The straight dope

Barb
Barb Sweet
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Why advocates say marijuana should be legalized

In his Torbay home, Mike Dawe slides open an end-table drawer, pulls out a Mason jar and rolls a joint.

There are no additives like tobacco. The marijuana - weed or pot as it is most commonly called - is grown by Dawe with an ardent dedication to craftsmanship.

As Dawe, a rail-thin man who stands an inch shy of seven feet, takes The Telegram on a tour of the basement of the house he rents, he apologizes, saying the current plants are not his best crop.

Mike Dawe discusses obstacles to acquiring medicinal marijuana.

The basement rooms hold a selection of plants - some have been harvested - and an impressive system of lights specially made for indoor gardening.

Dawe began growing the marijuana after obtaining a licence as part of medical treatment. He provides for himself and is the designated grower for another patient.

He was pursuing botany studies before his conditioned worsened.

Dawe suffers from Marfan syndrome, which affects the connective tissue in many parts of the body. He has a stainless steel aortic valve and uses medical marijuana to relieve the excruciating pain and insomnia.

"I can still get around, so I figured I may as well help while I can," said Dawe, who used to get weed from a compassion club, and bought it illegally for a few years before that.

But while Dawe has a licence to grow, he also supports the legalization of marijuana for everyone, a movement that equates the criminalization of weed cultivation and possession to the 1920s Prohibition of alcohol.

For Dawe and other medical marijuana patients, it's neither simple nor cheap to source the marijuana. And some days, his condition makes the labour of tending the crop - 14 hour days at certain crucial steps - hard to endure.

Dawe runs the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Marijuana Society, and says it's also difficult to get a doctor to sign off - some think they need a special licence to prescribe medical marijuana. Others are afraid their practices will be investigated.

Once a doctor is found, though, there are detailed forms to fill out and it takes eight to 10 weeks to get approval from Health Canada, he said.

Medical marijuana is not covered by MCP, nor private medical insurance, Dawe added.

And for the grower, there is the wait for the first crop to reach cultivation stage, and the requirement to buy from Health Canada in the meantime.

At $150 for a 30-gram package plus tax, it's unaffordable, said Dawe, who is licensed for the use of 15 grams a day.

He also fears there will be a future shift away from allowing patients to grow their own.

"No way I could afford that. I am a disability patient. I get enough money to pay rent and some of my bills and that's it," he said.

"I get phone calls about when my next bit of power is going to get cut off or when my phone is going to get cut off and I just have to find a way to pay it. ... We're handed a piece of paper saying, 'It's legal, go figure it out.'"

He gets a $600 electrical bill subsidy through disability, but the actual cost ranges from $800 a month in the summer to $1,200 in winter - he uses 16,000 watts of power for 98 plants.

°°°

Another medical marijuana user, a native of Torbay now living in Ontario, said the Health Canada supplied medical marijuana is of poor quality.

Clayton, who only wanted his first name used, suffered two debilitating accidents - one in which he fell from a roof and landed on his head - and uses a vaporizer or makes butter from the pot he grows. He said he never gets stoned and can function, something prescribed OxyContin robbed him of for years.

"I didn't move through the door. I didn't do nothing," he said, adding it took him years to find a doctor to prescribe the marijuana, whereas physicians were eager to prescribe OxyContin and other opiates.

Now, not only does the weed allow him quality of life, growing the plants has given him a hobby of sorts.

"I don't want chemicals in it. I want it to be perfect," he said.

He smoked it in the home of his senior citizen parents in Torbay this winter.

"They'd rather see me do that than be the way I was on OxyContin," said Clayton, who used pot illegally in his youth and favours it being legalized altogether if it is controlled by the government the same way alcohol sales are.

°°°

Family members are supportive of Dawe, too. The police don't hassle him beyond once showing up to make sure he had the right number of plants, but he sometimes hears people snicker and whisper in public, referring to him as a "stoner."

