By Alfa · May 17, 2005 ·
  1. Alfa

    Man Charged With Possession Says Pot Was For Sick Clients

    Not only does John Cook plan to plead not guilty to a charge of possession of 500 grams of marijuana when he goes to Truro provincial court on Wednesday, he intends to ask for his weed back.

    Mr. Cook, 40, president of the provincial chapter of the Cannabis Buyers'

    Club of Canada, said the pot was destined for his 50 or so clients, who all use it for medical reasons.

    The Harrietsfield husband and father of two started running the buyers'

    club from his home after falling from a ladder, then further straining muscles in his back when he returned to work.

    "It gets my mind off (pain) enough that I can function - be with the kids, be a father to the children type of thing," he said. "Otherwise, I'd be a vegetable on the couch."

    The former Armed Forces member started the organization - he buys marijuana at $7 a gram and sells it for $9 - mostly to help subsidize his own use, which was extremely expensive. He smokes four grams a day.

    Over time, he said, his compassion for his clients grew and so did his willingness to fight for the right to toke.

    During a snowstorm this winter, his Springhill-area grower decided to send his supply via bus, something they'd only tried once before. A bus company employee in Truro called the RCMP who came and got the package, which was addressed to Mr. Cook.

    He was charged with possession and trafficking.

    He had been charged previously in connection with 12 plants and 40 grams he was caught with in July 2001. But those charges were stayed because the officer who arrested him was later charged with drug trafficking.

    Mr. Cook is still awaiting federal prosecutors' decision on what to do about that case.

    On Thursday, he invited a reporter from this newspaper to accompany him on visits to three Halifax-area clients.

    The first stop was at the apartment of a woman, 56, and her son, 23.

    A pretty cat roamed the hardwood floors, and a picture of Pope John Paul II hung on the wall.

    "I get it when I can afford it," said the woman, who asked not to be identified.

    She contracted hepatitis C during surgery in the 1980s and suffers from fibromyalgia and liver disease.

    Without pot, she said, she has little motivation and can go into a fog. She smokes five to six grams a week.

    "It helps me to be able to buy food, cook food and even become more involved in life."

    Although she has federal government approval to smoke marijuana, which the government will provide, she buys from Mr. Cook because the government's weed is too mild and tastes awful.

    She hates the stigma associated with marijuana and thinks the government should make it easier for people in pain to get the drug. She also thinks Mr. Cook should be allowed to do what he does.

    People with disabilities often live on the fringes of society, and the negativity around marijuana compounds that, she said.

    "They're making us the shadow of society."

    She's taken other drugs for pain, but they made her sick to her stomach.

    Mr. Cook then visits a man who lives alone and asks to be called "Databoy."

    He has an antisocial personality disorder and many other problems - including sciatic nerve pinch and irritable bowel syndrome - caused by living on the streets for several years.

    Without marijuana, he often wouldn't eat even if his refrigerator was full of delicious things, he said.

    "That food will just sit there and rot."

    He's taken drugs such as codeine to fight pain, but that makes his stomach hurt.

    "Do you take another pill to offset that?" he said.

    He splits his pot into two piles, one that has a higher amount of sativa, the other with more indica. The first, which he uses during the day, produces a crisp, clear high. The other relaxes him and helps him sleep.

    Mr. Cook's legal fight upsets Databoy. "Why is he getting charged for helping people that cannot help themselves?"

    Databoy smokes just over a gram a day and hates the idea of buying pot on the street, which would be costlier.

    In Purcells Cove, a cheery woman answered the door wearing a halo to support her neck. She has ankylosing spondylitis, an inflammatory disease that affects the joints between the spine and pelvis, and Crohn's disease and has been smoking marijuana for 20 years to cope.

    She briefly smoked it in high school, quit during university and started again for pain relief. She smokes three to five joints daily.

    "After I smoke marijuana, I feel kind of refreshed. It gives me control, at least psychologically, over what I'm doing."

    She used to grow her own weed, something two of her now-retired doctors fully approved of, but she won't approach her new doctor about the topic.

    She thinks it could damage their relationship.

    "It's pretty ridiculous, really."

    She doesn't intend to seek government permission and said if Mr. Cook is jailed or otherwise prevented from selling her pot, she'll start growing it again.

    Mr. Cook, who says his family stands behind him, will represent himself in court and intends to seek financial compensation for the confiscated marijuana. He also intends to tell the court he's doing nothing illegal.

    "Anybody who uses it medically is already covered by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms."

    He doesn't have Health Canada permission to smoke or possess marijuana.

    He has a doctor's approval, but doesn't have the approval of two specialists - which Health Canada requires for someone at his level of pain. There are two other, higher, categories of need, according to Health

    Canada: people who are expected to die within 12 months and people whose suffering is caused by multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury or disease, cancer, AIDS/HIV, severe arthritis or epilepsy.

    Those in most dire need are required to have their doctor sign a form, while the second group needs a specialist's signature.

    Health Canada spokesman Christopher Williams said the department has proposed amending the process. If the suggestions are approved, the first two categories will be merged and those people would only need their doctor's approval to qualify.

    The remaining applicants wouldn't have to see a specialist, although their doctor would be asked to consult one.

    "It obviously would speed things up," he said.

    As for the government weed's quality, Mr. Williams said staff regularly consult users and are improving the crop. The last lot delivered to users got positive feedback, he said.

    Mr. Cook said he's been waiting to see a specialist in Halifax's pain clinic since 2001.

    Then, there's the fact people must reapply for permission every year.

    Mr. Williams downplayed the complaints people have about the process.

    "There are over 800 people in Canada that are allowed to possess marijuana for medical reasons, so there are people that are getting through."

    He said that without permission, Mr. Cook and the Cannabis Buyers' Club are breaking the law.

    "If individuals or companies possess, cultivate, transport or provide marijuana without a licence from Health Canada, then they're in contravention of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. And at that point, it's a matter for law enforcement agencies."

    RCMP Staff Sgt. Peter McTiernan, of the RCMP-Halifax Regional Police integrated drug unit, holds a similar position.

    Although he said cops will consider the specifics of a situation - such as if an obviously ill person has a doctor's note and has applied for federal permission - the bottom line is black and white.

    "Either you have a permit or you don't. If they have a permit, then, of course, we don't charge them."

    He said police often contact the federal government before marijuana raids to see if the person has a permit to possess or grow it.

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