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This article was published 1/5/2019 (292 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A disabled Toronto man is launching a formal complaint against the Ontario government over a cannabis retail system he says violates his human rights.
The formal complaint by Ken Harrower to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario names the attorney general of Ontario, the office of Ontario premier Doug Ford, and the Toronto Police service as respondents.
Harrower, 57 years old, has a congenital joint condition that prevents him from standing or walking, according to the complaint. He's has used cannabis for decades to ease his pain and help him sleep.
Although Harrow is a registered medical cannabis user under Health Canada's program, he said he can't consistently access cannabis from a licensed producer, citing a $100 minimum order requirement that he can't always afford. (Harrower is on the Ontario Disability Support Program, and his complaint describes him as "of very limited financial means.")
Harrower has been purchasing cannabis from Cafe 66, an unlicensed, illegal cannabis dispensary in downtown Toronto. That location isn't directly wheelchair accessible, but Harrower said the staff usually help him enter through an adjoining condo building. Sometimes he smokes the cannabis, which is hard because of a medical condition. Sometimes he eats the cannabis raw — another medical condition prevents Harrower from consuming gluten, and his complaint said "most (cannabis) edibles have gluten in them."
"I am hoping to get access to cannabis edible products, that are gluten free, so that I do not have to eat the raw cannabis flowers in the future," said Harrower in the complaint, adding that he's also interested in trying topical cannabis ointments and balms.
But he said those products aren't available from the Ontario government's online Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS). (Federal regulations that will allow for commercially produced cannabis edible and topical products won't come online until later this year.)Advertisement
"Certain products that are similar are available, but I cannot afford them."
In an interview, Harrower's lawyer Selwyn Pieters said his client visited Toronto's first two government-licensed bricks-and-mortar cannabis stores, Ameri and The Hunny Pot, when they opened in April. Neither store was wheelchair-accessible, so Harrower couldn't enter, Pieters said.
"This is a matter of necessity, not preference for me," said Harrower in a Wednesday press release.
"Given changes to Ontario’s system for accessing cannabis, I have had to resort to buying it from local unlicensed retailers. I am unable to access regulated products which would help me to alleviate my symptoms. I have been to the other newly-created retailers in Toronto and they turned me away."
Harrower's complaint specifically names Dean French, chief of staff to Ontario premier Doug Ford. According to reporting by the Toronto Star, the unelected political staffer instructed Ontario government officials to arrest illegal dispensary workers and broadcast images of them "in handcuffs" on October 17, 2018, the day cannabis was legalized.
"This is very upsetting to me," said Harrower in the human rights complaint.
"I spoke to the police during a raid at the cannabis dispensary and asked them why they were doing this because it meant I could not get my medicine anymore. The police told me to go and buy it off of the street from a dealer."
The complaint alleges the Ontario government's cannabis regulatory regime, along with federal cannabis regulations, "violate the human dignity of medical cannabis patients." It asks the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario to declare that the respondents and the relevant Ontario laws violated the province's human rights law, and to order the province to stop enforcing its cannabis law "in a manner that (discriminates) on the basis of disability."
Harrower is also seeking $65,000 in compensation, and wants the Ontario government and Toronto police to share the tribunal's eventual decision with "all staff and police officers and appropriate professional stakeholders who work with disabled individuals and cannabis dispensaries."
Toronto cannabis lawyer Jack Lloyd is representing the a group called the Canadian Cannabis Retailers' Union as an intervenor in the case. He said Ontario's cannabis retail system suffers from "a serious dearth in access to licit cannabis through (licensed) storefronts."
Although Ontario's government isn't responsible for Canada's medical cannabis regime, Lloyd pointed out that some people, like Harrower, still try to access medical cannabis through stores that sell cannabis for recreational purposes.
"His access is frustrated immeasurably, not just by the delayed rollout of storefronts, but also due to price and his ability to purchase online or using credit cards," said Lloyd.
"So, a lot of the serious issues faced by many people across the country."
A spokesperson for Ontario's Ministry of the Attorney General said the province responded to the complaint on Thursday.
"Ontario's position... is that Ontario has no role in the regulation of medical cannabis since it is governed by federal legislation," wrote Brian Gray in an email.
"Accordingly, the (Human Rights) Tribunal (of Ontario) has no jurisdiction over the substance of the applicant's claim."
Gray wrote he could offer no further comment due to the pending litigation.
Updated on Friday, May 3, 2019 at 4:34 PM CDT: Adds response from Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General