Activist on hunger strike, claiming Alberta Health Services barring pot use in hospitals

Steve Mertl
January 8, 2014
Growing medical marijuana in Canada
The Peace Naturals Project is one of the first companies approved by Health Canada to commercially produce and distribute dried cannabis. Owner Mark Gobuty says the Ontario company's aim is to help people.

A Calgary medical-marijuana activist has launched a hunger strike over claims that hospitals in the province have banned the use of marijuana vaporizers, effectively denying her access to medical treatment.

Lisa Kirkman, who uses pot to deal with pain and a chronic blood disorder, began taking only clear fluids on Jan. 3, the Huffington Post reports.

"Either way, I'm suffering, but I would rather suffer so the public knows about it," said Kirkman, who was also organizing a protest outside a Calgary hospital.

Kirkman claims a "vaguely worded" Alberta Health Services internal memo circulated in November barred the use of medical marijuana in hospitals, reversing a previous policy.

She told the Post she's had doctors' appointments cancelled and been turned away from hospitals after 911 calls. There's a stigma surrounding medical marijuana use, she said.

"It's like AIDS in the early 80s," she said. "Doctors dropping patients . . . Everyone's in a panic."

Kirkman didn't produce the memo but said it affects anyone who is licensed to use medical marijuana to treat their ailments.

[ Related: Lisa Kirkman demonstrates pot vapourizer ]

"There are currently no provincial public health policies that allow for the legal use of vaporizers in public health facilities, so this violation of human rights could happen to anyone, anywhere in Canada," Kirkman said on her Facebook page.

An Alberta Health Services spokesperson denied Kirkman's claim vapourizers had been banned, saying it's developing a process to support patients who are treated with medical marijuana.

“This is about the balance between patient need and the health and safety of other patients, staff and visitors,” Don Stewart told Metro News Calgary in an email. “Negative pressure rooms work best to accommodate this, but they may not always be available.”

Kirkman has not been shy about asserting her right use medical marijuana whenever she needs it. Last spring, she clashed with administrators at SAIT Polytechnic over her use of a tabletop vapourizer during classes and in the college's common areas, CBC News reported. Other students apparently complained about the smell.

[ Related: Health Canada gaffe outs up to 40,000 medical marijuana users in letters ]

Kirkman's 15-year-old son also has a licence to use medical marijuana, including at his high school, to deal with severe attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and anxiety.

The boy was seized and put into foster care in 2008 while vacationing with his stepfather, who lived in Oregon. CTV News reported the then-10-year-old boy had been stopped several times by police for riding his bike without a helmet.

Because Kirkman's husband had not formally adopted her son, Oregon authorities cited her for abandonment and kept her son in a series of foster homes for two years before returning him to her in Canada.

Kirkman told CBC News she believed Oregon officials were prejudiced against her after talking to their counterparts in Canada because of her pot activism and a criminal conviction for growing marijuana.

Her son was returned in 2010 but the state of Oregon was suing Kirkman for the costs of his foster and medical care, CTV News said.