Russell Barth & Christine Lowe fighting for the right to medicate

By Al Graham

pace-online.ca

When I first got involved with the cannabis community, I often saw the same name attached to published letters appearing in newspapers. They were always educational and spoke with truth, unlike what some politicians were saying about cannabis. I then found out that one of my friends was attending the author’s wedding. From there, things grew. I was seeing his name more and more often. People were talking about him, but other than knowing that he wrote a lot of letters to several newspapers all across North America, I didn’t know much about him.

To find out more, I sent Russell Barth of Ottawa a letter requesting an interview in order to find out more about the name I really only saw in the papers. After our 4.5-hour Skype call, there probably isn’t a lot that I do not know about Russell and his wife Christine Lowe. We touched on everything cannabis-related, from how they got started in the cannabis movement to the many activities that this pair have done for so long. We talked about everything from Russell’s medical condition to how he ran in a federal election; how the the two of them met to the day they got married. The pair even held a press conference on Parliament Hill and co-wrote a book together to educate people about “mommy’s funny medicine.” While I may not see his name attached to letters as often as before, I can tell you he hasn’t been sitting still.RusselBarthandChristineLowe

When I contacted Russell for our interview, he informed me that Christine and him had just visited Liberal MP Dr. Carolyn Bennett. He says he enjoyed the meeting, the obvious topic being cannabis. When it came to the legalization of it, he told her, “if we regulated cannabis like alcohol and tobacco, we’d have the same problems that we have with teens abusing it like alcohol and tobacco. But if we regulate it like coffee and soft drinks, for 16 and over, then parents, health care workers, and doctors could teach them how to use it properly, like we do with soft drinks, food, sex, and piercings.” Russell was asked by an aid in the room “how to bring that to the public.” His response was, “science.” If we rely on science to prove other things, why not cannabis?

The pair talked with MP Bennett about the MMAR-MMPR situation. While he has been happy with his designated grower, (DG) he says he would prefer “to have the government pay for it like other medications” in order to prevent the hassles that come with a DG. He wonders why “the government doesn’t remove it from the CDSA and give it a DIN number like other drugs.” He goes on to say, “that way, patients should get it like other drugs, whether it’s heart medication or anything else, and once companies realize that their profits are going up, because patients are not needing other health care items, then they are going to realize that this is a lot better.”

Medical Use

Russell uses cannabis medically for PTSD and fibromyalgia, which he described as a condition that people and doctors don’t understand. While most people get one doctor to diagnose their condition, he tells me he has been “diagnosed by seven of them.” Russell also used cannabis recreationally as a youth, but he says, “growing up in the suburbs near Montreal I had a much easier access to getting hashish.” As time went on he consumed it on and off as a teenager, but then found it relieved pain for a hyper-extended neck he had received after a car crash at the age of 19. They told him he’d have some trouble, but instead he got “pain, tingling, spasms, weakness.”

 

Years later, his back pain was was connected to his earlier car crash. He touched on his use of painkillers and the negative effects he was getting from them, and how one of his legs is a half-inch longer than the other. This has put his spine out of place, and his body has been compensating for it all his life.

By the time he was 25, he was dealing with back spasms “that felt like arrows sticking in my back, along with spasms in my neck.” He goes on and says, “in ’96 to ’97 I was taking a handful of pills and I was mixing my prescriptions for the pain, including Robaxacet, which recommends no more than eight tablets in a day and for no more than three days in a row unless consulted on it by a physician. Well, I was doing anywhere from 17 to 22 tablets a day for weeks at a time.” A year later things started to change, as he met someone very special to him. “In ’98 I met Christine, and I was yellow with jaundice and over 230 pounds.” Like many other people, Russel was without a doctor. When I asked him what he did, he told me that “my current doctor took me in. The autumn of 1999, I just wandered into the office and asked for help. I was such a mess, they took me right away.”

After some discussion, the doctor determined that Russel should have been dead by then because of him taking so many pills. He asked her for help, and she gave him two options: “quit cold turkey or do it over a two-week period.” When he asked which one she recommended, the doctor told him, “cold turkey usually leaves a lasting impression.” He did as the doctor recommended and quit right then. He tells me he had to go back two more times, and none of it sounded much fun as he described his experience. “The first thing that happens is that the pain slowly creeps back in, then you start to cough, as codeine is a cough suppressant. So as soon as you stop taking it you start to cough, and with no phlegm you go into a rough raspy cough.” He said that this led to uncontrollable reactions as “I shit myself and snot was coming out of my face. This would take days and it was a nightmare, and once I was past that, I still had to deal with all my pain.”

