Why Does the Canadian Government Want to Send Michelle Rainey To Die In An American Prison?
By Richard Cowan
November 16, 2005
Yesterday afternoon, the Canadian government blocked an attempt to have Michelle Rainey and her co-defendants, Marc Emery and Greg Williams prosecuted in Canada under Canadian law for selling cannabis seeds to Americans. Instead, it will continue to collaborate with the US government's bid to have them extradited to the US to be tried there under much harsher American laws.
There are a number of defenses that apply to all three of the defendants, but Michelle Rainey has Crohn's Disease, an incurable condition that can result in the necrosis of all of the intestines.
This fact raises the stakes for her, because it is literally a matter of life and death. But it also raises the stakes for the Canadian government, which has failed to provide a workable medical cannabis program, despite repeated court orders to do so. This pattern of defiance of court orders raises serious questions about the continuing validity of all Canadian cannabis laws.
Beyond all of the possible legal arguments, Michelle's case will also outrage the consciences of the Canadian people. During her first few years of high school she started having painful attacks in her abdomen with nausea, sweating, chronic diarrhea, and cramping.
It took her doctors two years to figure out that she had Crohn's Disease. In 1989 there was no known cause or cure, and there still is not an effective treatment in 2005. After her diagnosis her doctor handed her a prescription for an anti-inflammatory pharmaceutical which cost her $80.00 for just two weeks worth of meds.
The problem was and is that they really don't work. The side effects she had from the prescription drugs – Tylenol 3, Ativan, Lorazipam, Morphine, Demerol, Asicol, Prednisone, Pentasa – were intolerable. Functioning normally was at times impossible.
As she recalls, "I was a walking mess. 40 pounds overweight due to steroids, in constant pain, nothing was working." Within a few months, she was in surgery having 12 inches of her small intestines removed as the progression of the disease was so out of control. She had another surgery in 1996, removing 14 inches of her small intestine and almost killing her due to complications.
She recalls, "It was at that moment I decided to stop all medication and never have surgery again. I took control of my own body!"
After the second and final surgery in 1996, she discontinued use of all prescription drugs, because she had found something that worked.
A friend from childhood who knew about her medical problems asked her, "Why don't you try using marijuana for your disease?"
Her friend had done a college paper on the medicinal effects of cannabis for a class and was sure it would help her. It did more than she had expected.
Of course, she had "experimented" a little during high school, but had not smoked very much since then because she was consumed by work in her free time. She started smoking for pain relief, but found that cannabis did even more than that. There was no medical cannabis program in Canada at that time, so she had to "hide in the closet." Even her family and co-workers never knew. The effects were amazing, the pain nausea alleviated.
Nonetheless, the problem with having to hide in the closet meant that she struggled everyday while working, not being able to consume a few puffs of a joint. It was frustrating . While her co-workers were able to smoke tobacco during there breaks or even take there prescription meds, she was unable to alleviate her own suffering.
In 2001, Canada finally began a medical marijuana program, sort of. However, there were several problems. First, it was largely a bureaucratic mess aimed more at keeping the prohibitionists happy than meeting the needs of the patients.
Second, patients with Crohn's Disease (or anyone who wasn't going to die within 12 months) had to have two specialists approve of their applications. To make matters worse, under Canada's government run medical system it can take six months just to get an appointment with a specialist. Meanwhile, the government of Canada did everything it could to dissuade doctors from approving it.
Ironically, in Washington State, just south of BC, Crohn's Disease was added to the list of diseases for which any doctor could recommend medical cannabis under the state's medical marijuana law in 1999, two years before Canada even began its program. (The US federal government denies that cannabis has any medical value and will not allow a defendant like Michelle even to mention her medical condition.)
Fed up with the hiding and the hypocrisy, Michelle went to work for Marc Emery in 2000 and helped organize the BC Marijuana Party, and was a candidate for the provincial legislature in 2001.
The US government claims that she became a part of Marc Emery's "conspiracy" to sell seeds to Americans, but the US and Canadian government continue to turn ignore others who are doing the same thing. This prosecution is obviously political.
The fact is that Michelle did not go to work for Emery to sell seeds. She went to work to legalize cannabis – and not just medical cannabis – because she had experienced first hand the duplicity of the Canadian and American governments in their dealing with every aspect of cannabis.
She had also suffered personally from the incompetence, cowardice and outright quackery of the Canadian medical establishment's approach to medical cannabis. Having experienced first hand how prohibition really works, and how medical cannabis programs really do not work, she concluded, in the words of Dr. Lester Grinspoon, "The full potential of this remarkable substance, including its medical potential, will be realized only when we end the regime of prohibition established two generations ago."
(That is the last sentence in Marihuana, the Forbidden Medicine, Yale Univ. Press, 1997.)
Only recently, after years of delay, and a change in the bureaucratic requirements, has Michelle finally become a legal a medical cannabis user with an exemption from Health Canada that recognizes that she needs cannabis to live. Absurdly, she was not able to get her exemption until after she had been arrested and "Justice Canada" began its collaboration with the US to send her to die in an American prison. Thus, Canada is going to have to confront its national conscience, and see if it can match the courage of a young woman, who is standing up for her own rights and those of hundreds of thousands of other Canadian medical cannabis patients.