He moves in three weeks' time, but has secured another rental in Conception Bay South from a medical marijuana user. Finding someone to rent to a pot grower is tricky.

Even worse is finding a place to take his dog, Marley - named after late reggae legend Bob Marley, of course - and cat, Franklin.

°°°

The anti-weed-prohibition movement has been gathering steam lately and catching headlines around the country, with advocates arguing marijuana's health benefits and safety as a soft drug.

And now that the federal government has rolled out its omnibus crime bill, there are concerns about people getting mandatory minimum sentences and clogging up jails for minor cannabis-related offences.

The Global Commission on Drug Policy says it's "very weird" that Canada is taking a tougher line on marijuana when governments across the globe are reconsidering the war on drugs.

And while former high-profile U.S. federal prosecutor John McKay stands behind having had Canada's "Prince of Pot" arrested, indicted and ultimately sentenced to five years in an American prison, he has come out in favour of legalizing it, according to media reports. It was reported by The Canadian Press in the lead-up to the annual 4-20 celebration - a counterculture holiday where marijuana users gather to smoke weed.

McKay, who now teaches at a Seattle, Wa. university, said Canada's policy is out of step internationally.

Marc Emery went to prison in 2010 for selling marijuana seeds by mail to U.S. customers.

In 2003, a St. John's rally - part of the Cannabis Culture publisher's cross-Canada tour - drew the largest crowd in the country, at more than 200 people. About the same number turned out for his farewell tour in 2009.

This month, roughly 200 people gathered in Bannerman Park for the annual 4-20 celebration.

Dawe, who's in his 30s, no longer attends the rallies much and laments it's the young people who are mostly showing up at public events. He said Emery is the rock star of the marijuana community, and so naturally would have been a big draw.

"Young people know the message. They've heard these points a million times. You need the multitude of people 30 years and up that smoke marijuana - most of them will just not admit it," he said.

"That's who needs to hear it and get out there and talk about it. But they won't until they stop worrying about losing their jobs and society says you can't fire this mass amount of people or society shuts down. (There's) only a handful that will really say it, which is sad."

°°°

Arron Chalker, 20, is among those who publicly advocate for legalization. But he doesn't describes himself as a pothead.

He had his first joint around age 17, and says he only smokes it occasionally.

"I would say it wasn't heavy, never heavy, never very habitual," he said.

Chalker mainly advocates legalization because of the amount of money it would save the legal system, and the taxes it could generate.

"If we were to cut out prohibition and stop spending it on the (policing, prosecution and incarceration) ... we would have $5.9 billion to distribute elsewhere," he said, citing anti-prohibition articles.

Chalker became interested in the movement as he left high school and began searching out documentaries and research.

"While searching for answers, I was directed towards this miracle plant. Some people call it the tree of life," he said.

While staunchly Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper is in power, neither Chalker nor Dawe expect weed to be legalized. But they say it eventually will be.

Dawe discounts the argument that drug gangs would not be affected by the loss of the marijuana trade since they also market harder drugs like cocaine and heroine. They will still be around, Dawe said, but they will take a large hit if pot was legalized and regulated.

"Tonnes of weed don't come from people like me. That comes from some pretty bad people," he said.

°°°

Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Chief Robert Johnston cautioned against the broad statement that marijuana is safe to use.

"People say marijuana use is harmless. I have seen it from a lot of young people who use it and have made decisions that have altered their life," Johnston told The Telegram.

"I have seen first hand the impacts that illegal drugs have in general. Even though it's a soft drug, when they are under the influence of a drug sometimes your inhibitions are down. You make decisions that you have to pay for for the rest of your life."

Johnston said it's up to the federal government to decide laws and whether or not marijuana remains illegal.

"Elected officials got to make that determination. We'll support them and provide them whatever information they want. But clearly there is a great deal of profit made by organized crime. Any abuse of any drugs, you know, is going to have an impact on youth," he said.

He, too, noted that organized crime does not rely solely on marijuana sales.