In 2002, Russell visited a sleep doctor because of his excessive snoring and because Christine noticed that he stopped breathing in his sleep. To find out what was wrong, Russell had to do a sleep test, but with him being Christine’s full-time caregiver, he insisted that she spend the night with him. After a while, the place finally agreed and prepared a bed for her to sleep on. During the test they noticed that Russell didn’t sleep. They described him as being “blacked out,” and that his readings “were among the worst printouts that they had ever seen.” This at the age of 32. They proposed medications and a machine for him to use while he slept. Meanwhile, Christine was doing some research online for Russell’s condition. In July of that year she told him to “stop consuming dairy, white bread, peanut butter, sugar, teas, anything caffeinated, and many other items” for a month. Two weeks later, his problem stopped and he hasn’t had a problem since. He goes on to say that “the big process in my recovery has been this change in my diet,” and that the alcohol and drug problem he had for years is now “caged because of cannabis.”

Learning to Walk

In Nov. of 2001, Russell required the use of a wheelchair if he wanted to move any distance. From 2002 to 2006 he was in the chair full-time, and doctors were telling him he was never going to get out of it for the rest of his life. He suggested to his doctors to just let him use cannabis, but the doctors took Christine off to the side and told her that “Russell would have to learn how to cope with it, as it was unrealistic to think he was going to get any better.” But Russell had other plans.

In Feb. of 2007, Russell moved across the street from a mall, and by then he had also moved up to a type-two walker which came equipped with a seat. With this mall being so close to him, its hallways become his personal gym. He says the mall gave him “no more excuses,” and he started to walk around it. When he had to, he would sit on one of the many benches, which he believes worked to extend his reach. He made such good progress that in “six to seven weeks” he was able to move up to two canes; although he was very unstable with them. At the same time, Russell changed his diet. He mentioned that he had to give up the potato chips that he ate three times a week, as it was an “addiction which led to a rough weekend” when he gave them up. He blamed his problem on the iodized salt and the oil used to make the chips. He reflected back to a time when after cleaning up his diet, he awoke with his “legs on fire, and my ankles and feet were swollen” because had eaten something he shouldn’t have. By May 2007, the junk food was gone entirely; he was able to walk with a cane and out of the wheelchair, which he had been tethered to for over five years, for good.

Meeting Christine

One day, Russel’s friend David introduced him to a lady friend of his by the name of Christine. He had told Russell about her epilepsy and a few other personal things. Russell said he didn’t have any concerns about them, and at the time he wasn’t looking for a girlfriend, but one day she spent the night at Russell’s place and she had a seizure. When she realized what had just occurred, she apologized for it and got up to leave. But Russell said, “there is no need to apologize,” and he asked her why she would want to leave. She told him “most people look at me funny and then find an excuse to leave and then I never hear from them again.”

He talked about the time in 2001 when Christine looked at him and said, “I don’t feel so good.” He described what happened next: “she died and her lights went out.” He said that he had seen enough seizures to know that she was having one. He describes “dragging her down the hall to the bathroom and throwing water on her. I was pounding on her chest telling her to wake up.” She awoke coughing and swinging her arms at him. She then asked, “what the hell was that? I was floating on the ceiling, watching you drag me to the bathroom. I see my dead grandfather, I see my hands as if I was a little girl, and then suddenly I’m on the floor again.” He then told her she had died. He found out later that this was not the first time this had happened, as the last one occurred in the dentist’s office whileshe was getting her wisdom teeth pulled.

Back then, Christine and Russell knew about the new Health Canada licensing program, so they approached her doctor with this idea, and found out how quickly he didn’t like it. While the doctor wasn’t completely against it, there was no way that the paperwork was going to get signed. They didn’t push the doctor on it, but she chose to continue its use. Because of this decision in 2002, Russell tells me she went from having “about 60 big and small seizures before July 1” of that year, and from then to “Dec. 31 of that year, she only had about 13 more.” The following year, that was reduced to nine before dropping to five in 2004.

