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Gibson has the backing of the marijuana-rights community

By Hempology | March 3, 2008

Sat, 23 Feb 2008
Globe and Mail (Canada)
Margaret Wente


The Toke Smelled Round the World? When Gator Ted Told Steve Gibson Not to Smoke His Weed Outside His Door, It Became a Human-Rights Case

Gator Ted’s Tap and Grill isn’t the first place that comes to mind as the new front line in the battle for human rights.  To those who don’t know better, it’s just another restaurant in an ordinary suburban shopping plaza – a friendly spot for regulars to grab a beer after work or treat the kids to burgers and fries.

But to Ontario’s Human Rights Commission, Gator Ted’s is the setting for a possible landmark case for the rights of the disabled – one that could rewrite laws across the land.

The villain in this tale ( depending on your point of view ) is restaurant owner Ted Kindos, a.k.a.  Gator Ted.  He inherited the place from his parents and has been running it since 1991.  The hero ( also depending on your point of view ) is Steve Gibson, a frequent patron of Gator Ted’s – until the day, back in 2005, when Mr.  Kindos told Mr.  Gibson he didn’t want him smoking weed right outside the restaurant’s door.

So what was wrong with that? Allow me to explain.  Mr.  Gibson’s marijuana was medicinal.  He has a licence to toke up in order to alleviate his chronic pain, which is the result of a workplace injury.  He argues he’s got the right to light up and self-medicate wherever it’s legal to smoke tobacco.  Mr.  Kindos denied him that right, and that amounts to discrimination because of his disability.

Mr.  Kindos begs to differ.  He says Mr.  Gibson’s pot smoke was bothering the other customers, and all he did was ask him to move away from the door so as not to annoy them.

You might think that such a little matter could be left to the disputants to work out between themselves.  If so, you don’t get it.  Human-rights commissions have become the court of first resort for anyone who’s got a grievance.  And these days, they’re especially interested in grievances from people who claim they’ve suffered discrimination because of their mental or physical disabilities.

“This is a human-rights issue,” says a Human Rights Commission spokesman.  “This case isn’t about the marijuana, it’s about a person with a disability being treated differently.”

After 2 1/2 years and several failed attempts at mediation, the commission has sent the case to a full-blown tribunal hearing this May, at a cost of untold thousands of taxpayers’ dollars.  “If this dispute was about racism, it would have been over years ago,” says Stephen McArthur, Mr.  Kindos’s lawyer.  “But this is the first case involving the smoking of medical marijuana in public.”

Back at the restaurant, Gator Ted is fuming.  “They keep insisting we’ve discriminated against his disability.  He’s got some kind of spinal or neck injury.  Are my entrances too low? Are the doors too heavy? Are the bar stools too low? Have we interfered when he wants to take his medication? No.  There is no evidence whatsoever that I have not accommodated his disability.”

The problem, according to Gator Ted, was that Mr.  Gibson insisted on making a nuisance of himself.  “We got numerous complaints of this guy smoking dope outside our front door.  He came into the bar and stank of pot.  There are truck drivers in here who get random testing, and they complained they could be suspended.  I got kids coming in for lunch, and he was at the front door smoking a joint.  I got a dad complaining his kid had to walk through marijuana smoke.” Mr.  Kindos also notes that his licence can be suspended if anyone is caught with marijuana on the premises.

It’s clear there’s no love lost between these two.  Mr.  Gibson says Mr.  Kindos tried to ban him from the restaurant, and denies he lights up in front of kids.  “He’s throwing me out because the other patrons don’t like the smell of me.  I think he’s just stepping all over my rights to walk around as a Canadian citizen.”

During one lunch hour this week, the vast majority of Gator Ted’s clientele appeared to be on his side.  Some of them have known Mr.  Gibson for years, and let’s just say he’s not their favourite guy.  “When he got that licence, he was in here showing it to everybody, cocky as anything,” says long-time customer Keith Hunter.  “He said he had a licence to grow it, too, and he said, ‘They’ll never know how many plants I have.’ ” Mr.  Hunter says he’s got nothing against marijuana, medicinal or otherwise.  “I’ve got bad knees and I use it myself sometimes.  But I do it in the privacy of my own home when my grandchildren aren’t around, and that’s the way it should be.”

The customers say Mr.  Gibson is entitled to his rights.  But they’re entitled to theirs, too.  “I’m asthmatic and I had to walk through his smoke,” says Ron Kay.  “He just flaunted it.” Other patrons raised public safety issues.  “I see him driving around, and I wonder how many joints he’s been smoking,” says Steve Ford.

In other jurisdictions, people aren’t allowed to smoke medical marijuana in public.  There is no such provision in Canada’s legislation.  “They basically assumed people would act with common sense,” says Mr.  McArthur, Mr.  Kindos’s lawyer.  He thinks the loophole will eventually be plugged.  Meantime, his client is facing a hefty legal bill.  Mr.  Kindos has already shelled out more than $15,000, and the tribunal hearing will run another $35,000 to $65,000, depending on whether he has to summon expert witnesses, plus whatever damages he may owe to Mr.  Gibson.  Mr.  Gibson, who is on long-term disability, wants $20,000, although he says it’s not about the money.

Complainants have their legal costs borne by the commission, which supplies them with a lawyer and also foots the bill for outside experts.  This system means there is zero incentive for a complainant to settle, and zero penalty if he loses.  Mr.  Kindos’s money, of course, will be gone for good.

Both men have become something of a cause celebre.  Mr.  Gibson, who’s made the cover of Cannabis Culture magazine, has the backing of the marijuana-rights community.  He hopes to set another precedent by getting the government to pick up his $525-a-month medical marijuana bill.  ( He says he now buys his supply from the government, and no longer grows his own.  )

Mr.  Kindos is pretty gloomy about his chances before the “kangaroo court” tribunal.  But he has certainly won before the lunchtime crowd at Gator Ted’s.  They think this case is nuts.  “We’ve got one arm of the government spending millions of dollars getting us to just say no to drugs, and we’ve got another arm saying this guy can do whatever he wants,” says Mr.  Hunter.  “Who puts these morons in this position, that they can make decisions that affect people’s lives like this?”

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