Special Report: Medical Marijuana in Canada, and its Potential Impact on the US 4/17/98

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- Marc Brandl for DRCNet

The first act of public civil disobedience Lynn Harichy committed was in September of 1997, when she lit up a joint in front of the London, Ontario police station. For that act, she was charged with "possession of a narcotic". Since then, Harichy, 36, a mother of two who uses medical marijuana to alleviate the pain and spasticity of her multiple sclerosis, has gone on to become one of the most prominent activists in Canada for the right to safe and legal access to medical marijuana.

Harichy's newest endeavor has been the opening of the London Cannabis Compassion Center (LCCC). The goal of the club is to keep patients in medical need off of the streets, by providing them with access to safe marijuana. Although things have started off slowly, progress is being made, says Harichy, "Today, April 8th, I got back my first completed application, and at 5:22pm it was approved." Patients must supply a prescription from a doctor in order to qualify as a member of LCCC.

Although Canada lacks any legal protection for medical marijuana patients and their primary care providers like Harichy's LCCC, public support remains high and officials have been leery of cracking down. "Any police intervention would make for a tremendous amount of bad press, and the clubs would continue operating anyway." says Chris Clay of HempNation and a board member of the Vancouver Cannabis Compassion Club, which has been up and running for about a year. Despite this small pocket of protection that has emerged for cannabis buyers clubs (CBC's), operators like Harichy still face problems due to medical marijuana's shaky legal standing. "Most doctors are leery of filling these [prescriptions] out because of the legal implications they could be involved with. However, I have been assuring them that everything would be kept under complete confidentiality," states Harichy. "I will under no circumstances divulge any information for any reason to anyone, including the police."

Harichy is part of an association of CBC's called the Medical Marijuana Centers of Ontario, of which she and her husband Mike are the presidents. The group of ten activists came together in February and announced publicly their intention to open multiple CBC's in Ontario province. "We are all working together and will support one another if any or all are busted." says Lynn, "We are working together on this because this is a medical necessity for people who are suffering."

The case involving Lynn Harichy's act of civil disobedience back in September is still working its way through the courts. Professor Alan Young of the Osgoode Law School is representing Lynn in the case and has also agreed to represent the Ontario medical marijuana centers if necessary. Young hopes through cases like Lynn's, and the success of the CBC's, legal access to medical marijuana can be attained.

The prospects for medical marijuana continue to look good for Canada, but they are far from certain, and clubs such as the one Lynn Harichy runs could still be busted. If that happens, says Lynn, "I have been informing the police and government and have told Alan Rock the Minister of Health that if anyone goes to jail let it be me and me alone. If anyone is punished in any way it must be me."

If anything is certain in the rugged landscape of medical marijuana reform, the efforts of Lynn and other activists will ensure the issue will not drop off the radar screen in Canada anytime soon.


It is truly a small, interconnected world, as the existence of this newsletter proves. Countries are now less and less likely to make policy, especially regarding a global issue such as drugs, by considering only internal political forces. New policy in one country can influence laws being written by another. We have seen this with some environmental issues and laws passed to ban land mines, to name just two areas. How do efforts at drug policy reform in one country affect another? With Lynn Harichy and many others' undaunted efforts in Canada in mind, the Week Online sought out a U.S. perspective on medical marijuana internationally.

Dave Fratello is the Director of Communications of Americans for Medical Rights, which successfully headed the Prop. 215 effort in California and which is running similar initiatives in several states in '98. The Week Online briefly talked to Fratello about what successful efforts like those in Canada might mean for the U.S., and what problems other international efforts might face.

"Just as surely as pressure can be brought to bear on Washington by the states, it can also come from progress being made internationally. Frankly, the U.S. government gets away with writing off the Dutch experience as an anomaly. But when you see pressure and activity on medical marijuana growing in Great Britain, France, and other parts of Europe, as well as Australia, New Zealand, and even here in North America, from Canada, the pressure on Washington threatens to become real."

"The activity in Canada is interesting in this context. What happens to our immediate north is inherently different from what happens in the Netherlands or Australia, for example. Americans generally feel that Canada is like the United States. We're already seeing folks in some Midwestern states who are supporting the industrial use of hemp asking why Canadian farmers are going to be allowed to grow it, but American farmers aren't. I think you'll see the same kind of question if the Canadian policy on medical marijuana continues to veer off from the path ordained by Washington."

But countries do not make drug policy in a vacuum, and Fratello says pressure from the U.S. is a real danger. "What is clear about the whole medical marijuana controversy is that the U.S. government is the greatest obstacle to reform. Everyone involved internationally recognizes that the U.S., through the DEA and even the reactionary, U.S. dominated U.N. Drug Control Program, calls the shots on drug policy. But the increased openness of some of these nations provides real hope."

But now in 1998, the U.S. government will face a second round of medical marijuana initiatives, creating an international opportunity for reform. "One of the most interesting questions is how the synergy might work between what is going on internationally and what's due to happen later this year in several U.S. states, with November votes on marijuana initiatives. To the extent that certain governments might feel cowed by the American hard line on marijuana, the discrediting of federal policy by voters in several states at once could embolden those governments who are considering going their own way on issues like medical marijuana."

(Check http://www.hempnation.com for continuing updates on the Canadian drug policy situation.)

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Issue #38, 4/17/98 Week Online Reprint Policy | UN Ambassador Richardson heads to Afghanistan... Narcotics Tops Agenda | "Global Days Against the Drug War" United Nations Protest Takes Shape | Press Release: Dutch Study Finds Marijuana Use Lower than Previously Thought | Commerce Department Report: Over 100 Million People Online... but most of them not on DRCNet | College Student Suspended for Two Semesters for Protesting Zero-Tolerance Policy | Special Report: Medical Marijuana in Canada, and its Potential Impact on the US | Events Coming Up | Editorial: The 20-Apr Debate

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