 

To help educate people about her condition and the benefits that cannabis brings, they have posted online a piece of video footage of Christine’s violent grand mal epileptic seizures. They say they did this “to educate and inform the public of the benefits of medicinal cannabis as an anticonvulsant. It has been broadcast and is available on <Pot-tv.net> and on YouTube.” Christine now requires 24/7 care, which is something that Russell has taken to. The video of Christine can be viewed at <www.youtube.com/watch?v=MRZY2a2jnuw>

The Wedding

When the two of them decided to get married, they chose to have a “slam wedding,” which is when you just show up at a public location such as a city park and hold your ceremony unannounced.

While they felt their location wasn’t a problem, they didn’t have any government photo ID, and they still had to decide what kind of wedding they would have. Would it be a regular wedding with some family and friends, or would it be an activists’ wedding?

When they went to fill out the marriage licensing paperwork, they found out they required government photo ID such as a driver’s license or an age of majority card. Neither of them drives a car, they were too old to get an Age of Majority card, and an Ontario Health Card cannot be used due to privacy issues. After contacting several services within the government, they were getting nowhere. “It’s crazy, man. I can get a license to grow pot but I can’t get a license to get married.”

With this photo ID issue getting in their way, they figured they had to use the only photo ID they had: their federally issued medical marijuana MMAR cards. Was it acceptable to be used, would the clerk be a problem, would they end up getting the same questions and run-around that they had received on the phone? Because of all the running around and the problems they were having, the pair chose to call CJOH, the area’s local television news station to discuss their situation. After talking to them, the station agreed to be present as that they to felt was a bit odd. They weren’t alone, as the lady at the county office thought the whole thing was absurd. In the end she took their MMAR cards, photocopied them, and issued them their marriage license. Due to the news publicity their possible plan of having a quiet wedding didn’t happen.

Along with many friends and family being present, some of them making the drive up from Florida, there were also many cannabis advocates in attendance. For some of his friends, it was the first time they had seen Russell in a wheelchair, but for most of the people from Florida, seeing people consuming cannabis in a public park was shocking. Russell tells me that when the family members and friends returned home to the U.S. their developed pictures and negatives of the marijuana plants from the wedding were missing.

Christine describes living with Russell as being “intense at times. Russell is very emotional man. As my husband he is very dedicated, very loyal and trusting. He’s like a caged Bengal tiger and Basil Fawlty” (the main character of the British sitcom Fawlty Towers). She goes on to say that “not only are we married, but Russell is also my caregiver,” while acknowledging that the activism can wear away at you and your relationships.

Russell and Christine work as a team and help each other in many ways throughout the day, whether it’s a conversation or chores around the house. Russell says, “If I die tomorrow I want to be known as a guy who was dedicated in this way. I want them to know that I gave it all for Christine.”

Activism: How it all got Started

Russell and Christine have been united as cannabis advocates for over eleven years. It started in May of 2002, when the two of them went to the Million Marijuana March on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. The two of them say it was a “very basic setup with a microphone and some speakers. People sat around on blankets or sat in lawn chairs and maybe three hundred people were present.” The turning point for them was when an upset lady got up, went the microphone, and said, “I have MS and I’m a home care worker. If I can’t work I can’t feed my daughter and if these [expletive] want to put me in jail for that they can go ahead and try.” When they got home, Christine, who has dealing with the side effects of her epilepsy medicine and other ailments, spent a day and a half sitting on the balcony overlooking the city, thinking. Russell approached her and asked what was up. She told him “I’m thinking of quitting my medicine and just using cannabis.” He looked at her and said, “If we do that, then we need to become public activists. I’m not going to go sneaking around the cracks of this city finding you medicine; we’ve been doing that for the last year.” He then let her know that if she wanted to become an advocate, it would involve getting in the newspapers and going on TV. Christine replied, “that’s what I was thinking, but I wasn’t sure how to approach you about it.” He said that he really didn’t want to get arrested either, but they had no careers, no pets or kids, and nothing else that the police could use to threaten them for speaking out. But there was a concern about their families, such as what their parents would say or do. It appears that Russell found out shortly afterward, because after appearing on the TV news doing bong hits, his father, who was in Florida at the time, caught it on the satellite dish and hasn’t spoken to him much since. But Christine’s parents were “cool and perfectly fine with it.”

How letter-writing got started

Back in 2002, Russell occasionally wrote letters about cannabis to editors of newspapers. Within a year, he had gotten a few published across the country. Then in the fall of 2003, he found that more and more of his letters were finding their way into the papers so he “just started pounding them out.” When I asked him how many he has written, he said “that for every letter that was published, I probably wrote or sent two hundred.” To some it might be disappointing to write so much and have one out of every two hundred published, but to Russell it was something that he described “as a war of attrition” and “filling the air with about 120 arrows and hopefully you hit something.”

