Charles Bury, longtime and former editor of the Sherbrooke Record, is in palliative care and dying of Stage 4 liver cancer, but he’s unlike any patient Quebec's Sherbrooke University Hospital Centre has ever seen.
'I’ve never died before, so I don’t know exactly what it’s going to be like.' - Charles Bury
Bury uses medically prescribed marijuana in his hospital room with a vaporizer, which emits little odour and no smoke, to help curb his anxiety.
“It’s a remedy that helps you to relax and you can’t help but being nervous and tense when you’re put in a position like this,” Bury says.
“I’ve never died before, so I don’t know exactly what it’s going to be like. This will help me to get my way through that, I hope. Taking it easy on the way through.”
Bury, by his own account, has used marijuana since he was 16. He discovered the vaporizer, made by British Columbia-based company Vapor Daddy, about seven years ago.
“I found out I didn’t cough as much [with the vaporizer]. I won’t go to heaven without it,” Bury says.
The vaporizer is a simple-looking contraption. The marijuana, which Bury says is produced by friends, sits inside a glass vial on a heating element inside a rectangular wooden box. A flexible tube is used to breathe in the vapour.
“Inside it I’ve put some marijuana, OK. That green stuff is pot. It’s been in there for a few minutes now heating up, so it’s just about ready to go,” Bury tells CBC reporter Alison Brunette.
Marijuana use a reasonable request
The marijuana was prescribed by Dr. Carl Bromwich at the Sherbrooke University Hospital after Bury made a simple request.
Bury says the doctor didn’t hesitate for a minute. Security even came by to unlock and open the window for him.
Bromwich says he thought Bury’s request was reasonable.
“He said that it was something that he’d been using for some time and he felt it was an important part of being well, of feeling as well as he could feel. And I didn’t see any issue with it since there was no question of smoke or flame. So I prescribed it so it wouldn’t be an issue with the nurses,” Bromwich says.
The doctor’s suspicion that the hospital did not have a policy on the use of medical marijuana on hospital property proved true. Since Bury’s story has been made public, the hospital administration has asked Bromwich to withdraw his prescription, and he complied. He says the administrators told him the request was in the interest of them developing a policy.
“I think that’s a reasonable thing. I made the order to take care of one patient and his needs but the administration of course has to regard the interest of the hospital, of all the patients in the hospital as a whole, so they want to study the issue further,” Bromwich says.
He believes that, given the context of Quebec’s open debate on developing euthanasia policy, the use of marijuana in hospitals is not a cause for great concern.
Still, Bury’s daughter was told that security would be coming back around to close and lock her father’s window for the time being.
Listen to CBC's Alison Brunette explain Charles Bury's journey:
Pot-using policy to come?
Sherbrooke University Hospital and Quebec’s College of Physicians both said they hadn’t yet considered the issue of using marijuana in hospitals.
"This new situation leads us to consider the question for the future, because marijuana is not a substance authorized by the [hospital]. It is not written on the list of authorized products for prescription by doctors," says hospital spokeswoman Sylvie Vallières.
Yet Adam Greenblatt of Montreal’s Medical Cannabis Access Society says Bury’s case is not the first in Quebec.
“I’ve worked with a few patients here in Montreal who have had permission to vaporize cannabis in their hospital rooms, so it’s not unheard of,” Greenblatt says.
“But by the same token, i have also heard stories from patients who have been kicked off of hospital property for medicating with cannabis which they’re authorized to use,” he continues.
Bury may not have the authorization of the hospital or its staff to use marijuana in his hospital room, but his vaporizer remains by his bedside.
“There’s not going to be a guard posted outside his door to make sure he doesn’t use his vaporizer,” Bromwich says.