COBOURG -- The dying and the wounded have picked an unusual champion in
Diane Bruce.

She is weak and sickly and looks like she could break in half if you were
to exhale a breath quickly her way.

Bruce, suffering from multiple sclerosis, is also in jail, charged after
OPP drug enforcement officers raided her home, east of here, near Colborne,
and seized about 18 kilograms of marijuana with a street value totaling
more than $80,000. But the drugs weren't destined for the street. In fact,
in a strange way, Bruce was planning to give it all away to the needy.

The 37-year-old mother of two, for some time now, has been acting as a
grower for more than 50 sick people with federal permits to use marijuana
for medical reasons. She hasn't done it in the shadows, and even invited
local police in to see her elaborate 'Lady Dyz Helping Hands' operation,
which included indoor facilities and an outdoor, 10-metre-square garden
protected by a wire fence, security cameras, floodlights and dogs.

She and her supporters have even kept a 24-hour-a-day lookout on the crops
-- an hour for each of the exotic varieties of cannabis grown there.

THE PATIENTS FEEL BETTER

"I'm good at growing marijuana," she told me, in an anti-room, next to a
tiny Cobourg courtroom, yesterday afternoon. "And I give (it) away. These
are sick and dying people. I can't turn my back on them."

In fact, she leases out space to federal exemptees, who have been granted
status by Health Canada to use pot for medical purposes. They include those
suffering from HIV/AIDS and cancer victims.

While Canadian Medical Association officials question the value of
marijuana in treatment, those patients who use it say they know -- and feel
-- better.

"But I can't grow it in my small apartment," explained Burlington artist
Robin Hoyer, who fights a daily battle with AIDS and hepatitis C. "With it,
my health has improved. I can sleep well. I've gained weight."

An exemptee since April -- he's used Bruce's services recently -- Hoyer
takes in very small amounts of pot as part of his treatment at night.

Before going to Bruce, he used an underground network of phone numbers and
coded knocks on the doors of strangers. Bruce's operation is safer, he said.

In truth, not always. Bruce's garden has been raided by thieves more than
once. Last week, she managed to scare off what she believes was a home
invasion, by using a flare gun fired out a window. The thugs in a van --
one seen with a shotgun -- fled.

That was just days before police came in, took everything and charged
Bruce, along with her 18-year-old daughter, Michelle Hughey, with various
drug charges.

The raid couldn't have come at a worse time. It was the end of the season,
and the exemptees were just starting to arrive to pick up their allotted
medication.

Bruce -- who has applied, but is not an exemptee -- doesn't know what they
will do now, though some patients are banding together and plan to ask a
higher court to have the pot, seized from Bruce, handed over to them.

The OPP say they understand the drugs were headed to the sick, but that
doesn't change the law regarding Bruce's part in supplying it.

"We're not out there beating (exemptees) up, but this is black and white --
she had no authorization to do what she was doing," said OPP Const. Rick
Barnum. "There's no licence for that."

RULES HARD TO FOLLOW

But there is a way to do it. Health Canada spokesman Andrew Swift said
yesterday that amendments made on July 30 changed the rules, allowing
exemptees to have someone like Bruce grow their plants for them. The total
number of licences handed out so far? None. And a below-ground commercial
pot farm in Manitoba isn't expected to produce drugs for exemptees until 2003.

Until then, they count on special fellowship centres or the black market or
people like Bruce, who said yesterday she's just trying to do the right thing.

But the rules regarding exemptees, and where they get their marijuana, are
enough to make your head spin. Many patients still feel like criminals --
largely by the way Ottawa has forced them to buy their marijuana. Some have
just months to live.

And Bruce doesn't know how much more she can take. She cried yesterday when
her Toronto lawyer, David McCaskill, told her that her bail hearing was put
over.

The dying and the wounded have picked an unusual champion in Diane Bruce.
But, for more than 50 of them, she was the only one to turn to.


Newshawk: puff_tuff
Pubdate: Tue, 23 Oct 2001
Source: Toronto Sun (CN ON)
Copyright: 2001, Canoe Limited Partnership.
Contact: editor@sunpub.com
Website: http://www.fyitoronto.com/torsun.shtml
Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/457
Author: Thane Burnett