The two things that he has achieved and was very happy about was having “one letter published in four papers on the same day,” but the one that I think that made him the happiest was when he sent “one hemp letter out to all the news media I could find across the country. Over the next five to six weeks it was published 23 times with only minor variations.” Because the letter was over 1000 words long, it’s surprising it was being printed, as editors prefer letters to be 300 to 600 words in length. It didn’t end there, as he and Christine told me about the emails that they got from their provider, asking him “to stop, as he was filling up their server.” He says that he “enjoyed insulting politicians and others in a fun way with the letters,” such as “throwing […] prohibitionists in jail” when responding to what they may have said in an article or on TV. He has questioned editors who print letters that are untrue or have no proof of what they say, including comments by politicians within articles. In the end, he says “I want evil people to hate me and I want nice people to like me.”

Where did this get Russell? Did all these educational letters get him anywhere? If you follow him, you would know that he became the fourth most published letter-to-editor writer in North America. (The three ahead of him are Robert Sharpe, Curt Mews, and Stan White.)

He has also written in the past for the Educators for Sensible Drug Policy, but he no longer writes for anyone and says that “I write on behalf of the plant.” To learn more on how to write letters to the editor, see Russell’s article in issue 65 of Cannabis Culture magazine, titled “Word Vaccine: Letter Writing as Activism.”

Running for the Marijuana Party—2004

Russell met an activist in Ottawa by the name of Ron Whalen, who was giving away brownies and had his picture on the front page of the Ottawa Xpress, a paper that until 2012 covered a lot of underground and alternative news. The two became friends, and one day years later, Ron told him that it would be a good idea if Russell ran in the 2004 election. Russell said, “how do you expect a guy in a wheelchair to run in an election?” Ron told him that “if you want to make change and be a big activist, then all you have to do is sign some paperwork and show up for some meetings. Otherwise, people may question you on what you have been saying for years.” After a friend paid the required thousand-dollar fee, Russell entered into his first political race, which was in the same riding as Conservative MP John Baird. His first televised debate was on a local TV channel that featured Pierre Poilievre, who is now Canada’s Democracy Minister. He also believes Paul Dewar, now the NDP’s Foreign Affairs critic, was also in attendance. During the show, he was asked about his party’s marijuana policy and how he was going to sell it to the people. He reminded the questioner that “older people already know the value of pot, and that it helps to kill their pain,” and said that it wasn’t really an issue. He also did a promotional commercial with another Ottawa activist, which was broadcast in the area. Russell and his team earned 430 supporting votes for their efforts.

Mommy’s Funny Medicine

One day, while Russell and Christine were talking to a woman in a wheelchair, she told them that “someone should write a children’s book” about cannabis. A few weeks later, the pair spoke their friend Tim Meehan about it, and he said it was the “most subversive act of cannabis activism ever.” They tell me that “for every person who thought it was a good idea, three people thought writing a book about children and cannabis was wrong.”

Christine says these people are wrong, as “the book offers so much information in a non-threatening form. It allows parents who may use cannabis as a medication a way to talk to their children about it. People can leave it on their coffee tables for others to read in order to educate them.” Russell recommends when explaining it to your children to tell them that “it’s my medicine, just like the purple cough medicine that you take for colds.”

“With Canada hopefully about to change the laws regarding the possession of cannabis, there has been some talk in the media recently about ’sending the wrong message to children’ about drugs. Surprisingly, many seem to think that we need to think of something to tell children, but very few seem interested in simply telling kids the truth. So we decided to make a start.”

— Russell Barth and Christine Lowe, Irked Magazine

Russell says when they first sat down to write the book, “all the text that you read came out instantly with only some slight adjustments to it afterward.” He also tells me that “what a lot of people don’t know is that I’m ‘mommy’ and Christine is the little girl ‘Heather’ in the book because at the time Christine was my caregiver, as she wasn’t having many seizures.”

