By Kristen Mann
Tell me about the first time you used cannabis.
The first time I smoked pot? The very first time was at a Pink Floyd concert and I was 17, or close to 18, and I didn’t really get much of an effect from it the first time, although it was a pretty amazing concert in and of itself. I started smoking pot more regularly […] in about Grade 12. Just with some of my friends from high school. I enjoyed it; it was something that I enjoyed right away. I found it very inspirational. It helped with my creativity and insight, and you know, that’s an age when I think people experiment with different lifestyles and ideas and find themselves. I think I started a lot older than other people I know who started using cannabis younger.
Were you active in other causes before you got involved in cannabis activism? What got you involved in the activist stream?
Ever since I was a very little kid, I was interested in politics. One of my earliest career goals was first to be a daredevil, and then to be Prime minister of Canada. So that was when I was five or six years old. I have always been interested in politics and political activism, and understanding how groups work. My ideas have evolved a lot since I was that little kid, so I was always involved in different things. When I got older and I started seeing both the harms caused by the War On Drugs and by the War on Marijuana, and at this time there wasn’t a lot of activism for this in British Columbia or in Canada. When I first started getting involved in this, which was about 20 years ago, you couldn’t get High Times magazine; there were no grow books available—information about cannabis was not available. People had no idea about the medicinal value of marijuana. The amazing benefits of hemp were not well know to most people. People thought that it might help with the appetite a bit if you had AIDS, and maybe you could make some sort of “burlappy” clothes out of hemp, and that was about it. When I read The Emperor Wears No Clothes—the amazing book by Jack Herer that I think inspired many activists—I just got a total knowledge bomb from that book. It showed me so many things, and I started researching this and I realized how important this issue was and no one else was really working on it, and it was an area were I could make a difference, where I could have some fun doing it, where you run into lots of cool people, and that seemed like a wonderful way to start my life. So I got out of high school and into university where I met other like minded people. I formed a club on my university campus at Simon Fraser (SFU). I think the first kind of [cannabis] activism I did was putting together that club.
What was the name of your SFU club?
It was called the League for Ethical Action on Drugs (LEAD). LEAD was active for about four or five years, and that group continued on after I had graduated from there. I think that it has now merged with Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy (CSSDP)—a great organization that has chapters all across the country, and is growing. I think with a lot of young people, you want to start to make a difference in the world and after I graduated from university I was helping to put on rallies and events in the city, and I met Marc Emery. He had just moved here and he opened up Hemp BC, and I was working on his newsletter which quickly evolved into Cannabis Culture Magazine. And there began a good 10 years of working together with Marc Emery on his various projects and the magazine. A lot of things happened over that decade, and I saw Marc do a lot of good work, and take a lot of risk, and help a lot of people, and really open up the availability of the Cannabis Culture product to the marijuana culture in British Columbia and in Canada.
You were the editor of CC for the duration of the print magazine, wrote a great book Hairy Pothead and the Marijuana Stone, and started the Vancouver Seed bank, one of the largest in Canada.
I also opened up the Vancouver Cannabis Dispensary which is how I make a living now. It is an industry that I am sure you know is expanding rapidly. A new one has just opened up on Cambie St. by the hospital there. Since we opened up, one opened just down the street from us, one opened up in South Vancouver; I know of at least five to six others that are planning on opening up in Vancouver in the next six months, and I am sure that there are easily that many as well that are opening that I haven’t heard about. It’s something that is working well and is self-regulating, but it is this funny thing where it is half legal where the courts allow us to do it but there is no legislation, and we need to change that.
Should we license medical cannabis dispensaries. What does that plan look like to you? Would you be taxing them? Would it be funded by some level of government?
