By JESSE CARTER
Medical marijuana could be leading the way to pot in your pocket, legally.
Since marijuana and prohibition have existed, there have been those willing to fight to decriminalize it and change people's opinions. In 2010 there might be a change in the approach to pot and it is starting in California with 700,000 signatures to get the bill onto the floor of Congress for a November vote.
According to Health Canada's webpage on cannabis the plant produces what we know as marijuana, which in turn allows users to ingest the main psychoactive ingredient Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) into their blood stream where it binds to cannabinoid receptors. This is what causes the effects of getting high. Cannabis also produces hash, hash oil and hemp and can be grown indoors or outdoors depending on the seasonal temperatures.
Marijuana can been known as ganja, bud, weed and chronic and can be smoked out of a bong or pipe, or in a joint or vaporizer, or can be ingested through foods such as brownies and cookies.
Health Canada also says smoking marijuana will induce the effects right away whereas eating it will take longer, but effects can last much longer. Short-term effects can include red eyes, dry mouth or "pasties" and increased hunger, often called "munchies." Long-term use in heavy amounts can lead to paranoia or delusions and may cause bronchitis. Though marijuana can contain some toxic properties because of unregulated growing, it has not yet been proven to cause lung cancer with excessive or long-term use.
In Toronto there are institutions that allow users who possess the "weed card" to obtain medical marijuana. Cannabis as Living Medicine (CALM) is a licensed organization which can distribute marijuana to its members. It is not regulated by Health Canada because it does not fit the criteria for regulation. Neev, 38, who doesn't want his last name used, founded CALM in 1996 "out of necessity."
"I saw a need for it. The need was large, and it was obvious."
He says he picked the business of weed because not only is it a fascinating plant, it brings peace, in his opinion. He says more seriously that there are many economic, medical and spiritual reasons, not to mention civil rights, involved. Children smoking and people mixing alcohol and selling pot are all the biggest challenges to his organization's cause. He says 420 to them is just another day.
The term 420 refers to the time, 4:20 p.m. and date of April 20 of every year when marijuana users all around the world smoke constantly throughout the day, but especially at 4:20 p.m. That's considered the original smoking time by the people who coined the phrase 420.
As an individual, Neev says, 420 means something to him, but a lot of what is attached to marijuana are very cultural and have no medical reference.
CALM allows its members to obtain pot from it, but to gain membership an individual must fill out all the necessary paperwork and submit it with a doctor's note, which will be verified before any pot changes hands.
Over the years, he says, they have had around 3,000 members and only a few cases of fake doctor's notes or run-ins with the police. On March 31, 2010, both undercover and uniformed police officers of the 40th Division raided the CALM facility, according to mutiple sources, including The Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star and a video of CALM's security camera, available on YouTube. During the raid, employees and disabled-patrons were injured but only nine employees were arrested and charged, uncluding owner Neev. Charges they face include possession and other drug charges, because police claim CALM doesn't have a licence to distribute marijuana. However, Health Canada won't allow CALM to apply for a licence to regulate marijuana use. According to both the Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail, more than 16,000 grams of marijuana, just under 2,000 grams of hash, 207 grams of hash oil and a quanity of cash were confiscated.
His organization has contracted legal growers from whom the weed is obtained. Both CALM and the growers follow a seasonal cycle, which can mean a supply shortage sometimes in the late summer. This has never caused any problems with their patients.
The growers' supply, is inspected for quality with a microscope so that no cheap weed comes through to patients. The organization does have a return policy, which means the patient can take it home and try it to make sure it is right for them, in case any complaints are made.
"High quality is a must, and we like to give our patients as much info as we can on the weed they are getting," Neve says.
The average amount for members is an ounce per visit. Neev says two ounces per month is on the high side, no pun intended.
A protest held on April 11, in downtown Toronto was in response to the recent raid on CALM. Both protesters and disabled marijuana users marched on the 40th police division in a crowd estimated at 300, according to an article on the Toronto Sun's website posted on the eleventh. According to the Toronto Sun and CTV, protesters claim police used both force on the day of the raid and in some instances during the primarily peaceful rally.
Neev and his organization are also in charge of the annual Marijuana March held in Toronto around May. They are hoping to use the march as another protest in response to the raid. They estimated 30,000 people attended last year. It's held with music and vendors in Queen's Park. The event is to promote the safe use and legalization of recreational marijuana. It will be held on May 1 this year. He encourages everyone to come and bring their friends.
"The more the better, and if you can fill a bus, the better you'll be."
Although there has been little progress here in Canada on the legalization of pot, a recent press release on March 24 by the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) says that California's Ballot Measure to Tax and Regulate Marijuana is expected to, and did, qualify for ballot on March 25. This means that in November's vote, if it passes, it will be legal in California to possess under an ounce of pot and that cities can regulate it or not regulate it just like alcohol.
Steve Fox, director of state campaigns for the MPP, has been working in Washington, D.C. on behalf of the Tax Cannabis Campaign Organization to do the "leg work" to keep the bill alive. He says he works alongside the groups in changing the laws about marijuana and has been for 15 years. The press release says it is "expected to secure a place" for voting and Fox says March 24 was the last day for verification. It qualified the next day. The minimum amount is 433,000 signatures and then a five per cent sampling is checked for validity. More than 700,000 signatures have been submitted and Fox says counties have had a 75 per cent verification rate.
The only city left to check is Los Angeles, which needs 50 per cent support to pass. In the past the city has had a 60 to 75 per cent support rate so that is why he thought it will be secured for voting. After March 24, the votes were checked. It will be voted on in November 2010 vote and he believes this time, real change will happen.
"It would be historic, the first non-medical use of marijuana."
MPP has more than 124,000 members and it's the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the U.S. It believes the best way to minimize the harm associated with pot is to regulate it in a manner similar to alcohol. For more information see www.mpp.org.
Aaron Smith, the California policy director for MPP, says he believes the government of California has finally changed its approach to the roughly 78,000 people arrested each year and that we could be soon living in the days where you can legally possess pot for personal use.
"I am very optimistic and the support is growing at an exponential rate."