Shunned over pot: Yellowknife mother reflects on marijuana charges
'If the same situation happened now we would be treated much differently,' says Kim MacNearney
Kim MacNearney says she is still healing from the trauma she experienced after being arrested in Yellowknife almost seven years ago for growing marijuana.
"You know that really never does go away," says MacNearney.
"It took a lot of years before I could answer my door without having a complete nervous breakdown before I answered it not knowing who was there."
She and her husband Craig MacNearney were charged in 2009 after child and family services in Yellowknife received an anonymous tip that the couple had a marijuana grow-op in their home.
The couple's two young children were apprehended when social services and RCMP showed up at their residence and discovered up to 20 marijuana plants in various stages of growth and a large bag of marijuana sitting on a bathroom counter.
MacNearney says she had begun smoking marijuana a few years prior to help her cope with the pain of two degenerative discs in her spine that still continue to cause her pain.
She says she stopped taking painkillers because of complications. Because she did not feel comfortable buying marijuana from street dealers, she says she and her husband started growing their own.
At the time, MacNearney was working for the Government of the Northwest Territories as a human resources officer.
"I was actually sitting in my office on lunch break. And two officers came in… and basically said that they arrested my husband on charges of possession and cultivation. And that they were there to arrest me….they escorted me downstairs and put me in the cruiser."
She says she was charged and held for about 10 hours.
"All I could think about was my husband and my kids because I didn't know what had happened to them or where any of them were," she says.
The couple found each other after they were released from jail that evening but they still did not know where their children were.
"It was horrifying. It was terrifying. We were told nothing. We were just left in the dark," she says.
"So the next 24 hours was just kind of a shock and blur of having to show up in court, having to show up at the precinct, having to show up at child and family services, and having to deal with our house being condemned and completely destroyed."
She says the walls in her mobile home were busted open, closets and bins were emptied, broken glass was scattered throughout the home and their garden was torn up. The couple's two young children spent the next two weeks in foster care before the couple eventually got them back.
'A public flogging'
The couple was initially charged with possession for the purpose of trafficking, although the jury downgraded that charge to simple possession during their 2013 trial.
"I feel like I was given a bit of a public flogging I think," she says.
"There was not a lot of open support for me because as far as everyone was concerned I was a drug dealer. I had several people that had approached me and actually say to me they were shocked that I even still had a job. They were surprised that I got my kids back. And they really just had no regard."
Not everyone turned their backs on the couple. During the trial, a number of neighbours, co-workers and a school teacher testified on their behalf, characterizing the couple as quiet, caring and good natured parents.
When their trial finally concluded — after multiple years of delays due in part to the death of the presiding judge — the pair spent three months under house arrest, got two months of probation and 100 hours of community service.
MacNearney says they served the time and dealt with the consequences. However, because they now have a criminal record, they are still feeling the repercussions of the conviction.
"I can't travel... Doing things for my kids' school, I don't do that because it requires a criminal record check to be submitted in order to drive the kids to the pool and things like that."
Hope for amnesty
MacNearney hopes all this will eventually change if the federal government passes legislation to legalize marijuana, which the government is expected to introduce in the spring of 2017.
"On the one hand, I have this criminal record and now on the other hand it's not a criminal offence. So that's my other big dream... that someday I can get a pardon for what's not illegal, eventually, anymore."
MacNearney says she regrets not pushing her doctor more to get a medical licence to use marijuana. The couple have since gotten their licence to possess and grow marijuana.
Despite the ordeal, MacNearney remains committed to marijuana legalization advocacy. On April 20, 2012, or 4/20, which is synonymous in marijuana culture, she walked alone through Yellowknife's downtown with a sign that read "Marijuana is a plant, not a poison."
"We broke a lot of barriers. We broke a lot of walls. I'm pretty sure that if the same situation happened now we would be treated much differently," she says.
"I don't feel good about what happened to my family but there is sort of a sense of, 'See I was right. It's not that bad.' The government says so, it's not that bad now. I'm not a bad person."