Marijuana charges disappear in a puff of smoke

Marijuana smoker and activist Matt Mernagh walked out of the courtroom on Wednesday (Nov. 21) feeling like he was finally free.

He had been charged with possession of marijuana, possession for the purposes of trafficking and production of marijuana last August and spent 13 days in jail before being bailed out. Since then he has made five appearances in court.

At his last appearance the judge announced that the charges were dropped and Mernagh’s case was thrown out.

Mernagh said he was shocked but was very happy about the situation. Mernagh’s lawyer Paul Lewin said that Mernagh gave out a big ‘whoop’ in court when he heard the news. He would have pleaded ‘not guilty’ had the case reached trial.

“I didn’t really believe it when they first said it. It took a little while to sink in, and I don’t even know why the charges were dropped,” Mernagh said.

Mernagh has fibromyalgia, a disorder characterized by chronic pain; arthritis and scoliosis and a curvature of the spine. He smokes marijuana for medical purposes.

He said that he has tried many types of medication to treat his pain, but he wasn’t able to do much but sit around on his couch while he was on them because of their disabling side effects.

He has been smoking marijuana for the past ten years and says it’s the only thing that relieves his pain while enabling him to be a productive citizen.

He started growing marijuana because he was smoking so much that it just seemed easier to grow it himself. When he was arrested he had 37 marijuana plants on his balcony.

Lewin said that he’s had cases before where people have had very large amounts of marijuana but he was able to establish that it was for personal use because the person just smoked a lot, and in Mernagh’s case Lewin was planning on arguing Crown could not prove that he had any intention of trafficking it.

“He was a medicinal user, so with 37 plants it depends on how successful a grower you are and how much marijuana you’re going to get out of any given plant.” Lewin said. “Police tend to overstate the value and the quantity that comes out of each individual plant.”

Lewin said it’s rare if someone goes to prison because they possess marijuana for their own purposes, and if they can prove they have it for medical reasons, it’s unlikely they will go to prison.

To be able to smoke marijuana legally in Canada, a person must obtain a license from Health Canada and have a doctor sign it. Lewin and Mernagh said this system does not work because many doctors won’t sign the license.

Mernagh has tried to get doctors to sign the license for him but he could not find one who was willing to do it. There are only 2,000 people in Canada that are legally able to smoke marijuana.

“They (doctors) think that marijuana should never be given out because they’re worried about the insurance repercussions for themselves. Many doctors are just ignorant about the benefits of marijuana even though courts have accepted it,” Lewin said.

Mernagh has no idea why his charges were dropped but now that they are he has no plans to stop or even cut back on smoking marijuana.

“I’m not doing anything wrong. So many people when they get charged with marijuana related offences plead guilty, but I’m smoking for health purposes so I have nothing to plead guilty for,” Mernagh said.

Regardless the reason, Mernagh is just happy to no longer face the possibility of having to go back to prison. He continues to smoke marijuana and to fight to make medicinal marijuana more accessible in Canada.

Story filed by Andrea Cranfield

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Posted: Nov 26 2008 9:17 am
Filed under: Arts & Life News Opinion