Canadian epileptic wins right to use marijuana

By Viva Press

TORONTO, Dec 10 (Reuters) - An Ontario judge ruled on Wednesday that a Toronto man could grow and use marijuana to control his severe epilepsy, saying the law banning the medicinal use of the drug was unconstitutional.

The landmark ruling was a major victory for advocates of the legalization of marijuana for medical use and for defendant Terrence Parker, 42, who has fought for 20 years to use the drug to control his severe form of epilepsy.

The use of marijuana for medical purposes has become hotly debated in Canada and the United States in recent years. A recent poll found that more than 80 percent of Canadians in favor of legalizing marijuana for medical use.

Judge Patrick Sheppard acquitted Parker on charges of marijuana cultivation and possession. The judge ruled that the materials used to grow the plant and the 71 marijuana plants seized from Parker's apartment must be returned to him.

Prosecutor Kevin Wilson declined to comment on the outcome of the case, but vowed to appeal the ruling.

Parker had been acquitted in a previous case of marijuana possession on the grounds of medical necessity.

Law experts said the latest case was legally significant because Parker based his defense on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, added to Canada's constitution in 1982.

Toronto criminal lawyer Alan Young said: ``The difference is that in pre-charter the decision only applied to Parker and had no implication for any other medical patient.

"When you raise it as a constitutional claim it has broader implications because presumably now this ruling -- though it will be appealed of course -- will apply to anyone who can present cogent evidence of a medical necessity."

Young, who represents a multiple sclerosis patient also seeking legal access to marijuana, said the Parker case "is the first in a series of cases that will be taking place in Ontario. Slowly but surely there should be an accumulation of precedence, which should dismantle the prohibition (of marijuana) for the purpose of medical use."

Young said: "We have to get it up to the higher court but we have to start in the lower courts system. It will take probably a year and a half to see if this ruling or any other ruling will actually change the law into the future."

The Epilepsy Association of Toronto welcomed the ruling, saying: "We feel people should have opportunities and options to choose from. People who have epilepsy, by in large, are on medication to try and control their seizures. Lots of them do not get control of their seizures through those medicines and are searching for another way."

Epilepsy Association education coordinator Robin Rowe said that "we don't know if marijuana helps because there hasn't been a lot of research done." She said that since marijuana was not a product from which drug companies could benefit financially, "there's no real impetus to do research."