A Manitoba man who was recently sentenced to jail for illegal cannabis cultivation wants to warn the public that growing marijuana without a government licence can have serious consequences, even after legalization.
Matthew was arrested for growing cannabis in 2016, and recently began his jail sentence.
Between his arrest and his sentence, Matthew says he received a Health Canada licence to grow cannabis for his personal medical use.
Now, he’s worried other Canadians will end up in trouble after legalization for illegally growing their own cannabis.
"Because I’m growing now, legally, I end up in grow (equipment) stores," explained Matthew, whom the Free Press is not fully identifying as a condition of being interviewed.
"I talk to people there, and ask what they’re doing. And I can tell you, there are sick people going ahead and growing without licences because of legalization. They’re going, ‘Oh it’s going to be legalized soon, no big deal. People are reasonable, no worries.’ But what they’re actually doing is going and committing crimes that are punishable by time in jail. That’s an awareness I think needs to get out there before Oct. 17."
Under that federal law, there are three possible penalties for an adult who grows more than four cannabis plants in a residence: a $200 ticket (for five or six plants); up to six months imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $5,000; or imprisonment for up to 14 years.Advertisement
Under Manitoba law, growing any marijuana plants without medical authorization could result in a $2,542 provincial fine regardless of the federal penalties.
"It is and will be illegal to grow any amount of (cannabis) plants in Manitoba," wrote a spokesperson for the Winnipeg Police Service.
Manitoba, along with Quebec, has taken a zero-tolerance stance on home growing of non-medical cannabis.
"There’s been a lot of publicity about the changing laws (on) marijuana, and what people need to be aware of is that this is not a free-for-all on cannabis," warns Matt Gould, a Winnipeg defence lawyer.
"There are still serious consequences for cannabis-related offences."
Matthew started using medical cannabis to treat the symptoms of a stomach illness that led to intense, persistent nausea. He first got sick in 2013.
"I went from 240 pounds to 150 pounds in eight months," says Matthew, a 35-year-old who lives in rural Manitoba.
He estimates he saw 12 doctors and tried 17 medications, but nothing helped.
"I honestly and wholeheartedly feared that I was dying... And it was that fear that drove me to make the poor decisions that I did later on."
In 2014, a friend who had irritable bowel syndrome recommended Matthew try treating his condition by ingesting cannabis.
"She told me that I needed to start eating it in the largest amounts that I could afford... She was suggesting that I bake it into goods, not to make butter with it but to actually grind it up into powder and substitute some of the flour in the recipes for it."
Matthew says it worked, and he started gaining weight. At first, he was using from three to five grams of cannabis a day, but he worked his way up to using from 30 to 40 grams daily.
Matthew says he couldn’t afford that much cannabis on the illicit market, and buying medical cannabis at retail prices through Health Canada’s program would have been even more expensive. At the time, he believed he didn’t meet the requirements for the Health Canada program that lets medical cannabis users grow their own supply, and he also had privacy concerns about the government’s medical cannabis regime.
Eventually, Matthew says, he was introduced to people who were trying to grow cannabis illegally in a Winnipeg home. They made a deal: Matthew would help them grow their product in exchange for a share of the crop and a place to live.
"There’s the mistake I made," Matthew says. "I looked at my life, and went, ‘This fixes a lot of problems.’"
Within days of Matthew moving into the house, it was raided by police. Police confirmed a 32-year old man was charged with production of a scheduled substance on Jan. 5, 2016, after a search warrant was executed at a home in the 200 block of Centennial Street.
Matthew was sentenced last month. Provincial Judge Alain Huberdeau agreed to a joint recommendation from the Crown and defence to give Matthew a 90-day intermittent jail sentence, to be served on weekends.
Judge Huberdeau said he took into consideration Matthew’s medical condition. He described the sentence as "outside the normal range of sentencing, but this is not the normal case that we deal with on a day-in, day-out basis."
Matthew has started serving his sentence at a provincial jail. In the meantime, he’s received his federal authorization to grow his own cannabis.
"It’s all good now, except for every weekend I go to jail and they won’t let me bring it with me," he says.
Matthew acknowledges he broke the law, and feels he "narrowly avoided" a harsher sentence. But he also believes it’s too hard for medical cannabis users such as himself to navigate the medical system and federal bureaucracy that allows them to legally grow their own supply.
"You can go to other provinces where you can easily find clinics that will write prescriptions for you to grow your medicine," he says.
"You can easily, within Winnipeg, find clinics where they will write you small prescriptions for small amounts of (cannabis) per day, that work for some conditions but not for conditions like mine."
Many people can’t afford to buy large amounts of legal medical cannabis from government-licensed producers, Matthew says.
"It’s hard to get medical cannabis that isn’t profiting a company on the stock market."