TORONTO (Reuters) -
The use of medical marijuana has given two Toronto professors the right to something that many students could only dream of -- access to specially ventilated rooms where they can indulge in peace.
The two, at the esteemed University of Toronto and at York University to the north of the city, suffer from chronic medical conditions that some doctors say can be eased by smoking marijuana. They are among nearly 1,500 Canadians who have won the right to use the drug for health reasons.
Using human rights legislation, the two petitioned their employers for the right to light up in the workplace. They faced a legal struggle, but the universities eventually agreed.
"Without the medication, I am disabled and I'm not able to carry out meaningful and valuable, productive work," said York University criminology professor Brian MacLean, who suffers from a severe form of degenerative arthritis.
"It helps me to maintain my mobility as a physical problem but it also helps me to keep the pain at a distance so I can focus on my work," MacLean told Reuters.
MacLean's three-month battle to persuade York University to provide a light-up room, finally obtained this month, is short in comparison to University of Toronto philosophy professor Doug Hutchinson's year-long struggle.
"It took Professor MacLean a season, three full months, to get a similar accommodation and I believe that in Canada now, we should hope that the next person who gets the accommodation should not take more than a month," Hutchinson told Reuters.
MacLean says the three-month response time from the university put him in a vulnerable position both medically and professionally, as he smoked joints on the edge of campus, and thus on the edge of the law.
He now uses a special vaporizer that he says allows him to absorb the medical components of marijuana without the residues that come from smoking a joint.
Health Canada figures show that 1,492 people are authorized to possess marijuana for medical purposes in Canada, although it's not clear how the law on using the drug tallies with Ontario provincial legislation that bans smoking in the workplace.
Canada, where laws on possession of marijuana are much less tough than those in the United States, has allowed the use of marijuana for medical purposes since 2001. The government grows the drug in an abandoned salt mine in Flin Flon, Manitoba, and sells it to authorized users at C$5 ($4.40) a gram.