To see what someone thought of what they had accomplished, they invited their friend Mike Foster, the owner of Crosstown Traffic, Ottawa’s oldest book and counterculture shop, over to have a peek at a rough copy of what the book could look like. Russell says that “when he [Mike] was done his eyes were weepy and he said that “you guys have to do this book.” With the support of their friend, they carried on, with Christine doing the drawings and finishing off the text. Russell would review everything and work with Christine on getting it correct, but he found this hard. He says, “some pictures made me cry, as they were like reminders of a bad time.”

In the end, the book was published with the help of Mike. They said that “Mike took it upon himself to privately have approximately 2000 copies printed.” When I asked them if many were sold or if any were left, they told me they weren’t sure if many did sell, but many have been given away. When it was first published, Russell made sure that “Jean Chretien got a copy, as he was the PM at the time” but he never received any acknowledgment that it was received. While Mr. Chretien didn’t thank him, he tells me Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett did when he recently presented her with some copies.

Publication brought some attention to what they had done, as the two appeared on the front page of the Ottawa Sun in Jan. 2004. Following this, they also did an interview on Pot-TV that was conducted by David Melmo-Levine. An article about it, written by Russell, appeared in Cannabis Health Magazine.

The two felt that the book creates a conversation among adults on how it should be explained to children. While some people had concerns, they tell me that people have written to them and thanked them for it.

In the end, the book is big in information, is a true allegory, and even comes complete with an ISBN number. It is available in the public libraries located in Perth and Ottawa, Ontario, as well as at the Iqaluit Library in Nunavut. While finding the book for purchase may be hard to do, unless you go to <crosstowntraffic.ca> but you can find it as a video at <www.youtube.com/watch?v=iaGrByr8KXA>

BC Buddy

Tim Meehan said, “we need a mascot,” to which Russell replied, “a big beaver with big red eyes, and looking stoned.” The whole costume was built from sketches before finally being hand-stitched with a curved needle and fishing line. Russell gives all the credit to Christine for designing and building the seven-foot mascot that cost $500 and about 300 hours to build. They molded a huge fifteen-pound head out of chicken wire and papier-mache, then used nine cans of expandable foam to finish it off. Once it was finished, BC Buddy the Beaver made his debut at a Parliament Hill rally during the 2004 “No to Bush” protests.

Part of the problem with wearing this was being able to see, as the person inside could only look through a little hole in its mouth. Because of this, the person wearing it needed an escort to help them around.

BC Buddy appeared in MacLean’s magazine, and he is also in the movie Escape to Canada. Unfortunately, no one has worn the suit twice, due to its weight and heat. When I asked where BC Buddy was today, they said that “the costume is stored and is still in good condition, but may need a bit of airing out.”

TV

In Jan. 2003, Russell and Christine made their first appearance on TV, which was about their efforts to open an Ottawa compassion center. Following that appearance, and after several others, they decided to set up their own appearance before the cameras.

Along with Tim, they arranged and held a press conference near where Prime Minister Stephen Harper was speaking on crime. While everyone was listening to the Prime Minister speak, no one showed up at their news conference, but that didn’t stop them. Even though no one was there, they still talked as if they were, because it was being taped for later use. Hours passed before they were able to catch the rerun on CPAC, the government-funded channel. It was the same channel on which people had watched the Prime Minister tell Canadians and the police chiefs of Canada that he was going to give them lots of money to fight crime. What they got to see in the rerun was the Prime Minister finishing his news conference, and then CPAC telling their TV audience that some people opposed this plan and switched to Russell, Tim, and Christine doing their conference about the cannabis laws. “We didn’t even know that we were live to every news room in the county at once […] The room was empty, so not one reporter was present. The odd thing is it was a good thing that I moved my head as if I was talking to people in the room.” While the room may have been empty, they obviously reached thousands upon thousands of people in their homes.

Other TV appearances include several on CJOH TV in Ottawa, which had Russell commenting on prohibition and demonstrating how to make a cup of sesame oil/marijuana tea. He has also been interviewed by them about the Tory Government’s shutting down the $4 million medical marijuana research grant and was “once featured in a news segment of a special three-part series about marijuana.” He has also appeared on the former CBC Sunday show in regards to Marc Emery’s extradition case, CBC News (web) and on Talk Ottawa, a Rogers Community TV channel.

Human Rights Case

After so many years of dealing with his personal problems, getting married, and becoming a cannabis advocate, Russell decided to do something he enjoyed years ago: stand-up comedy. One day he was performing at Absolute Comedy in Ottawa, and after he was finished he stepped outside to medicate in the parking lot. One of the employees came up to him and said, “hey, don’t do that.” Russell explained that he was a medical user, but the guy didn’t care. Since Russell was done for the evening, he chose to go home instead of going back into the club to listen to his fellow comedians. On the bus ride home, he thought, “it kinds of sucks that people can stand around smoking tobacco but I can’t consume my medicine.”

