It seems fitting that the first Cannabis Digest blog covers the history of the publication, leading into the bright future ahead. While these blogs open the door to exciting possibilities for the Cannabis Digest, it is important to acknowledge our roots and tell our story. After reading this we are sure you will agree that the Cannabis Digest is the best example of a ‘grass’roots media organization in Canada.
Our humble beginnings go back to 2003, shortly after the last police raid at the Cannabis Buyers Club of Canada in Victoria, B.C. At a monthly ‘working group’ meeting of the CBC of C membership, Gayle Quin suggested we write a simple newsletter. After surviving 4 police raids in just over a year it was very important for the club to tell its story to the public, while keeping members informed about court developments and other news like the fairly new Health Canada programs.
It seemed to make sense for the newsletter to be published by the club’s sister organization, the International Hempology 101 Society, similar to the briefly published BudWiser newsletter that the society had produced in the 1990s. Giving the project to Hempology 101 allowed the paper to discuss more than medical cannabis issues, making it possible to distribute outside of the club and sell advertising. With a mandate to legalize cannabis by education, Hempology 101 was the perfect organization to take on this project, though the focus has always been to provide relevant information for medical cannabis patients.
The very first issue of the Cannabis Digest was a big photocopy folded in half. Our budget was small, in part because the police raids had nearly drove me bankrupt. Without an advertising base to support the paper it slowly grew over the next 7 years only because despite the police raids the CBC of C grew in size and could support printing a bigger newsletter.
Then 2 things happened that made me believe it was time to bust a move and turn our newsletter into a national newspaper. In Dec 2009, Owen Smith was arrested in an apartment making cookies for the club, a case that I was certain would have historical implications. Second in mind was the fact that Cannabis Culture had suddenly stopped producing a printed magazine, leaving a huge gap in information in Canada regarding all cannabis issues. Without Cannabis Culture in print, or another Canadian focused publication to replace it, Owen’s story and his important case would not get the attention it deserved.
Turning the newsletter into a newspaper would not have been possible without the hard work and dedication of Andrew Brown. While a student of Vancouver Island University in Naniamo, he became involved with Hempology 101 by forming a student club, helping host several meetings, movie nights and conventions. He was also the editor of the student newspaper for a year, The Navigator. Without the vision and skills of Andrew, we could never have even dreamed of creating a newspaper.
Our first newspaper edition of the Cannabis Digest hit the stands in the summer of 2010. Despite having no established distribution system, few advertisers and little experience with such an enterprise, it was not long before most of the 5,000 copies disappeared. It was clear from the response we received from the members and general public that we had a good product that had great potential.
The decision to make the Cannabis Digest a free, black and white newspaper and not a magazine was based upon several principles. First and foremost, we would never want to allow lack of money to be a barrier to people learning valuable information about their health and the law. Second, in many ways it breaks our heart to know the paper is being printed on paper, though it is recycled, and are very aware of the environmental impact of the ink. By not having color we are doing our best to limit the negative impacts of our work.
It seemed reasonable to avoid articles about growing cannabis, as many publications already focused upon this and while it is critical that some people grow the herb, most patients do not need to know the latest growing techniques. This decision has allowed us to focus upon other key areas of of the emerging cannabis industry. Pictures of pretty buds are beautiful to look at but will do nothing to make this plant legal.
Our second front cover was a drawing done by a local artist who frequents the Inner Harbour of Victoria. We got him to draw Jack Herer, who is in many ways the grandfather of the cannabis movement, using a picture from a magazine. It looked great but some people complained they could not color the front cover, as the artist had taken the time to shade his work.
From that moment forward we have made sure readers can color the front cover and have held an art contest every issue since! We have had some outstanding artists contribute front covers, including Sean Newton, Georgia Toons, Ivan , Gary Wintle, Jason Balaam, Darin Wheatly, and Gayle Quin. Eventually we hope to release a colouring book.
After the lower court ruled in favour of Owen, Revenue Canada came to visit me to try and collect taxes. In response I turned the CBC of C into the Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club and declared bankruptcy against all of the back taxes they wanted. It was the same summer my book finally came out, HEMPOLOGY 101: THE HISTORY AND USES OF CANNABIS SATIVA, and it seemed the stars were aligned in such a way that I should let the club go and try to make a living as an author and newspaper publisher. On Oct 1, 2012, I sold the CBC of C for $4,200 to the VCBC and have not made any money from the club since. Now I work for the International Hempology 101 Society, as was my original plan 19 years ago.
It was my hope that books sales along with other projects would support me and that with some extra effort the newspaper would at least break even. Unfortunately book sales have slowed down and while the newspaper is close to paying for itself, we are still short of breaking even. Something needs to change.
Meanwhile, everything is changing. New regulations for medical cannabis have thrown even more confusion into the public arena in Canada, while throughout the USA and the rest of the world calls for legalization are starting to result in actual changes in law. Never in the history of the world has there been so much activity, so much investment, so much opportunity for those working with the cannabis plant.
While print media still has a role to play in educating the public, as many still do not have full and easy access to the internet or do not feel safe looking at cannabis sites, the world wide web has taken over as the primary source of information for cannabis enthusiasts. With facebook leading the way, interactive online media is the future.
The Cannabis Digest will continue to be a leading organization in Canada as we grow to the next level with daily blogs from key members of our community. Having firmly established a team of contacts in this industry, our newspaper is uniquely positioned to generate information every day that will provide historical references, medical insights, personal stories, political commentary, legal updates and dispensary developments. Between our core group of writers and vast network of activists I have come to know over the years, we have no doubt in our abilities to keep you informed and up-to-date.
Please forgive (or in some cases even support) the ads on our webpages but we have to pay the rent. Over the years I have done everything possible to educate the public for free and making money from advertisers is one of the few ways we can do that and keep a roof over our heads. On the other hand, please support all of the advertisers in the print version of the paper because they are all paying good money to support free public education about cannabis.
While no one can predict the future, after 19 years of working in the cannabis field I have never seen such opportunity for growth. Developing daily blogs is the obvious direction for the Cannabis Digest to go in as we build our capacity to educate the public about this incredible plant. Join us as we grow into this exciting new world.