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25/01/2008 00:00:00

Sweden: MS patient jailed for cannabis use

A Swedish multiple sclerosis patient is just days away from the start of
a one-year jail term after she was convicted on narcotics charges for
growing and distributing cannabis.

Susanne Eriksson, 39, began cultivating marijuana plants at her
apartment in Märsta in Stockholm's commuter belt after watching a
television programme describing how a number of scientific studies had
shown cannabis to alleviate the symptoms of MS.

When Eriksson decided just over a year ago to give it a try, a
green-fingered assistant volunteered to tend her plants.

Eriksson was delighted to find that the effects of the drug were exactly
as she had hoped.

"It helped me tackle my cramps. That was the most positive effect. But
really there were a whole series of improvements. Everything got a lot
better," she told The Local.

Last February, however, she received a visit from the police. Acting on
a tip off from a neighbour, they confiscated her plants and took both
Eriksson and her personal assistant into custody.

She was detained for 37 days. Her condition worsened while in custody,
she said, as the police said it was not their job to pick up her
medicine from the pharmacy.

At the subsequent trial in Sollentuna District Court, Eriksson and her
assistant were both sentenced to jail for possession and distribution of
narcotics. While she admits giving cannabis to visitors, saying she was
afraid that people would report her to the police if she turned them
down, she insists she never sold it.

Eriksson's attempts to have the decision overruled fell on deaf ears.

"I went to the court of appeal but they approved the ruling. I also went
to the supreme court but they wouldn't take up my case. Then I turned to
the government but got rejected there too," she said.

Many other countries apply lenient sentences to medical use of cannabis,
or turn a blind eye altogether. The UK and Canada have even licensed the
drug Sativex, a cannabis-based medicine which alleviates pain caused by
MS. But Sweden's zero tolerance approach to narcotics meant that her
belief in the healing properties of marijuana was viewed by the courts
as an "aggravating circumstance".

Eriksson fully expects her condition to deteriorate further, as she will
not be permitted to use the powerful pain relief medicine that has been
prescribed to her.

"They don't allow anything in there that can be construed as an
intoxicating substance," she said.

To add to her woes, social services have refused to cover the cost of
her rent for the duration of her sentence.

Representatives of MS sufferers in Sweden say Eriksson's sentence seems

"They should be able to give a more lenient sentence when someone with
MS is using cannabis - they should take account of this in sentencing
guidelines," said Stefan Käll, chairman of the Swedish Association of
Persons with Neurological Disabilities. But he also underlined that
people should not take the law into their own hands:

"It is the job of the healthcare sector to make medicine available. As
long as it is not allowed [to smoke cannabis] we cannot argue that it is
OK to use it."

Käll was critical that prison authorities appeared to be banning
Eriksson from using her prescribed medicine.

"That is a problem. If she has a prescription then she should be able to
have the medicine."

With all avenues sealed off, Eriksson has been ordered to present
herself at Hinseberg jail "by February 4th at the latest".

"It feels hopeless. It's impossible to describe. And I don't even know
if I'll have anyhere to live when I get out," she said.

Paul O'Mahony ( 656 6513)

Author: The Local via UKCIA

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