HIV sufferer has medical marijuana confiscated

Published on July 7, 2011

A St. John’s man had $1,500 of medical marijuana confiscated when he went to pick up a package at Purolator and was met by the RCMP instead.

Richard Oakley, who tested positive for HIV 25 years ago, moved back to the province from British Columbia three months ago to be near family.

He told The Telegram he received the first package since coming home without a problem from his designated grower in B.C.

But last week he kept trying to claim his second delivery of marijuana and marijuana-laced chocolates and Purolator told him to come back Monday. That’s when he was met with the RCMP officer.

Oakley said he was assured there’d be no problem. Then he got a call saying it was shipped illegally.

“They’re going against my civil rights as a human being. They are taking away my quality of life,” Oakley said, sifting through a stack of papers chronicling his diagnosis and access to treatment, including marijuana.

“I don’t want to cause any trouble. I just want to live my life.”

Oakley said he understood as long as the package doesn’t smell and doesn’t advertise its contents, it should be acceptable.

The marijuana eases his nausea from taking a cocktail of medicine, and relieves his pain.

He also has neuropathy, which freezes nerves in his feet. The marijuana also eases that so he can go for walks and keep the blood flowing.

Since his supply was taken, he hasn’t been able to endure his pills, said Oakley, a longtime volunteer AIDS activist in B.C.

“I’m getting sicker by the minute. I can’t take my medication without throwing up,” said Oakley, who has an authorization from Health Canada for medical marijuana.

“It took years and years to get the licence,” he said.

He warns if the disease takes over, it will cost the Newfoundland government a lot of money to take care of him.

Oakley left home at 13 when his mother died and went to Calgary to live with an older brother, who has since moved to Nova Scotia. He eventually ended up in B.C. and wants to continue studies he left off years ago at MUN, as well as be near his family here — he has a dozen siblings and they have numerous children and grandchildren between them all.

Oakley said he contracted HIV in the mid-to-late 1980s — the height of the AIDS crisis when a diagnosis was almost a certain death sentence. Oakley said he always took care to be tested and got accidently popped with a needle while helping care for people with the disease.

He said he suffers from survivor’s guilt because of friends who have died.

“I’m after losing 200 people. I am a miracle,” he said, adding he’s had lymph node cancer and pneumonia that nearly killed him. A long scar under his jawline marks the place where the cancer was cut out.

He said doctors and the people at treatment centres have kept him going all these years.

“I’ve never spread it. I’ve always been into prevention and the quality of life of all involved,” Oakley said.

But he worries the seriousness of HIV and AIDS is leaving the public consciousness because it can be treated and people’s lives pcan be rolonged.

He also worries about the implications for the spread of the disease through addictions to drugs like OxyContin where people may share needles.

“I am really concerned about Newfoundland. They are shooting up OxyContins and doing all kinds of things and hiding the fact AIDS is here...Everybody wants to put it in the closet,” Oakley said, adding people may no longer be as worried about spreading the disease through unprotected sex.

“A lot of mainlanders come here. They got it (AIDS and HIV) and they don’t care, some of them.”

He said there should be mandatory AIDS testing for prostitutes and addicts and anyone else at risk.

RCMP media spokesman Sgt. Boyd Merrill confirmed Wednesday the RCMP is investigating the matter involving Oakley’s package and believes the licence was properly obtained.

However, the RCMP is trying to determine if the supplier of the drugs is registered under Health Canada’s guidelines before it considers handing the package over to Oakley.

No charges are being considered at this point, Merrill said.

Purolator national director of security and loss prevention Susan Munn said the courier company doesn’t have access to an approved grower’s list and cannot identify whether a package is illegal under federal narcotics laws or legal under medical marijuana regulations.

But she said if it’s suspicious or damaged, the company is obligated to notify police.

According to Health Canada, one company has a contract through the federal government to supply medical marijuana.

Oakley said he doesn’t deal with the federal supplier, but has the designated grower in B.C.

Richard Oakley of St. John’s holds some of the cocktail of medications to treat HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. A package of the drug sent to him from B.C. was confiscated by the RCMP. At right is a copy Oakley’s authorization from Health Canada to use medical marijuana. — Photos by Barb Sweet/The Telegram