Reasonable Doubt: Liam McKnight and Canada’s medical marijuana laws

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      Liam McKnight has Dravet syndrome. Clinically, it is known as severe myoclonic epilepsy of infancy.

      It is a rare form of epilepsy that causes severe and frequent seizures. It also leads to an increase in risk of sudden death among children. There are also a number of collateral restrictions to a child’s cognitive and physical development. Treatment options are limited. Prognosis is poor.

      Liam is six years old. He is Canada’s youngest medical marijuana user.

      The day before Liam began using marijuana, he had 67 violent seizures, each lasting three to four minutes. In the 10 days after he began using it, he had one small seizure. He was riding horses, going on boat rides, and doing all the regular stuff you’d hope a six year-old gets to do. Google him. He gives the Jerry Maguire kid a run for his money.

      Medical marijuana has exploded in use in recent years in Canada. Anyone who has paid attention to the number of dispensaries and retail shops has probably noticed this.

      It’s a controversial medicine. There are few double-blind studies confirming its efficacy, although many medical experts staunchly stand behind it.

      Users also face significant stereotypes associated with it, most notably, that the licence is really just a ruse to be able to legally get high all day. I have little doubt that some abuse this, but there are many people who abuse pharmaceuticals as well.

      Is Liam Canada’s youngest pothead?

      Far from it.

      THC is well known as the chemical in marijuana that induces the euphoric feeling most recreational users seek. However, Liam isn’t chasing a high. For him, the chemical in marijuana which helps treat his seizures is cannabidiol (CBD).

      In fact, Liam’s parents go to great length to avoid exposing him to THC. They receive 150 grams per month from a licensed producer. From their home in Ottawa, they ship that to a lab in Montreal to have the CBD extracted from the marijuana into an oil that can be used in cooking. From there, the oil is shipped to them in Ottawa. They then ship it to another lab right here in B.C., where the oil is tested to ensure that it contains no THC and CBD in the correct concentration before being shipped back to Ottawa for Liam to orally ingest.

      It drastically improves the life of a kid who never deserved his lot in life.

      Liam’s parents and both labs doing this are breaking the law. Serious laws. They are trafficking drugs and possessing large quantities of marijuana. They are exposed to criminal liability under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

      Why? Because the laws around medical marijuana only allow a licensed user to possess marijuana in a dried vegetative form. When they possess it in oil form, they are not doing so under the terms of their authorization.

      This issue was litigated in B.C. in 2012. The federal government fought back, hard. The trial lasted four weeks over the course of three months.

      How did the government attempt to justify the law allowing one to possess dried marijuana, but not oils infused with marijuana?

      In that case, it trotted out some obviosuly questionable claims that the compassion club had made that marijuana could heal broken bones in dogs, among other things. For some reason, they disregarded that such claims could equally be applied to dried marijuana as easily as to oil. They also ignored that the federal government had elected to not regulate marijuana in the same way as other natural health products are regulated under the Natural Health Products Regulations or the Canada Consumer Safety Product Act.

      The Crown also argued that the claimants only wanted to eat tasty cookies.

      Not surprisingly, these arguments were put to rest quite quickly when the court addressed the arbitrariness of such restrictions, the fact that marijuana can be hazardous to one’s cardiovascular health when smoked, and that many of the benefits are negated by smoking.

      And, in Liam’s case, because consuming dried marijuana when eating or smoking it does not remove the THC, it would mean that Liam might have to get high every day to prevent his seizures, depending, of course, on how quickly his little body develops a tolerance for the stuff.

      The Supreme Court of B.C. shot down the government’s legal distinction in 2012 and an appeal died when the government amended the laws this spring, making the issue largely moot (although the same or similar argument can easily be made).

      For some reason, the government ignored, somewhat conveniently, the Supreme Court of B.C. ruling that there should be no distinction between the right to possess marijuana in dried form versus oil form.

      So, Liam’s parents forge ahead, breaking the law to do what any parent would do for their child. The government, by its conduct, appears to insist that Liam has to take his lumps. Beyond that, the additional cost associated with the two labs is a monumental cost to Liam’s family, which already has to pay $1,200 per month to obtain dried marijuana.

      For more information on Liam’s plight, follow him on Twitter: @liamsdravetarmy.

      Michael McCubbin operates a busy litigation practice in downtown Vancouver, focusing on criminal, constitutional, and administrative law. Reasonable Doubt appears on on Fridays. You can send your questions for the column to its writers at

      A word of caution: You should not act or rely on the information provided in this column. It is not legal advice. To ensure your interests are protected, retain or formally seek advice from a lawyer.




      Jul 27, 2014 at 9:01am

      Thank you so much for profiling Liam's story. Liam's family fights every day for Liam. It is a great injustice that the Government of Canada makes arbitrary rules that could mean loss of life for Liam and all the children like him.

      Robert Lee

      Jul 27, 2014 at 10:58pm

      Let's make sure the Harperites pay for their cavalier approach to this issue by tossing them out next election.

      free the plant

      Jul 28, 2014 at 9:11am

      rona ambrose and the conservatives don't care about canadians health or are environment!

      Sarah Wilkinson

      Jul 28, 2014 at 11:39am

      Being in the medical mmj community for some time, and having my daughter who also has a 1 in 30 epileptic disorder in the world which renders her severely disabled I would like to add Liam is not the youngest user...not by a long shot. There are many of us so please I ask that you dig a little further. My daughter is 8 started at 7, had hundreds a day and sometimes statuses lasting over 22 hours. MMJ has now allowed her to be seizure free and start talking, being in a stander/walker etc. Do not sensationalize this., Educate but to educate you need to get the facts. I personally know of a 2 year old on this. So please research just don't get the story out because then we ALL look irresponsible.,

      Not a medical question

      Jul 28, 2014 at 5:49pm

      The sad thing is this is an ideological matter for the Reform Party. Matters of health and medicine do not figure into the decisions being made by them.