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Marijuana Activist Dies Following Explosion


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Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Author: James Gordon, The Ottawa Citizen 
Published: Saturday, November 01, 2003
Copyright: 2003 The Ottawa Citizen
Contact: [email protected]

Don Appleby's fight against the aids virus that was sapping him was made more difficult by a tragic paradox. While the Ottawa man was one of the few Canadians who could legally smoke marijuana for medicinal purposes, he could rarely afford it due to his minuscule disability pension.

In the end, he was killed in the struggle to produce the drug that was helping him survive. 

On Oct. 12, Mr. Appleby was in the bathroom of his Blake Boulevard apartment, trying a dangerous method to get some use out of the non-smokable parts of his marijuana plants. 

By injecting butane into a plastic container with the plant in it, he hoped to make a concentrated oil he could use. Friends suspect he then tried to light a joint, igniting an explosion that blew the bathroom door off its hinges.

Residents of the apartment above his heard the explosion, and rushed him to the Ottawa Hospital's General campus. It's where he remained in intensive care since the incident, and where he died Thursday morning.

Ron Whelan was Mr. Appleby's close friend, and was living under the same circumstances. He said yesterday that Mr. Appleby never should have died the way he did. 

Both 44, they received about $900 a month on disability, not nearly enough to pay for both marijuana and food. While the government would pay for the $1,500-$2,000 of aids medication Mr. Appleby needed, they wouldn't pick up the cost of the marijuana. Nausea was a side-effect of the pills, and without the drug, he couldn't keep them down.

Forced to buy marijuana himself and pay rent, his friends say Mr. Appleby was reduced to scrounging through dumpsters to find the food he could no longer afford. He would go searching behind restaurants late at night so nobody would see him. At the same time, he wasn't shy about asking people with marijuana gardens to help him.

"You do what you have to do to survive, whether it's beg, borrow or steal," Mr. Whelan said. If one had a bag of dry macaroni from the food bank, he would often go to the other's place to share.

Mr. Appleby decided to try and save some money by growing his own marijuana, and after two failed gardens, things were starting to work out for him. Still, the cost to grow was still high. With no other source of medicine, he resorted to the butane method. He never recovered from the burns that covered 75 per cent of his body and his scorched lungs.

Mr. Whelan said although Mr. Appleby experienced difficult times in the past, he really blossomed after meeting people similar to him. He loved participating in marijuana rallies, and helping others.

"The world needs more people like Donny," he said. "He was there for the underdog, and it's a terrible loss for everyone who knew him."

Mr. Whelan said he doesn't blame the government for what happened to his friend, but said it should take more responsibility and provide for people like him.

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