Dedicated activist John Cook closes Halifax CBC of C

By Debbie Stultz-Giffin

Due to anticipated difficulties with the proposed MMAR scheduled to come into effect later that year I had my first opportunity to work with media in early 2001. All patients seeking exemptions would need, among other things, a specialist to verify their need for cannabis. My neurologist, fully aware of my previous severe reactions to pharmaceuticals, refused to sign paperwork. Many things resulted from that interview. The most noteworthy is connecting with John Cook. John quickly became someone that I would work shoulder-to-shoulder with and proudly call my friend.
John Cook, of Harrietsfield, NS, husband to Krista and stay-at-home dad of Hannah and Megan, was busy establishing Atlantic Canada’s first chapter of a national cannabis club. His compassion club was affiliated with Ted Smith’s Cannabis Buyers’ Club of Canada.
John, a truly caring and compassionate gentleman, started the club to help patients, like himself, who failed to get appropriate relief from traditional pain killers. He has suffered from chronic pain syndrome for years due to two work related accidents causing neck and back pain as a result of a T9 vertebrae compressed fracture. The narcotics originally prescribed to deal with the pain left him feeling incapacitated.
In Feb. 2002, he officially announced the arrival of a Cannabis Buyers’ Club of Canada outlet in Halifax with 25 members. John was opening the only known Compassion Club east of Quebec that functioned in an ethical, open, and transparent manner. He informed the public, politicians, and police of his intentions through correspondence, press releases, meetings, and distributing his brochure to businesses and hospitals.
The sole director of the Halifax outlet pre-screened club members to ensure the legitimacy of their medical claim and to keep an eye out for undercover law enforcement. Doctor’s notes from the patient’s treating physician or verification of medical conditions were required for club membership. Club members signed notes that they would not re-sell any medicine they purchased. All of the club’s medication providers were expected to provide cannabis to club members only. Although having a store front was John’s ultimate dream, he mostly has met patients in their homes or at prearranged locations.
John was keenly aware of what he was putting on the line when he began his compassion club, but the governmental red tape and bureaucracy standing between patients and the medicine—that gave them ultimate symptom management and quality of life—was his motivation.
On May 12, 2005, John Cook and Steve Chute, of Springhill, NS, both entered not guilty pleas to charges of possessing marijuana and possession for the purpose of trafficking. Seventy-five hundred dollars worth of cannabis grown for John’s club by Chute, who was too ill to make the delivery personally, had been placed on the Acadian Lines Bus, in Springhill, destined for John in Halifax. The package of cannabis was discovered by the RCMP in Truro.
Ironically, it wasn’t until John applied to get the seized cannabis back that both gentlemen were officially charged. In June of 2005, John stood in front of Judge John MacDougall in a Truro courtroom and launched an unsuccessful bid to have the medication returned to the club. It was deemed essential evidence in the upcoming trial against Cook and Chute despite the fact that neither was denying the existence of the package. In fact, John had signed documentation that disclosed the package’s contents.
In 2005, both John and Steve faced a maximum of five years incarceration. The trial was scheduled to begin in early Sept. when Crown Attorney Cameron MacKinnon suddenly announced that all charges had been stayed.
It was John’s intention to “prove that possession and cultivation laws (for medical users) weren’t even on the books anymore.” He was fully prepared to defend himself as he is a firm believer in the right to defend oneself in court as “they want you to pay through the nose for justice.”
On Sept. 28, 2009, John made these comments to Dan Arsenault, crime reporter, of The Chronicle Herald in an article called “Weeding through the Government Red Tape”:
“The majority of the (cannabis buyers’) club members don’t have exemptions; maybe 10 of them do. I don’t know if we can do it legally. The police have commented if they have a complaint they will investigate. I assume they haven’t had a complaint. I’ve had a lot of dealings through the court helping other people with their charges, so I’ve got to know the Crown (attorneys) and a lot of the officers. I don’t know if that has any bearing on it or not. I guess as long as I don’t step outside what we consider the boundaries. You have to show medical proof.”
In 2009, the Halifax Outlet of the Cannabis Buyers’ Club of Canada had 130 members ranging in age from 21 to 85. Cannabis was generally $8 a gram (lower if larger amounts were purchased) with three strains were available—a sativa, an indica, and a mixture of both. John’s profit margin was extremely low and his intention was to cover the cost of his own medicine, the delivery costs to maintain the club, and any extra would go to assist patients who were facing charges in court.
John also found time to work with several activists as we established a provincial not-for-profit—Maritimers Unite for Medical Marijuana Society (MUMM).
Officially incorporated in Oct. of 2003, MUMM is a registered non-profit organization, advocating and lobbying for the rights of medicinal cannabis patients, cultivators and distributors including compassion clubs and societies (particularly in Atlantic Canada) through legislative strategies, media campaigns, and non-violent direct action while endeavouring to educate others about the relative safety of medical cannabis.
Since MUMM’s inception John has been Vice Chair and a speaker at most functions and rallies. He has been a crucial voice in all aspects of media, both defending the rights of medical cannabis patients and chastising the government for the abysmal job they have done to uphold patients’ rights. He has lobbied all levels of government, including the UN, for effective change and to end prohibition. John has written editorials and countless letters to the editor. He has worked diligently with ill patients as they have fought to maintain housing, stay out of prison, and to have access to their legally recommended cannabis.
John’s passion to ensure that all patients have informed representation in court resulted in his assisting with anything from answering questions to sitting with them in court, and even in some cases to be their voice in court. John scoured disclosures and helped patients formulate affidavits—all on a voluntary basis—with the understanding that the “accused” would assist with any of John’s out of pocket expenses. Countless patients, not only in Atlantic Canada but throughout the country, have John to thank for their freedom and/or for financial savings. MUMM promoted John’s efforts through the courts by creating the Court Support Initiative in which John has been a guiding influence.
John served on the inaugural board of directors for Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and in the fall of 2011 was the Atlantic Canada representative for NORML Canada.
Sadly, this winter, John Cook has been forced to resign as Director of CBC of C’s Halifax outlet due to health concerns that have been on-going since Aug. of 2011.
John supplied exemption holder Sally Campbell, a social assistance recipient, with medicine while she battled for several years to recoup the expenses through Department of Community Services. Campbell finally won a decision in the Nova Scotia Supreme Court, in 2010. Sally’s doctor deemed her medical cannabis a necessity and Judge Moir ordered DCS to foot the bill. Sally has been provided with minimal reimbursement for current expenses. Attempts to receive compensation for medicine supplied by John have been denied. This has left the family short financially to the tune of $50,000. John closing the club also means that he no longer has a ready supply of medicine to cope with the chronic pain syndrome.
The provincial NDP should be ashamed. They promised MUMM delegates, in 2007, that if they were governing they would assist low income patients with medication costs. Now, they have sealed the special needs program so that it will not include medical cannabis.
John has been a constant shining example of how to run an above board, open and transparent compassion club for nearly 10 years—and how to be an activist with real integrity. John’s dedication to patients and the medical cannabis cause has been nothing short of exemplarily.
Krista, John’s wife, when asked to comment on John’s years as a cannabis crusader said, “I am proud of John’s accomplishments over the years. He has set the bar for what it is to be truly compassionate. John is such a good man to everyone regardless of how he feels. He is selfless. I love him dearly.”
If anyone would like to make a donation to this wonderful man who has given so much to so many, please email <chair@mumm.ca> for details.