I was first informed of the now enacted Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR) in 2012. When I read the regulations and reasoning for proposing a full overhaul of the Medical Marihuana Access Division (MMAD) of Health Canada I was shocked at the misinformation offered by the governing bodies contributing to the revision of policy. Officials representing Health Canada, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, and the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs all argued that mold, organized crime, and fire were public safety concerns in relation to legal personal home cultivators of medicinal cannabis. Moreover, the federal government did not take an issue with the personal use of marihuana, however cited public safety concerns in relation to the personal gardens that had been permitted by law since R. v. Parker.
My background as a medical grower under the regime of the MMAD and governing Medical Marihuana Access Regulations (MMAR) along with my 15 years of cannabis activism and advocacy led me to have serious concerns about the proposed MMPR. I knew something needed to be done, but was left with questions of what and how to do it. I had no money, but I have a big mouth — especially when it comes to issues of liberty and the right to medical autonomy, having lived with HIV for 22 years while using cannabis I grew to help me fight the many side effects of the antiretroviral (ARV) treatments I take to stay alive. These treatments are akin to chemotherapy in terms of toxicity and side effects on one’s body and mind.
The one thing I understood was cannabis was a plant I knew how to grow and manipulate via breeding and methodologies used during cultivation. That the various strains farmed over the past 10,000 years offer such a wide variety of cannabis genetics to the average home grower only further peaked my interest in the holistic healing plant. One can farm/cross plant A with plant B and get plant C, thus C equals new genetics that no other farmer/company has. A newly farmed set of plant genetics is equal to a new set of human genetics; a process that I believe should not be governed by the state.
So, we followed the model of collective peer empowerment and collective peer action, fundamentally based on the former HIV movement known as ACT UP. ACT UP shook the Canadian and U.S. governments to the ground in relation to ethical treatment of patients and patient rights in general providing a template for activists to learn from and replicate. With this I also knew a powerful attorney was needed, and an army of stakeholders to seek options to challenge the federal policy as proposed in early 2014.
At the time I was well versed in cannabis activism and had confronted authority with a lawsuit in 2010 over the Abbotsford city police cutting down my plants. Following an out of court settlement in which John W. Conroy, QC was my attorney, the city returned to my home with their green team to “inspect my garden” with force. A human rights case followed this encounter led by attorney Kirk Tousaw which allowed the continued cultivation of cannabis at my home until I moved to Vancouver in 2012.
Once in Vancouver and with my daughter I moved forward on a campaign to address the MMPR. I contacted Mr. Conroy and inquired as to any potential options. I learned we had Section 7 and 1 Constitutional challenges and options to seek a federal restraining order known as an Injunction. I also learned that Mr. Conroy would not formally act until $10,000 was raised. Knowing we needed a powerful attorney I used the last of my Visa and opened a “trust” account under the PPL/DPL Coalition against Repeal. At this point I was legally engaged in an agreement with Conroy for $250,000 (estimated cost) for Injunction and trial. With this I started contacting every activist and supporter of personal home cannabis gardens to rally to this grassroots initiative.
In February of 2013 Mr. Conroy went public with the Coalition’s initiative. At this time we had built a national steering committee of stakeholders and supporters to form a national collective body. This was initially a great plan as we had 24 national committee reps who were all really great activists from all regions of Canada. Having 24 reps simply did not work for optimal outcomes as it pertained to fundraising. After seeking a lot of advice, including that of Mr. Conroy, we made the decision to the cut the national committee in half. It was the hardest call we ever needed to make but we did so in the best interests of all parties and objectives.
In February of 2013 I instructed Mr. Conroy to write a letter to Health Canada informing their legal department of our intent to seek an injunction. This letter never received a formal response. Mr. Conroy set forth our basic position in response to public safety as with the s.7 and s.1 Charter violations we felt were at play.
For the better part of 2013 the Coalition took in 3000-plus victim impact statements. Once vetted they were converted to PDFs and filed with Mr. Conroy. This was an important initiative that is indicative of any fact finding mission and supportive evidence. Collectively representing all regions of Canada, legal personal growers spoke out with passion and pride as they told their stories. I personally filed over 2800 such statements and while Mr. Conroy’s office handles the majority of the statements, the Coalition took the four that later became the plaintiffs in the Constitutional challenge known as Allard et al.
On March 21st 2014, just 10 days before the execution date for “removing personal cannabis gardens” in Canada, a federal injunction was issued by Justice Manson in effect protecting 36,000 personal gardens from the regulatory move to extinguish them. April Fool’s Day 2014 was the date all legal marihuana growers in Canada were to shut down and destroy their marihuana, dried and wet in kitty litter, or face persecution. Under legislation passed by the Conservative government known as Bill C-10 mandatory jail time for six or more plants would be imposed if cannabis/marihuana is personally cultivated indoors or out.
In early 2015 the trial finally began and encompassed 14 days at the Vancouver Federal Court House concerning the federal injunction and Charter challenge over policy reform that infringed upon the fundamental principals we as Canadians all hold dear. We were witness to democracy in action and the essence of a system built to adapt to the needs and beliefs of its people. It was an exercise in liberty.
As of March 13th, 2015, the Coalition and the government cases have been heard in court. Written arguments were exchanged, and final oral arguments commenced on April 30th. The court is expected to release its decision before the end of 2015. Depending on the content and reasoning of the decision, it may be appealed by either side to the Federal Court of Appeal or then, with leave, to the Supreme Court of Canada.
That this is a grassroots initiative brought forth and on behalf of the medicinal patients of Canada cannot be underscored enough. Through fundraising events of all kinds all across Canada our supporters took a financial stand and collectively raised over $260,000 to successfully fund the fight and restrain the sections of the federal governments MMPR via the injunction and subsequent trial cost.
But we still have work to do.
Mr. Conroy has over a thousand unbilled hours with further costs as we seek to expand the injunction on June 30th, 2015. With additional groups and collectives now stepping up to assist with fundraising efforts for Allard, the Coalition leadership and membership can rest assured funding for the remainder of the fight will come in no matter what. Additionally the court process cannot be stopped; it’s a historic challenge, one that will set precedence for any future legalization model in Canada.
In closing, we have hit them on all sides legally and politically through awareness, protest, and campaign. This is our time to allow plants for the people, while removing prison for plants and pot. If a body of the willing known as the Coalition can stop the removal of gardens and the federal monopoly of the LPs, what can else can we to do to better advance a free and fair market in Canada?
It must be noted that Canada still holds that cannabis/marihuana has medical value and needs further exploration. This truth is paramount to my beliefs and our success. It’s a court ordered right to use cannabis/marihuana, one that Health Canada has never disputed. Fact is cannabis sativa was in pharmacology from the 1800s till 1942 then removed and classified as a hard drug.
Eighty years of federal lies and campaigns by big pharmaceutical companies demonized cannabis. Now is the time to undo that harm, and begin our (legal) healing.