Don Pio says he spent two hours in custody for possessing marijuana he depends on for his health.
Pio, 35, says he has a medical condition that requires him to smoke pot every 40 minutes or so. He had marijuana on his breath when he followed his wife into Kelowna Law Courts on Friday - an odour that landed him in handcuffs on the floor of a sheriff's van and later in a jail cell.
"It was harsh, man. The worst morning of my life. I have no ( criminal ) record," he said on Sunday.
"They arrested me for smelling like pot."
No medication controls his shaking and nausea better than cannabis, Pio said. Last December, Health Canada granted him a medicinal-marijuana card based on his doctor's prescription. The document, which features Pio's photo, name and address, permits him to use cannabis to suppress his symptoms.
He smoked a joint shortly before he was to meet his wife at the courthouse Friday morning. He went to the probation office, but she wasn't there. Women behind the counter complained to a sheriff that they smelled marijuana, so Pio handed over his authorization card to explain.
"The sheriff laughed and gave me back my card. I sat down in the probation office and thought everything was OK," he said.
Minutes later, three courthouse sheriffs approached Pio. When he showed his card again, one of them said it was fake. They told him they were detaining him because he smelled of marijuana and they had to verify the card, he said. They made him empty his pockets in the courthouse garage. He pulled out a container holding a dozen joints - his daily medication, he said.
"They started getting aggressive. Questioning me. Making me feel like I was doing something extremely wrong. Chastising me for bringing marijuana into the courthouse."
Pio suffers from chronic pain, migraines and vomitting from an unknown cause.
The sheriffs cuffed his wrists behind his back and had him sit in a van. He started shaking, so he begged them to let him "medicate so I could relax," he said. They refused.
They drove him across the street to the RCMP detachment and escorted him to a storage room. He began to vomit, so they gave him a big garbage can. After half an hour, a plainclothes officer arrived.
The officer allowed Pio to talk on the phone to a Legal Aid lawyer, who advised him to do what police said. A guard took him to a cell. He vomitted in the toilet, begging jail staff to let him smoke.
The RCMP officer returned 25 minutes later, returned Pio's card and marijuana, and told him he should carry more identification with him, Pio said.
"He accompanied me to the door. He apologized and said he was creating a file to make sure this never happens again," he said. "I was there for half an hour on the curb before I could go anywhere. I thought I was going to hospital. When it gets bad, I end up on intravenous."
Pio later spoke to a friend, who contacted Kirk Tousaw, a criminal lawyer and executive director of the Beyond Prohibition Foundation, which advocates for reforming marijuana laws.
Pio is one of 4,500 Canadians authorized by Health Canada to medicate with marijuana, Tousaw said. Doctors prescribe the drug to relieve their pain, nausea or anxiety, or to stimulate appetite. Police can call Health Canada to confirm a card carrier is licensed to use the drug.
Tousaw acknowledges that courthouse sheriffs may have cause to detain someone who possesses marijuana. But they should have released Pio after they saw his Health Canada card.
"It sounds like sheriffs don't have a policy or understanding of their ability to confirm things with Health Canada, and they should. We've had this program since 2001. Get with it. It's here to stay," he said.
If he wants, Pio could file a formal lawsuit, or seek a public apology or compensation for being detained and deprived of medicine, Tousaw said.
"Can you imagine being detained for two hours for carrying a bottle of Aspirin?" he said.
No one from the sheriff's department was available for comment Sunday.
November 23, 2009
The Daily Courier
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Sheriff Stirs Pot Smoker