"Not only are they selling marijuana, they are selling cocaine, they're selling oxycodone, they're selling other things, so they have sort of branched out," Johnston said.

"Some of the critics are saying marijuana prosecution is taking up a great deal of the RNC's or RCMP's time. ... If you took marijuana out of the equation, those illegal crime groups are going to sell something else.

"I am not a politician. I am a public servant - the chief of police - and I am committed to upholding the laws, whatever they may be. ... My ultimate goal is to make sure we have healthy, safe communities."

bsweet@thetelegram.com with files from The Canadian Press

Organizations: The Telegram, Health Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Marijuana Society Canadian Press Global Commission on Drug Policy Cross-Canada RCMP

Geographic location: Torbay, Canada, Ontario U.S. Conception Bay South Seattle St. John's Bannerman Park

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Comments

Comments

Recent comments

  • Eugene from Town
    May 04, 2012 - 18:19

    Gracelyn = uninformed.

  • mlei
    May 01, 2012 - 08:13

    Anything can be abused, especially good things.

  • Halifax Smoker and advocate
    April 30, 2012 - 20:14

    https://www.marijuanadoctors.com/blog/Medical-Marijuana-Studies/Harvard-Study-Marijuana-Cuts-Lung-Cancer-Tumor-Growth-in-Half regarding West coast Newf...do you research before spitting out BS...Alcohol and Pharmaceutical drugs are 100% more addictive than Cannabis...

  • yo mama
    April 30, 2012 - 14:14

    Sorry Gracelyn, I don't mean people who do drugs are dumb, but it WAS a dumb decision to start in the first place, and I don't consider weed a drug....it's natural, have at it!! I was referring to the chemical rubbish out there, horrible.

    • Rickinator
      January 17, 2013 - 01:12

      so things that are natural arent drugs, and things with chemicals in them are. you are brilliant.

  • Devil's Advocate
    April 30, 2012 - 08:29

    As usual, there are a lot of people talking, but they do not know what they are talking about. The comments against marijuana are obviously the results of a lifetime of brainwashing with no actual experience of anything marijuana.

  • Ziggy Sirjack
    April 29, 2012 - 14:55

    FREE VIDEO CONTEST: Tell us why you like weed in 45 secs or less. Top 10 will appear in the upcoming comedy film Gone to Pot and the best three will share $10,000. Celeb judges include comedian Margaret Cho. Enter on Facebook/gonetopotmovie

  • Gregory
    April 29, 2012 - 11:12

    To everyone making comments about "science" proving the dangers of marijuana use. Don't spit out claims you can't back up. I've worked for 5 years in the general field of life/medical sciences, and have a biochemistry degree. I've yet to see an article published in a reliable journal PROVING marijuana use is harmful. There are claims, but they have been far from proved. If you have one, link me to it. Critical thinking, it's something everyone should try out. Don't believe what people tell you, do your own research. I smoke marijuana. I haven't ruined my life. The only way marijuana is addictive is if you already have an addictive personality (much like how VLT's aren't addictive, it's a personality thing). It isn't a gateway drug, if so I'd be shooting meth in to my veins by now. And you can NOT overdose. The LD50 value of THC has never been recorded it's that high. You'd have to smoke every last plant in the world before any conclusive evidence of there being an LD50 for it, and well that just isn't possible.

    • Adam
      April 29, 2012 - 12:57

      "And you can NOT overdose. The LD50 value of THC has never been recorded it's that high. You'd have to smoke every last plant in the world before any conclusive evidence of there being an LD50 for it, and well that just isn't possible." http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0041008X74901264

    • Gregory
      April 29, 2012 - 22:54

      Good job. You linked me to an out of date article which does not mention a human LD50, nor does it even attempt to make a correlation from rat to human. You can't compare apples to oranges, despite the similarities between our two species. The article itself has been cited by other authors twice in the past fourty years, which tells me that people working in the field have found some reason to dismiss this publication. If this were such a hard hitting article showing a definite LD50, it would have been cited hundreds of times now (even some of the not so important papers get cited at least several times in its lifespan)

