For many of us objecting to the prohibition of cannabis is not enough. In order to use the herb most of us have to break the law. This can have serious consequences for some, yet for many of us challenging the laws by smoking in public, growing, trafficking or speaking out has become a way of life.
It is very important that we individually and collectively break the cannabis laws as often as possible, until it is free for people to grow their own plants and/or obtain a business licence to enter the industry without overbearing regulations or restrictive fees. Constant, passive, civil disobedience has wore the grasp of prohibition thin, so as more of us that step up and make public statements by openly defying the law, the faster that grip will fail entirely. However, not all attempts to undermine the authority of the law are successful, and when someone is arrested pushing the boundaries it can have serious consequences for the entire movement.
IF YOU CANNOT DO THE TIME, DO NOT DO THE CRIME! This simple statement is far too often forgotten in the rush to make money and get attention. Far too many times I have read and heard statements from growers, seed dealers and dispensary employees who assumed that they would never have trouble with the law, even though it was clear to everyone that they were breaking the law. Just because police do not break down the door of an openly operating illegal cannabis business one day, does not mean they will not be there to bust everyone the next. Until the herb is legal, most dispensaries, vapor lounges, seed dealers and even head shops continue to operate on the good will of their local police force and anyone working in the field must be prepared to face the music if the cops walk in the door with a warrant.
For most of us in Canada, the worst result of being caught breaking the cannabis laws is not being allowed into the USA. Some could lose their job if they go public with their belief, or even if they test positive for cannabinoids in their urine, so any public use of cannabis for these individuals may have potential consequences so great it is not worth the risk. Being prepared to deal with the fallout if one is caught gives an individual a sense of empowerment that can be quite liberating, as the fear that normally stops people from disobeying the government causes a great deal of stress.
For most people the simple act of smoking in a public place where others can easily see and smell what you are doing is the first real situation when one truly feels like puffing is an act of civil disobedience. Usually the act of smoking is more about self-indulgence than activism, but that changes dramatically when one willfully goes out in public and smokes herb, especially if it is at a rally intended upon challenging the laws. Encouraging your friends to take this leap of faith by simply having a joint pre-rolled for outings and sparking them up whenever possible can be an important tool for converting them into being more active in their promotion of cannabis.
While debate has its place, nothing takes the wind out of the sails of a drug war supporter than for them to see how tolerant towards cannabis use the general public is. When one of these pot haters see people freely smoking without concern for the law or the opinion of others, they either become frustrated and feel a sense of failure or they begin to question the reasons behind their fears as cannabis lovers tend to be nice, gentle people. Many people with a negative attitude about cannabis have never had an open, positive conversation with a pot lover and have built their negative opinions on commercials, tv shows and old movies. Giving prohibitionists a chance to see and possibly interact with people using cannabis can often be a liberating experience.
Certainly it has been my experience that if one is nice while being arrested for cannabis charges, that the police can be not only polite in return but over time they can change their minds entirely! I was arrested twice in November of 2000, first for passing joints around a 420 circle at the University of Victoria and then for passing out pot cookies, then twice more in 2002 for operating the Cannabis Buyers Club of Canada. The compassion club I founded was raided on two other occasions in 2002 and 2003, and its bakery busted in 2009. Along the way several growers supplying the club have been through trial, with one even going to jail for 9 months, and I have witnessed about 60 days of court procedures in other cases. In all of these arrests and trials I and the others involved have been as polite, informative and cooperative with the police as possible, giving them the very strong impression that we are not criminals at all. This strategy has resulted in the club, now called the Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club, having an excellent reputation among local officers, known for our dedication, commitment and professionalism. Ironically the officer who arrested me and my friends the most has changed his position and, though he is not a member of LEAP yet, he advocates for stopping the war on cannabis to his fellow officers!
Breaking the law with a group of people, either at an event or in a storefront, is much trickier than simply smoking a joint downtown. However. with proper planning and execution pulling off a stunt or setting up a cannabis shop can be very rewarding and possibly lead to a career in the field. Certainly providing medicine to people in need must be one of the most righteous actions one can take, whether one is founding one in a new city or just starting to work at an old established one to pick up where people like me left off.
It seems to me that the next wave in cannabis businesses will be the creation of vapor lounges. With no cannabis sales on location, these businesses are mostly pushing the smoking by-laws of cities by claiming patrons are vaporizing and not actually smoking anything. With police pressing charges for possession less often, these lounges should prove to be both profitable and empowering for our community. With lounges recently opening up in Winnipeg and Niagra Falls, these facilities might be easy for the general public to accept and are an excellent way to break down negative perceptions of cannabis consumers, who are usually depicted as lazy degenerates.
Whether one is smoking a joint or running a storefront seed business, it should be obvious that being prepared to go to court is in the back of everyone’s mind. In everyone’s back pocket should be a card to their lawyer. There are very few lawyers fighting prohibition but most defense lawyers have a bad taste for the cannabis laws and if you are going to work in the field it is always good to develop some type of relationship with one. Many lawyers will have at least one free talk about a situation before asking for money. Asking around town for a sympathetic lawyer should always be one’s first step. Another possible route to a good lawyer is to ask the local court reporter, as usually each large courthouse has someone from the media working there and they usually have a good understanding of which lawyers might be the most interested in defending a cannabis case.
If you are unfortunate enough to get arrested and go to court be prepared for a long battle if you plan on fighting, as justice is rarely quick. Depending upon the case it is important that defendants use every means possible to fight the charges and challenge the basis of the laws. If the case raises significant Charter issues and the financial resources are available to hire expert witnesses and pay the lawyer for the extra work, then a constitutional challenge should be launched. This can be a very difficult process, and one must be confident in their lawyer, experts and argument before spending that much money and energy of a full constitutional challenge. This is when a poorly organized and poorly funded campaign can hurt the entire movement, because if the best defense is not made the case can set a bad precedent which can be very hard to overturn in other cases.
However one chooses to break the cannabis laws, it is important know the risks and not let the obvious benefits cloud your vision. As more and more of us stand up against prohibition, the risks diminish and the sense of freedom we all seek grows. Whether one does no more than wear a pot t-shirt and smoke a joint at a public function, every little step we take to reclaim our freedom is another move towards legalization. The death of cannabis prohibition is approaching. Will you be able to tell future generation about your part?