That’s the gist of a recent ruling by Quebec’s human rights tribunal. Prompted by members of the Montreal Compassion Club, the tribunal looked into whether people who suffer discrimination as a result of medical marijuana use should be afforded protection under the Quebec Charter of Rights. It decided they should. The ruling is non-binding and applies only to Quebec, but advocates are hailing it as an important step toward changing drug laws across Canada.
The ruling arose from a 1978 modification to the Quebec Charter to include a clause barring discrimination against “the use of any means to palliate a handicap.” According to advocates, that clause, which is unique to Quebec, means that Quebecers can smoke marijuana to alleviate the symptoms of any handicap without fear of discrimination—however you choose to interpret the word “handicap.” “Where I come from, handicap is another word for ‘situation,’ ” says Charlie McKenzie, an advocate at the Compassion Club. “Someone suffering a migraine who seeks relief in a joint is not a criminal.”
McKenzie, one of the estimated 3,000 Canadians to hold a federal licence to use and produce medical marijuana, asked the tribunal to write an opinion on the subject after reading about several documented cases in which medical marijuana users were discriminated against. In one case, a father lost a custody battle after it became known that he used marijuana. In another, a user was urged by his employer to participate in a detox program in order to retain his pension benefits (the company eventually backed off).
The commission’s report has no legal weight, but it might be used as evidence in court cases, such as the pending dispute between the owner of Gator Ted’s, a Burlington, Ont., roadhouse, and a medical marijuana user asked to leave the bar’s entrance. “It’s better than nothing,” says Stephane Beaulac, a law professor at the Université de Montréal. “It gives advocates something to further their cause.”