In 2008 I was living in an apartment covered in what appeared to be Fresh Prince of Bel Air graffiti and the most disgusting carpet which likely was just a sheet of mold on our floor. This apartment was only two floors above a bar that played blues music until late in the evening and my bedroom window looked out onto a street lined with catcalls of drunks hoping for a little love after the open signs switched off.
It smelled, it was loud, and it is one of my favourite memories of my early 20s.
That's because I lived with a guy, I'll call him Bill, who is one of the kindest and most thoughtful people I've met in my life. He liked to play loud music and trick people into thinking he wasn't that smart, but he was brilliant. Covered in tattoos, one Halloween he left his place of work and was told he had the best pirate costume a woman had ever seen - he was wearing his normal, everyday , street clothes .
Bill also had multiple sclerosis (MS).
Bill was diagnosed as a teenager while he was a touring musician. That's a blow to a regular person, but for Bill the inevitability of losing his love and source of income was an anvil being dropped on him. But it wasn't funny, there was no puff of smoke or comedic music, it was just a large weight that never really left.
To help with his continuous shaking, or more fondly called "yips", Bill smoked weed. He smoked weed with breakfast so that he could go do the first four hours of his shift at a restaurant. He smoked weed over lunch so that he could return to finish the final four to five hours. He smoked weed at night to increase his appetite and so that he could walk down the street without everyone staring, thinking he was a crack head who couldn't stop shaking.
I lived with Bill as he tried to navigate the legal pathways to medicinal marijuana. He faced judgement in the medical system where many health professionals thought he was using his MS as an excuse to get weed. A 20-something-year-old who wanted weed to deal with medical issues, not to get high, was too far fetched. I watched him get THC pills, which did not work the same.
I watched Bill give up on a judgemental , unhelpful process of the medical system to walk down the street and buy from a dealer who didn't care that he shook.
Today in Saskatoon a medical marijuana dispensary opened up.
Technically Saskatchewan Compassion Club is illegal for a couple of reasons. People looking for medicinal marijuana are supposed to get all information and such from the primary physician, who also writes the prescription, in this case SCC is giving advice or a second opinion. It's also illegal because it's dispensing pot, outside of the federal system. Lastly, it's illegal because it's dispensing "medicine", and legally can not do that.
The doors opened anyway and owner Mark Hauk sat at the front desk consequences be damned because his argument is "that the law is bad, it's unjust, and it's causing people to suffer. Should we continue to blindly adhere to a law that causes those things?"
"(Police shutting it down) is certainly a concern of mine which I've discussed with my lawyer at great length. We anticipate that it's quite possible the police could come in and give us a warning. Early on there is probably, usually a course of action where they are going to try to, if they are wanting to prosecute, to amass some evidence and move forward and it would take some time to do that," he said.
"We are hopeful that... they won't do that."
Initially when opening up this 2nd avenue location in the heart of downtown, Hauk assumed he didn't need a business licence because not-for-profits can pass over that. Since there is some dispensing, the retail aspect means he does actually require one. So, Hauk went in front of the Planning and Development Committee at the City of Saskatoon and asked them to consider creating a brand new licence just for dispensaries.
"The Compassion Club, we have a number of functions there whether it's consulting with patients and helping them achieve medical documents, prescriptions , advocating on their behalf, and to some degree dispensing medicine," Hauk said. "I was certainly hopeful that we could at least have the support of one councillor and we had a couple on board so I couldn't be happier."
Hauk suggested the committee look to Vancouver or Victoria and their new class of business licence for dispensaries. Those regulations include criminal record checks for owners, a $30,000 operating fee, and dispensaries cannot operate within 300 metres of schools, community centres, or other dispensaries.
"There's some encouraging things happening and some discouraging things. If we look at what's gone in Winnipeg and Edmonton recently that is discouraging," Hauk said referencing an Edmonton weed dispensary raid and issues with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba and a local dispensary in Winnipeg.
"But there's plenty of other municipalities with city councillors and mayors leading the charge and making changes."
In the committee meeting in Saskatoon after Hauk delivered his detailed presentation the responses, from a council that fought long and hard against adult entertainment, were fairly supportive.
"My position is that we should be regulating it," Coun. Pat Lorje said.
" I think our speaker had some great points and it's something I do want to have more information on," Coun. Troy Davies said. "Today's world is a lot different than 10 years ago when maybe the door would have been just shut."
The committee ended up approving sending the request to the administration for a report. It also requested specific input from the city solicitor and the Board of Police Commissioners. That's expected back in October but until then, Hauk is operating in some legally murky waters.
Nearly seven years ago, when I sat with my buddy Bill and stared down what seemed like a narrowing hole to his medication, I would never have seen this day. That's not to say this dispensary will stay open or that a new business licence for dispensaries will even make it to council, but it's actually a discussion.
It's not just Bill and I sitting talking about this. In December 2013, nearly 1,000 people in Saskatchewan were authorized to possess medicinal marijuana. The laws changed on March 31, 2014 and there's been some legal battles since. There's some major push back federally, even some solidly expensive advertising campaigns about the dangers of pot.
The Health Canada website even says "dried marijuana is not an approved drug or medicine in Canada. The Government of Canada does not endorse the use of marijuana, but the courts have required reasonable access to a legal source of marijuana when authorized by a health care practitioner" all in bold on their medicinal marijuana site.
Even at the dispensaries you need to show a prescription, signed, and only valid for one year. Want to try and get that? Here's some advice from the government: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/dhp-mps/marihuana/access-acceder-eng.php
Medicinal marijuana is smokey territory for politicians, especially during election time. In Saskatoon, it's positive to see the local government have an intelligent conversation about it. It would be even more convincing to see some action.
But walking through this as a bystander to real suffering, I think to myself when I was in those early 20s I was carefree, living above a bar, finding out who I was, and being encouraged in my recklessness.
Bill was becoming trapped in his body, fighting for freedom from illness, and at the same time criminalized by our society for doing the only thing that brought him relief.
If he would have been caught, he would have been charged because he was ill. To the courts, he would look like some 20-something, covered in tattoos, with long greasy hair, who had a joint on him on his lunch break .
He would be cast in a role in life that was not him. Bill is rad, resilient , inspiring, brilliant, and determined. He also smokes some weed because of MS, get over it.
As a community, we should not project our morality on his suffering, instead we should support him, and in this case as well as many others including MS, cancer, anxiety, depression, properly regulated pot is that pillar of help.
Kelly Geraldine Malone is a freelance journalist, podcaster, and radio producer based out of Manitoba, Canada