  • Kate M
    April 29, 2012 - 10:03

    There is so much ignorance in these comments. Smoking marijuana does not make you less of a productive citizen. I can guarantee you that people in some of Newfoundland highest ranking jobs smoke marijuana regularly. I have an education, a job and volunteer for the better of the community, and I also smoke weed. It's offensive for anyone to call us hippies. You probably consume alcohol, so I'll consider you a drunk. Tell me, what do you do to contribute to society other than put your nose in someone elses business? :)

  • Tony
    April 29, 2012 - 09:26

    Personally I don't care if someone uses marihuana or not but lets be honest here, there are some serious problems with this guys claims that there are no negative effects from Marihuana. This guy spends up to 14 hours a day caring for his marihuana plants and his electricity bill is up to 1200 dollars a month. I see two serious negative effects right there. As for marihuana as a pain killer, I'm sure it does kill pain but so does a bottle of rum. I wouldn't consider rum a pain killer. Marihuana is the same as everything else. Taken in moderation there are usually no problems. When it takes over your life, and I have seen it do so in many cases, it becomes a serious problem.

  • Sharon
    April 28, 2012 - 22:26

    I am 63 years old. I have smoked marijuana since I was 21. I worked in a very demanding position from which I retired after 30 very successful years of employment. I totally agree with legalization.

  • Adam
    April 28, 2012 - 18:23

    Any of the arguments that oppose tend to focus on the exceptions. Weed will NEVER be legal for those under the age of 18. Just like it isn't legal for those under 18 to smoke or drink (19 in some provinces.) Stoned driving will ALWAYS be illegal. Just like drinking and driving is illegal. Saliva tests are far more accurate to find out if someone has recently smoked and is intoxicated. An intoxicated person will always be a threat on a jobsite, behind the wheel. If someone is suspected of being intoxication (with cannabis or alcohol) they should be removed for the safety of others. It's not illegal to be high. People are high when they are drunk. Same thing, different words. If I as a intelligent consumer want to put mariajuan smoke into my lungs I should have the right to do it. If I can stuff my face with burgers, beers, cigs and energy drinks (all harmful to my body) I should be allowed to smoke a joint now and then to relax and have a good time. There is no real good reason for cannabis to remain illegal. It can be responsibly enjoyed by adults without them turning into a 'pot head'. Just like if I have a beer, I'm not going to turn into a wife beating, puking alcoholic mess.

  • knowa
    April 28, 2012 - 17:41

    Prohibition of cannabis is base on no science what so ever. It's a lie, a fraud, a scam and a jobs program for all the BED BUGS of society that want too at all cost destroy the lives to other wise law abiding citizen and to continue to milk history's most golden cash cow. Obama end this now

    • Joe
      April 29, 2012 - 07:40

      Obama? Do you even 'knowa' which country you're in?

  • Zoe
    April 28, 2012 - 17:15

    I smoke marijuana and I would bet I am more physically fit then a lot of people complaining about how weed supposedly degrades society. I run 15 laps around a track, 3 nights a week and I work at a job that I never get high before going to. I only buy organic and support my local economy, not chinese made. Why does smoking pot make me an unproductive member of society again?

  • Neil
    April 28, 2012 - 16:23

    It's incredible to see so many people have bought the lies about cannabis. Cannabis is one of the least potentially harmful substances on the planet. There are many things in our world that can cause harm and most of them are "legal" because Gov't's and the financial elite profit from them. They prohibit cannabis and attempt to demonize it to protect their interests and it is costing us a fortune in scarce and precious tax dollars to do it. Using cannabis will almost never ruin your life, It is beneficial to most who use it, but getting "busted" for it almost always hurts the person way more than the substance ever could. Grab a brain you fools, your money is being wasted to protect corporate greed and your swallowing their B.S like it was gospel.

