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Legal limbo and stigma continues for couple

If there is a silver lining to the physical suffering and mental anguish that Sooke couple Cam Cavaco and Marnie O’Neil have endured over medicinal marijuana, it is the support they have received and the awareness that has been raised.

The couple launched a lawsuit against the RCMP and Health Canada—both declining comment because the matter is now before the B.C. Supreme Court-- last month for damages suffered after RCMP allegedly raided their home in late 2009, destroying their licensed medicinal marijuana production facility without a warrant.

“The effect from that day is ongoing and my husband has lost abilities he will not get back,” said O’Neil, who suffers from fibromyalgia, a condition that causes muscle and connective tissue pain that is alleviated through the use of marijuana. Cavaco, a former RCMP officer serving on the Mainland in the 1980s, has late stage progressive multiple sclerosis leaving him housebound and on a plethora of medication from muscle relaxants to valium--marijuana is the only treatment that doesn’t come with severe side effects.

Since taking legal action, O’Neil said there has been a “tsunami of correspondence” from people letting them know they are not alone in this experience, and that others are pursuing a similar course.

“We have just had an overwhelming amount of thank yous, you know, thank you for fighting when we can’t. Lots of support to help to get people to understand this is not just a bunch of 15-year-old kids smoking pot,” she said.

“These people are chronically and terminally ill, and stress kills. There has to be some kind of responsibility held to both Health Canada and the RCMP in this kind of process.”

The biggest reason the couple is turning to the courts is education, said O’Neil who also spoke on her husband’s behalf due to his worsening condition.

“A huge part of the responsibility lies with Health Canada. They have left patients in legal limbo that allow the RCMP a window (to raid), but there has to be some kind of responsibility to community policing. They had no understanding of our challenges.”

The problem is a lingering stigma associated with the drug, said O’Neil. Physicians have been quick to issue prescriptions, but the pharmacy doesn’t decide when, or if, they are filled. She waited over eight months for Health Canada to process her full license, and Cavaco still hasn’t received a proper renewal despite being one of the first Canadian license holders in 2000.

“It comes down to treating people kindly and communicating and understanding this is medication.”

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