I will tell you what I would do. I am running for the leader of the BC NDP, and although I am quite the underdog, the next step would to become the head of the opposition and hopefully win the next election, and become the new NDP premier. If I am not the Premier I will be pushing whatever NDP premier we have to do the following on medical marijuana because, although the drug laws are federal, just like Insite (the supervised injection site) is a health facility, because it is a health facilities the courts have ruled that it is a provincial jurisdiction. And in the same manner because most of us acknowledge that marijuana is a valuable medicine and people have a constitutional right to access. I believe that this puts medical marijuana under the same jurisdiction as Insite. The BC government, if it chose, could take over the federal marijuana program and make our own provincial programs, and by doing that we already have a great system of dispensaries that operate in this province that have created their own system of rules and do a good job and are self regulating. So as premier, I would get together as many dispensaries or compassion clubs, or whatever you want to call them, and patients and stake holders together. We would create a set of rules that would probably look a lot like the dispensaries are all using now. Not to charge them a lot of money and make sure that every one is rules and that we’ve got a standardized process. I would do the same thing for all of their growers, all of their suppliers. We have to figure out a way to regulate and control it, but I am not looking to get a lot of tax money off of medical user really. The only difference I see to medical users, really, is that the grower would have to start paying income tax if they aren’t already. But, I don’t want to tax medical marijuana, on the contrary, it really should be subsidized or at least treated like other pharmaceuticals. I think we would see big savings by doing that for our province because the members of my dispensary and the other dispensaries across the province are using less pharmaceuticals when they have access to marijuana. And the irony of it is that they have to pay for that marijuana out of their pocket, whereas the pharmaceuticals are subsided by the province and the taxpayers out of their pocket. If we would help them get that medical cannabis would save us money, besides the fact that it gets people off pharmaceuticals and on to a natural healing herb with no side effects, it would also be fiscally prudent of us to do this. Prices would drop in this sort of a regulated market. Because the growers would feel confident that they are not going to have any legal problems, they would be able to grow more at a time. They would be able to grow more openly and a price drop would follow. They could be proud of their work and show it more openly.
You were a founding member of the Marijuana Party, both federally and provincially. Can you tell me a little about those days?
Those were heavy days back in 2000 and 2001. In 2000, the first marijuana party in Canada was the Block Pot, and that was started by a man named Boris St-Maurice. He decided that he wanted to create a Canadian marijuana party, so he flew across the country meeting with different activist, and he ended his tour in B.C. They had a meeting at Marc Emery’s house, and we were all very excited about this, so we all ran and this was a big election and we had people in every single riding. It was the first year the Canadian Marijuana Party (CMP) ran and we had a lot of fun with that. B.C. was having an election in 2001, and we thought lets form the BC Marijuana Party (BCMP) and keep this going. The B.C. party had a different flavor than the federal party. The CMP basically allowed candidates to speak to whatever they want as along as they agreed on cannabis. With the BCMP we created a pretty complex set of policies with the focus being marijuana and legalization, but marijuana issues touch on so many other issues. It was a great campaign. We had this great bus that the driver brought up for us, and this guy and this bus had driven around Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, and so many other politicians. He had autographed pictures from Reagan in his bus. We were the first party ever in B.C. history to run a full slate of candidates in their first year in their first election. In 2003, Jack Layton came to Marc Emery’s house and went on Pot TV, and […] talked about how he personally thought that marijuana should be legalized and how his party thought that it should be decriminalized. He said if you are watching this you should join the NDP and help us develop a marijuana policy. Get involved. That was what the MP had sort of been waiting for, a mainstream party to take on our issues. Their policy hadn’t changed, but they hadn’t before had a leader so willing to communicate that message so clearly. Jack was very passionate about the legalization of marijuana. In the video he calls it a “wonderful substance.” There was a debate among the CMP, and lots of us ended up splitting off and joining the NDP.
In addition to key NDP values you have made some interesting campaign promises including legalizing cannabis for non-medicinal use, a public health campaign against sugar based beverages, free Skytrain passage, and decriminalizing the sex trade. Is there a core philosophy to your platform?
It is based on the four principals and I think you touched on a lot there. Democracy, Sustainability, Social Justice, and being smart on crime. I think I am a populist. I am a socialist. I believe in people working together. Government shouldn’t do everything, but there is a need for structure in terms of public infrastructure, in terms of eduction, in terms of health care. These are all the right places for government to be. We know the government can do a lot of harm sometimes, too, in terms of the war on cannabis and other civil rights abuses by governments here and around the world. I call myself a libertarian-socialist because I believe in civil liberties, but I also believe in a compassionate society that takes care of its weak and its vulnerable. I think we should work toward eliminating the fare boxes from BC transit starting with the Skytrain. We subsidize cars quite a bit through roads, asthma, car accidents, pollution. I would rather see that subsidy go to transit riders. I want to see more rails and less roads in this province. I would repeal the Liberal corporate tax cuts going back to 2001. The current top tax bracket is $100,000 a year. I have talked about adding a new tax bracket after $250,000 a year in annual income to tax the top 0.5 percent of earners. I would add a modest tax of about 11 percent.