Tim suggested that he should take them to court, to which Russell replied that he doesn’t want to do that to the business owner. Tim said, “no not the business owner—the Ontario government.” Russell then went on to praise Tim for his work on researching all of the government documentation and legislation to find out where they stood. They also found out that there isn’t supposed to be any cannabis on city busses or inside government buildings. It didn’t stop there, as it included malls and basically every public place or building in the province. This made them conclude that licensed cannabis users were unknowingly breaking the law and were actually being discriminated against. He also pointed out that every time a cannabis-carrying medical user goes into a business that serves alcohol, whether it’s a Kelseys, a small licensed restaurant, or your local pub, the owners of these places are at risk of being fined and having their doors closed for a week.

Unfortunately, this is all caused by the overlapping of federal and provincial laws. Russell says, “medical cannabis users are stuck in the middle of it all” and that the “Ontario government had dropped the ball, as this was a health issue, which is provincial jurisdiction.” Russel and Tim then submitted some forms to the human rights people, and after a review they agreed to hear this case. Russell got a lawyer by the name of Anthony Griffen appointed to him—a professor from Queen’s University, who Russell says “is apparently one of the best human rights lawyers around.”

Russell says that when they finally got their meeting, “the mediator, our lawyer, the lawyer from the Ontario government, plus lawyers from the alcohol board and the federal government, along with Tim, Christine, and myself were present.”

Before going in, Russell was told not to get upset or angry at anyone. But as Russell explained, “I have no reason to be pointing my finger at any of these people.” It was then explained that when complainants go before the board, they are usually upset and mad at them. So you can imagine how shocked they were when Russell and the others tried to work with them and agreed on some of their points, while also making theirs known. On one occasion, Russell mentioned that they were making valid points, “but what are you doing to help change the laws in order not to discriminate [against] us.” He went on to say that “every time the lawyer threw out an argument, it ended up strengthening my case.” So instead of getting an angry young man, they got a guy who wanted to work with them and was proving his point.

Russ says his lawyer told them that “I have never ever seen a meeting like this go so well,” and concluded that “I have never seen a case researched and so well thought out before.”

They wanted to put Russell’s case into the others that were before the courts, but his case was different. While the others were dealing with being removed or being asked to leave a place, his case had nothing to do with that. It was about not being allowed in, as this would prevent him from being able to do his stand-up comedy.

In the end he was told that he could have cannabis in his possession, but under the CDSA, he cannot consume it on the premises of licensed locations, including their outdoor patios. But the human rights decision was also not binding, and only affects him, so in the end no laws were changed and businesses are still at risk every time one of Ontario’s licensed holders walks through the door. It also doesn’t prevent the alcohol control board from charging a business if they smell cannabis around an establishment. So if a medical user medicates before walking into a bar, the owner can be charged. As Russell says, “the owner may never know until the fine arrives a couple of weeks later.”

Justin and Legalization

During our Skype call, I asked Russell what he thought about Liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s comments and his plan on legalizing cannabis. Russell says, “listen and look to what he has actually said. He talks about legalization, but it’s all very vague. But it’s a point in the right direction, and a lot has changed in a year. So I think it’s positive, but the question is—which makes me very wary—is that it’s the Liberals.” He says this because as many people know, we have heard this all before, whether it was back in the early seventies, or more recently when the Liberal government with Jean Chretien was in power. He goes on to say, “but here is the difference now: We have the Internet. I told Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett that when we were young we were told to go look something up at the local library, and that’s if the library had that book. Now you tell someone to look it up and they just go on the Internet and say, ‘hey, you’re right’.” He also mentions to tell her that “cannabis shouldn’t be regulated like tobacco and alcohol, but it should be regulated like coffee and soft drinks. If you want to sell legalization you need to have a comprehensive policy.” When I asked him how to sell it to the public, he enthusiastically said, “use the science, man. It’s all in science that has been researched. The 2002 Canadian senate report on cannabis is still true today as it was years ago. So we should legalize it and let commercial growers grow and people should be allowed to grow at home.” He mentions that the only thing there should be limits on is growing outside. He says, “If you want to grow fifteen plants in a small room in your basement that is built properly with filters, and you have things inspected by the proper people, then that’s fine.” What he doesn’t want to see is someone growing massive amounts in neighbourhood backyards. He mentions that “even growing two plants of the proper strain could have your neighbourhood stinking like a skunk and making people nauseous, as not everyone enjoys the smell.” He goes on to say, “Think about it. Anything from a loud noise to a bothering smell that crosses the neighbour’s fence is wrong,” unless you move into an area where the smell or noise is already present.

