dangerous, nor a narcotic. And the government is not committed to helping sick Canadians access clean affordable, potent marijuana… they are keen to build a dozen new jails and fill them with pot growers. They campaigned on a promise – a PROMISE – to build more jails and put more people – specifically pot growers – in those jails for longer periods of time.
The police – The Hired Help – call us liars with comments like “No one needs THAT much pot in a day.”, and so on, as if they somehow know more about medicine and what works for us than we do, or our doctors. They propagandize about our growers, and exaggerate the dangers of pot use to the point that it makes them look absurd in the eyes of even the dullest kids in class.
Trying to medicate in public is always a problem. I usually just smoke a joint, or two, every hour or so when I am out. Every time I do this, I risk being assaulted by an Ottawa cop. I have never had an incident yet, and I have a 50/50 chance of getting the officer who is polite about it… But most likely I will encounter the Red-Bull-Charged lunkhead who thinks I am some sort of cartel operative, and that he is the swift and brutal hand of justice, saving the community from a truly perilous fate. It is just a matter of time, really, before some cop cripples me by kneeling on my head for the terrible, society-endangering action of smoking a joint on a park bench… which is why I tend to stay home a lot and have only been outdoors once after dark since December of 2010.
My choices are, a) smoke as needed and risk violence, arrest, and/or hassle from the public, b) refrain from medicating in public, suffer, and keep my excursions short, or c) stay home. What would you do? I have a sick wife who I cannot leave alone at home. I have errands to run, and have to bring her with me.
Here is a video from this past weekend of a security guard at the LCBO asking me to smoke “across the street”.
He smoked a cigarette right there not 10 minutes earlier, a guy was smoking tobacco at the same time as him, and I was on the sidewalk waiting for the bus, and he asks me to go “across the street”. Can you image a gay couple being asked to hold hands “across the street”?
A few weeks ago I was asked not to “partake” by a bunch of Live Action Role Playing nerds in a local park. I explained that this was my medicine, and that asking me not to medicate in public was on par with asking a gay couple not to hold hands, “….because, you know, there are kids around…”. I was appalled. We were downwind, and we liked watching them play their little game as it was something quite far and a welcome distraction from our usual daily drudgery of medicating and suffering and activism and isolation. They made us feel unwelcome, and my wife cried.
In January, an OC Transpo bus driver harangued me as I stood just off of a bus platform, making fun of me like some sort of school yard bully. He suggested I stand “over there”, which I did, and then he proceeded to make fun of me. When OC Transpo and the city refused to meet my demands for a simple written apology, I launched an Ontario Human Rights Complaint against the driver, the company, the city, and the province. From the driver, company, and city, I have asked for nothing more than written public apologies and acknowledgments of my Charter-protected rights to use my medicine. From the province – for failing to regulate the medical use of marijuana (as they are constitutionally-mandated to do) for ten years – I have demanded $10 million. I doubt I will get that, even if I win, and I have no illusions about winning. I would have filed a huge lawsuit, but, being poor and disable, I have no money, and people with no money have no recourse to justice. Justice is only for people who can afford to buy it.
Many families have been torn asunder by this issue as well. A child of a medical user might report them to a teacher, a parent might scoff at a medical user’s recovery, and marriages have been ended. Ferocious custody battles have ensued, and people have lost their homes and jobs, all because of certain people’s flat-out refusal to look at facts, science, history, or the things they see right in front of them….. like their own son getting out of a wheelchair.
So, before you go getting your doctor to sign, think about the people who fight hard every day to keep that right available for you.