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Double amputee dies facing eviction for MMJ

By admin | September 5, 2009

Marilyn Holsten’s last days on Earth were a living hell, according to her sister, Moira O’Neill.

In frail health, the almost-blind, diabetic double-amputee was ordered evicted from her apartment because of her need to smoke marijuana to control her pain.

Holsten, 48, died earlier this month from a heart attack.

“For a whole year, it went on. It was an unbelievable way to treat someone in her health,” said O’Neill.

Holsten lived in a building operated by Anavets Senior Citizens Housing Society in the 900-block East 8th Avenue in Vancouver.

Many of her neighbours told her they did not smell marijuana coming from her apartment, her sister said. But, even though Holsten eventually tained legal permission to smoke marijuana to deal with excruciating phantom pains, Anavets sought her eviction because of the smell of pot.

“It was a witcch hunt,” said O’Neill, who said her sister had to move from her fifth-floor apartment to a ground-floor suite two years ago, after her first leg amputation, for her own safety.

“They knew she smoked marijuana before she moved down to the other suite,” said O’Neill.

“She was in the hospital most of the time, with her amputation — she was gone five days a week, in dialysis six hours a day.”

Holsten fought her eviction at a B.C. Residential Tenancy Branch arbitration hearing in June, but lost.

The night before she died, Holsten visited her older sister.

“We resolved that she was going to stay with me in my small one-bedroom apartment,” said O’Neill.

“She couldn’t take opiates, they made her totally unable to function. Morphine made her throw up, and she was a diabetic, so she had to eat all the time.”

O’Neill said her sister “yelled and screamed before she died,” but help came too late to save her.

“It’s pretty unjust, what happened. She was a fighter,” said O’Neill, who picked up her sister’s ashes Tuesday.

“She was extremely independent all her life.”

O’Neill says her sister was also “a beautiful person” who loved life and her three parrots.

“She had an art project she was working on. She had plans to continue her education. She was an inspirational person,” said O’Neill.

“I’m missing her, but I know she’s got her toes back and is wiggling them in heaven.”

Marilyn Holsten outside VGH after completing one of her 5 day a week dialysis treatments, Vancouver, July 02. She is facing eviction due to her use of medical marijuana which she uses to combat ghost pain from her leg amputations.

Marilyn Holsten outside VGH after completing one of her 5 day a week dialysis treatments, Vancouver, July 02. She is facing eviction due to her use of medical marijuana which she uses to combat ghost pain from her leg amputations.

Photograph by: Gerry Kahrmann, The Province

Marilyn Holsten’s hopes of keeping her Vancouver apartment have gone up in smoke.

Holsten, a 49-year-old diabetic and double-leg amputee, has been battling her landlord since April 2008 over her right to smoke medicinal marijuana in her home.

At a B.C. Residential Tenancy Branch arbitration hearing June 29, Holsten’s bid to keep her home was denied.

She must vacate her apartment — where she has lived for the past decade — by Sept. 30.

“They say it’s a non-biased thing, the arbitration, but they wouldn’t let me or my lawyer get a word in edgewise,” Holsten said Thursday.

“Right from the get-go I knew I was going to lose.”

The Anavets Senior Citizens Housing Society, which runs Holsten’s apartment building in the 900-block East 8th Avenue, is evicting her on grounds that her marijuana use pollutes air in the building.

The society could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Holsten is in a wheelchair. She said she uses the drug to manage her pain levels. Since her last eviction notice, she has obtained Health Canada’s authorization to use marijuana for medicinal purposes, which protects her from prosecution.

Holsten also uses a vaporizer for her marijuana so the smell will not bother others. None of this, she said, was taken into consideration during the arbitration hearing, which was conducted over the phone.

Calls to the tenancy branch were not returned.

Kirk Tousaw, who represents Holsten, said he was “disappointed” by how the proceedings went.

“She is being discriminated against by her landlord because of her disability and her choice of medicine.”

Tousaw said he and Holsten are considering taking the case to court or filing a human-rights complaint.

Holsten, who spends five afternoons a week in dialysis, said she does not have friends or family who can support her if she cannot find a new place to live.

There are 150 people on B.C. Housing’s wait-list for wheelchair-accessible accommodations in the Metro Vancouver area.

She said she is counting on B.C. Housing’s help, but is worried she might be left out in the cold because of her marijuana use.

B.C. Housing does not admit people who engage in criminal activity, including drug use. The stress of the situation has caused Holsten to lose 15 pounds in three weeks.

She now weighs less than 90 pounds. “This [situation] could kill me,” she said. “I have to fight.”

For The Record: An earlier version of this story made reference to an ombudsman in the headline. Marilyn Holsten’s bid to smoke medicinal marijuana in her apartment has never involved the B.C. Ombudsman’s office.

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