Globe And Mail
Onetime activist too tired to fight
Former leader in medical-pot movement now example of laws' cruel deficiencies
By GRAEME SMITH
Monday, January 27, 2003 – Print Edition, Page A7
Alison Myrden can barely speak. She squints against the thin light from her window on a winter afternoon and slumps unconscious on her bed in the middle of a conversation.
She hardly looks like the outspoken activist who once climbed courthouse steps to wave placards and protest against the unfairness of Canada's marijuana laws.
For several years the 38-year-old was at the forefront of the so-called "medical-marijuana" movement, which successfully forced the government to rewrite federal drug regulations so that people who need pot are not prosecuted for using it.
But over the past few months, Ms. Myrden, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and a severe nerve disorder, has become an example of the cruel shortcomings of the new regulations.
"I haven't got the money to do anything more for her," said Alison's mother, Joyce Myrden, 73, watching her daughter sleep at her apartment in Burlington, Ont.
About 800 Canadians, including Ms. Myrden, have proven to doctors that their conditions require treatment with marijuana. They have received written exemptions from drug-possession laws.
But none of them gets any help from governments or drug plans to find their medicine. Those who cannot grow their own supply must rely on illegal drug dealers whose wares are often expensive, unreliable and unsafe.
Ms. Myrden and her widow mother tried farming their own pot, but they could not grow enough, they could not find the correct seeds and their plants were attacked by mould and insects. "It was a bust," Joyce Myrden said.
So Ms. Myrden's mother and boyfriend have been draining their savings accounts of about $1,200 each month to buy about 12 grams a day on the black market. They try to find the strain that is best for Ms. Myrden, called "Willy Wonderful" or "Wonderful Willy," but too often she has no idea what she is smoking.
Lately, they have had trouble affording enough marijuana to stave off Ms. Myrden's symptoms of MS and trigeminal neuralgia, a disorder that causes a stabbing sensation in her face so severe that medical textbooks have labelled it the worst pain known to science.
Before they started running out of marijuana, Ms. Myrden was able to walk her dog, Jake, around the block while she used a cane.
Now she is taking 33 pills and capsules each day -- paid for by government health insurance -- and can hardly stay awake.
"I threw up 14 or 15 times yesterday," she said. "That's the only things I do now: sleep and throw up. I know the government can help me and they're not."
Help for people such as Ms. Myrden may arrive later this year. The Ontario Superior Court ruled earlier this month that federal regulations for medical users are unconstitutional because patients have no access to a legal supply.
The court's decision gives Ottawa six months to amend the regulations and offer a government-controlled supply to the patients or allow the marijuana-possession law to be struck down.
Lawyer Alan Young, who has led the court challenges, said the government may balk at becoming a large-scale pot dealer. "It may be easier for them to turn a blind eye and let the law die."
Justice Minister Martin Cauchon has promised to introduce new marijuana legislation this spring, including decriminalization of possession of small amounts for personal use.
But Joseph Neuberger, another lawyer who represents medical-marijuana users, said decriminalization would only help his clients indirectly, because while it might lower the street price of the drug, it would not fix the problem of finding a safe, legal supply.
"If they give you a right, but it really is illusory because it really doesn't give you anything, then it's unconstitutional," he said.
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