Federal Court medical marijuana ruling welcomed by Nova Scotia man

A Nova Scotia man who spent time in prison for growing medical marijuana is taking cautious hope in this week's Federal Court ruling striking down a ban on patients growing cannabis.

James MacDonald, 37, is trying to appeal his conviction after growing marijuana without a licence

James MacDonald is trying to appeal his conviction of growing marijuana. (CBC)

A Nova Scotia man who spent time in jail for growing medical marijuana is taking cautious hope in this week's Federal Court ruling striking down a ban on patients growing cannabis. 

James Malcolm Russell MacDonald, 37, spent 60 days in jail last year after police caught him growing ten marijuana plants at his mother's home in Stellarton, N.S., he said.

But a Federal Court judge decided Wednesday, rules banning patients from growing their own medical marijuana were an infringement on charter rights. 

"I just hope things change and I'm one of the last people that have to go to jail," MacDonald said Thursday.

Judge Michael Phelan ruled the Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations, which require patients to buy the drug from licensed producers instead of growing their own, have no force and effect. He gave the federal government six months to come up with new rules.

Ruling may be 'too little, too late' for appeal

Earlier this month, MacDonald asked a Nova Scotia judge to overturn his conviction. Court of Appeal has 60 days to rule. 

MacDonald said he hopes the Federal Court ruling prevents other people from being in his situation. While he also hopes it will help his appeal, he said he worries it's "too little, too late."

"It just makes no sense that they're throwing sick people in jail," MacDonald said.

"Whatever laws get broken, they're unjust."

A choice between 'liberty and my health'

MacDonald once had a licence to grow 15 cannabis plants, but it was expired when police caught him, he said. He said he had trouble finding a doctor to renew it after his doctor went on maternity leave.

"If I was a criminal, I never would have registered with the government in the first place and tried to abide by all the rules they set in place. That's not what criminals do. They go out and break the law for their own gain," MacDonald said.

"I was breaking the law, but I was doing it for my health. I was forced to choose between liberty and my health — and I chose my health."

Medical marijuana 'a saviour' from Crohn's pain

MacDonald has Crohn's, chronic inflammation of intestines, and has had 15 centimetres of his small intestine cut out as a result. 

"It just feels like you ate glass all the time. My bowel will block right up and I won't be able to pass anything," he said. 

He's on an immunosuppressant called Remicade, which offers "some degree of comfort," he said.

"I still need medical marijuana. It's a saviour for me," MacDonald said.

"It takes the pain away better than the opiates and the hydromorphine and all those other dangerous pain pills. It gives me a better quality of life than anything else."

The group Maritimers Unite for Medical Marijuana helped raise money for MacDonald's court case. (CBC)

'I can't afford that'

When MacDonald was in jail, he was only allowed painkillers. Now that he's out, he has a licence to use eight grams of marijuana a day, but buying it from a licensed producer costs too much for him.

A gram of marijuana can sell "on the black market" between $10 to $15, he said. 

"I can't afford that. I'm on assistance. I can barely afford to eat right now," he said.

MacDonald said in comparison he can grow his own marijuana for "pennies a gram."

MacDonald said he has trouble affording his daily eight grams of medical marijuana, which run $10-$15 each. (CBC)

'Won't have to break the law'

His mother, Julie MacDonald, said she supports her son in his fight — and standing up for his medical need.

"[We] have never been more proud of our son than when he stood up in court and spoke the words he knew may possibly increase his chance of going to jail," she said in an email. 

As for her son, he said he's going to be careful for the next six months until the judge's ruling takes effect.

"It just gives us hope that someday we'll have our gardens back," MacDonald said.

"We won't have to break the law in order to get some piece of our health back."

With files from Elizabeth Chiu


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