These two actions together would eliminate the B.C. deficit and would give us half a billion dollars left over to invest in what we want. I am a big fan of education. Prisons are not the solution for homelessness, or mental health issues, or addiction, and they certainly aren’t the place for marijuana smokers. It is going to be very hard for this province to get out of debt if we don’t start saying no to this prison spending spree that Harper is taking us on. I think a lot of these ideas aren’t even left or right wing ideas. Democracy, sustainability, marijuana legalization—I think that people on both sides of the political spectrum can support.
Why did you decide to run for leader of the BC NDP?
Because I am idealistic and passionate about the NDP and about our province. I think I am bringing up ideas and issues that are important, and probably won’t get discussed if I am not there. Marijuana legalization is one of those, and direct democracy is one of those, and the Skytrain thing too. I lean left in our party and I give a voice to those members. I think that some people get nervous when they hear that I am running because they don’t know much about me and they only know what they read in the paper, and they think that I am a crazy person. But when they hear me speak at debates, I get a great response from the audience. I don’t know if they are going to vote for me or not, but every day I get people coming up to me and saying “I am glad you are in this race. I am glad that you are running.” A lot of those people are wearing a button for a different candidate, but they will say to me “Dana, I like what you had to say today, and I am glad that you are running, keep it up, you are doing a good job.” I know I probably won’t win, I might, but I am an underdog. It is an uphill battle for me to win this race, but I will be happy for our party and for this race if I have articulated a vision for our party and province that excites people and makes them want to join the party and get involved.
You have had some big names in the cannabis world, like Tommy Chong, support your leadership bid. Who do you think is your average supporter?
Over the last few days of debate I have had grandmothers who were in their late senior years tell me that they were excited about what I had to say and take my button, and I have had young people with dreadlocks tell me the same thing, and everybody in between. My message to the NDP is not to vote marijuana, it is broad based about those four policy platforms I talked about. I have a lot to say on a lot of issues, but I also think that NDPers are ready to hear about progressive marijuana policies. However, I don’t think that your typical marijuana user looks like Tommy Chong either. Over half the people in this province have tried marijuana at one time or another, and the people who use our dispensaries they don’t look like anything. They look like regular people. They are young, old, black, white, tall, short, they are men and women. All races and all genders use medical cannabis and I think it wonderful that it is an issue that applies to so many people. Today, a lady came up to me and said “I like what you had to say. My father is a member of your dispensary and he has cancer, and I am really glad that is a service you supply.” Let us not forget, though, that Tommy Chong spent nine months in jail for the crime of selling bongs over the internet. He is an activist who, like millions of other people around the world, has unjustly suffered in prison for his words and support for the cannabis plant. He has done his time and speaks in the media often, from Fox News to CNN. He is one of the most famous Canadians around the world. I am thrilled to have his support, but my support in the NDP doesn’t have a look, it comes from all types of people.
How can B.C. use hemp as a sustainable industry?
Small towns and farming communities, and rural B.C. in general, would benefit hugely from a legal cannabis hemp industry. The only thing that is holding back the hemp industry is our fear of marijuana. We force hemp farmers to go through huge red tape because we are terrified they might be growing a marijuana plant in the middle of their field, which doesn’t work anyway. Hemp would be a wonderful crop, it has such a broad base of applications. Most readers are probably aware of the fabric, food, pith, fiber benefits of hemp seed. What I find amazing, myself, is that hemp has a broader range of medicinal applications than marijuana does. The ratio of CBD: THC determines if a plant is hemp (high CBD) or marijuana (high THC). This doesn’t really affect the fiber crop, as they are tall and don’t make a lot of buds, but the seed crop is short and squat with big buds. CBD is better than THC at destroying cancer cells, helping heal mylin sheath. We are growing it by the hundreds of acres in Canada, and throwing it all away. They could easily keep they flower heads and extract the resins out of it in some big industrial way, make an affordable, useable form of cannabis medicine that would help a great deal of Canadians; and make our farmers money, save the taxpayers money, and help a great many people—and no one would be getting high. THC also has a great deal of medical application.
Why should cannabis users vote in the upcoming B.C. provincial election?
Voting is easy and it’s important, and I hope that I am giving the cannabis movement something to vote for. If you want to see progressive marijuana laws in this province, then join the NDP and support the work I am doing. I have a group eNDProhibition <eNDProhibition.ca> If you don’t like the NDP then join the party of your choice and reform them and get them involved too. NDP is the only party in B.C. sitting in the legislature that supports progressive drug laws.