Apr. 3, 00
Halifax Herald
By Kelly Shiers
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Cancer patient wins right to use grass as medication. Mark Crossley opened the letter that came last week from Health Canada and began to read. He hadn't finished the first page when his hands began to shake. It was the answer he was looking for, an answer, he claims, that will help him live. It will also keep the Noel, Hants County, man on the right side of the law. The letter was eight pages long. Mr. Crossley boils down its message to five words: "They gave me my rights." For more than a year, the 38-year-old father of three has claimed marijuana helps alleviate the symptoms of the tumour inside his brain - an inoperable tumour doctors predict will kill him.
Last February, he received national media attention after pleading guilty to growing marijuana. He was given a four-month sentence to be served at home, followed by 18 months' probation and 120 hours of community service. Instead of the community service, he could opt to pay $250 to a non-profit organization. After the verdict, Mr. Crossley said he kept smoking marijuana. Like others facing life-threatening illnesses, he claims it calms him, holds headaches at bay and lets him eat and sleep. Last Monday, the federal government gave him permission to grow, cultivate and possess the illegal drug in limited quantities for medicinal purposes.
A spokeswoman for Health Canada said 35 people have been granted exemptions. She wouldn't say how many Canadians have applied for them, calling that information confidential. Mr. Crossley's exemption came a week short of the one-year anniversary of the date he sent his request to Health Minister Allan Rock, along with 32 pages of medical information. Since then, there have been dark days, more forms to fill out and a lot of silence, time spent waiting and hoping. Mr. Crossley said his morale hasn't always been good. "It seemed that I kept fighting and fighting and fighting, but I didn't seem to be getting anywhere." But he said his family - a close-knit group - has been supportive. He credits his wife, Lorraine, for standing by him every day. Many people in his small community have also been supportive. A benefit jamboree raised just under $1,000 for his family. An Antigonish man who offered to do Mr. Crossley's community hours ended up giving him the money to satisfy the court's judgment. Mr. Crossley donated the money to a church youth group in his community. "You wouldn't believe it, but everybody that helps and supports me in so many different ways. It's like I draw power from them," he said. Over the past few months, Mr. Crossley said, his attitude has improved and his confidence has been restored. "I just feel stronger. I do, mentally and physically. I just feel a hell of a lot better now than I have in a long while."
Last August, 31 months after the four-by-six-centimetre tumour was discovered, an MRI (medical imaging system) showed it hadn't grown at all. He hasn't had a seizure since March 3, 1998. Night sweats that once drenched him are gone. His memory works better. He says he's no longer pale. And in the past year, he's put on 25 pounds. "Now, I'm 210 pounds (with) a little bit of a belly." With help from a friend, he splits his own wood to heat the family's house. The man who railed against his death sentence says no one should give up hope. On the day he found out about the tumour, Mr. Crossley said he watched his younger son riding a bicycle and cried. "I thought, 'I'm not even going to get a chance to get to see him grow up.' That's the way I was thinking then. Today, Crossley is looking forward to his daughter's upcoming high school graduation. And he vows to defeat the tumour that lives inside him. "The first mountain climbed was getting my rights. Now I have one more to climb, to get rid of that tumour. . . . Something else will (kill me). It won't be that. It'll be old age, the way I look at it."

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