  • Adam
    April 28, 2012 - 15:45

    As a long time supporter of complete legalization and taxation. And I'd like to mention it's not like criminilization has any adverse effect on buying or using marijuana. It's consumed pseudo-openly across the country and especially in our province. I can only cross my fingers, keep showing up to rallies and signing petitions and hope to see this movement keep moving and not get squashed by current powers. I almost feel the legalization movement should almost wait til Harper gets the boot. But it will happen eventually.

  • Carl
    April 28, 2012 - 11:46

    I don't really care if some people want to poison their bodies and minds with marijuana. But I do care that it makes our society as a whole less productive, less intelligent, less physically fit and less safe. Of course, the same can be said for alcohol. But there are constitutionally legal tests for police and employers to determine if someone has been drinking in inappropriate circumstances. Smoking also costs society a great deal, but at least it does not impair a person's motor skills and jeopardize public safety. Marijuana combines the worst qualities of both alcohol and tobacco, and the less of it is used in our society the better off we will all be. (Except in cases where medical science determines that it can help combat specific illnesses.)

  • Josh
    April 28, 2012 - 11:37

    Hazards of marijuana use? Compared to the hazards of alcohol use? Not even comparable. If alcohol is legal, then marijuana should also be legal considering that it's far less harmful. Lets face it, there isn't a humanly achievable lethal dose of THC, whereas alcohol poisoning is sometimes too common. Many people who drink in excess become unpredictable, and sometimes violent. From personal experience, smoking a joint almost never results in violence. Blaze up, and within 15 minutes (and about a bag of cheetos later) you're asleep on the couch.

  • West Coast Newf
    April 28, 2012 - 11:28

    OK, to all of you Dope smoking Hippies out there! You guys obviously smoke to much of this crap, you actually believe it has a medical advantage. I call BS, if you actually take the time and read medical studies performed you will clearly see that Marijuana has no medical value that can't be met more effectively by prescription drugs. And lets no forget about it being a Gateway Drug... users are far more likely to use other drugs like cocaine and heroin than non-marijuana users. And not to mention the health risks associated... Harvard University researchers report that the risk of a heart attack is five times higher than usual in the hour after smoking marijuana. So I ask you this... is it really worth it... I could go on, but I've wasted enough of my time...

    • east coast
      April 28, 2012 - 15:48

      i call bs on you, good sir.

  • yo mama
    April 28, 2012 - 11:17

    Who cares what anyone puts in their bodies? I say go for it, if you're dumb enough to put a drug in your body, you live with the consequences....simple as that, there shouldn't be any laws against it, I call it population control, lots of awesome overdoses to clean up this sick, overpopulated world.

    • Gracelyn
      April 28, 2012 - 12:09

      @Yo Mama: People who take drugs are not necessarily "dumb." People take illicit drugs for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it's a matter of children taking the drugs offered to them without being mature enough to to fathom the potential consequences of their actions. Sometimes it's about peer pressure (to which most of us are susceptible to some degree or another). Sometimes young people resort to drugs to deal with intense, crippling emotional pain as a result of being abused (sexually or otherwise). If addicts want help, it's our responsibility to provide same.

  • Richard
    April 28, 2012 - 10:33

    Do you drink Gracelyn? Because there is an excellent, live in person demonstration on the dangers of drinking. It is called George Street on any night of the week. Don't tell me I am harming myself or others by smoking a doob and watching a movie.

    • Gracelyn
      April 28, 2012 - 11:55

      @Richard: Yes, alcohol abuse is a serious problem in our culture - a source of much grief. And if you want to smoke a doob, that's your business. But there is scientific evidence that recreational marijuana use is often detrimental to people's health - sometimes catastrophically so.

  • Gracelyn
    April 28, 2012 - 08:47

    I would never bedgrudge the use of medical marijuana to anyone who honestly needed it. Having said that, recreational marijuana use can be (and often is) far more harmful than a lot of people would like to believe. There's an excellent documentary called "The Downside of High" regarding some of the dire hazards of marijuana use. The documentary can be viewed online on the CBC website.