When I questioned him on whether everyone should be able to grow a thousand plants, he says, “Sure, let everyone grow a thousand plants, harvest and trim that thousand before bagging it all. But if everyone grows a thousand, who are you going to sell it to? If you think about it, a farmer won’t grow more carrots than he can use, and this is no different. In two years, everyone will only be growing what they need, as the market will equal out.”

Chiefs of Police and Tickets

The Canadian Chiefs of Police have recently come out in support of issuing tickets to personal cannabis consumers that they catch. While this may sound like they support decriminalizing cannabis, they say they do not support its legalization or its decriminalization. When I asked Russell about this, he said “It’s exactly the same thing,” and asks, “what are they going to do when people refuse to pay the fine?” […] “It’s a poorly thought-out plan. Right now they can give people a warning, take you to the station or issue you a ticket [summons to appear in court] which is uneven and people are treated differently.” And it appears nothing will change. During his conversation with Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett, she also mentioned that “the present law is uneven.” Russell not only agreed but also told her it was “racist.” He says “I’m a guy with long hair and I look the way I do, but I never get hassled. But if I was black…”

He says he resents being told by the police how much cannabis he can use and “won’t stand for it. Listen, I got out of a wheelchair because of pot, and no one is going to tell me I can’t use it. When I first read the headline on it, it made me feel like 2008 again. It let a fire in me.” He continued: “As long as one missing woman isn’t found, as long as one child is still being hurt, as long as one serious crime goes uninvestigated, then they should leave us alone.” Christine added, “what about the missing native women?” The police are wasting their time chasing cannabis consumers, and as Russell says, “its use goes up every year, which indicates cannabis prohibition is not working.”

During his talk with MP Bennett he says he told her “that there should be no talk of this decriminalization, no plant limit, no storage limit. If people can store a thousand bottles of wine, why should there be a limit on how much I carry on myself, store, or grow?”

He went on to talk about a time when he walked up to some police officers and asked them, “what do you do if you see a teenager smoking tobacco?” They replied, “nothing.” Russell thanked them and walked away. Keep in mind it’s against the law for teenagers to have tobacco. He questioned why the highschool students seemed to be allowed to smoke on or near the edge of school property when the law says they are not allowed to smoke anywhere at any time, much like cannabis consumers.

MMPR

When it comes to the new medical marijuana program, Russell and Christine have some very real and big concerns. He feels that “they will set the bar so high that only bigger companies will be able to do it, and it’s going to be like PPS. Their stuff is terrible.” He went on to say he has concerns that there won’t be any medication available because “if someone doesn’t put seed in the ground soon, there won’t be any medication for the thirty thousand patients.”

“We don’t even know what we should do at this point. As far as we’re concerned, we’re dead in Apr. We have no backup plan, and what are we supposed to do, ask our friends? This is like any other medication. If you suddenly drop it in half, it’s going to be hard. I’ve been telling my friends that I’m at a terrible place and that the coming stress is going to be terrible.” Christine says it’s “having no access and not being able to afford the medication, and because the government won’t provide it a DIN number, makes it very awkward,” before mentioning a cost of around $82 thousand for the two of them under the MMPR.

When it comes to the MMAR and its future, he says, “I believe John Conroy, the lawyer for the MMPR against Repeal Coalition, has a good chance. But what I think that will happen is that the people who are presently under the MMAR will get grandfathered.”

So how do we end some of the issues Russell and Christine have had to deal with? How do we stop people from being stigmatized by society, and how do we make cannabis, whether it’s medical or not, become acceptable? How do we stop the many problems around cannabis? Are these problems really related to the laws against it? That this pair and many others agree the way to get rid of the problems around cannabis is to end its prohibition. To do this, more and more people need to get educated on cannabis and speak up. When you think about it and add up what this pair has done, you can understand why Russell and Christine feel like the Ottawa Pied Pipers of Pot.