You can’t spend much time down at the Victoria Cannabis Buyers’ Club before a wonderful sound catches your ear—the sound of Gayle Quin laughing. It runs through everything, charging it with spirit—another kind of medicine.
This is to say that Gayle rarely takes a breath without letting it laugh on the way out, and that these laughs, contagious though they are, are an integral part of what makes the VCBC a true healing space—much more than a dispensary— where people come to share company and solidarity, and be well together.
Consider this in light of the fact that last fall, Gayle was in the middle of a full scale war with cancer. It’s hard to imagine when you see her smiling, talking cheerily with friends, and giving holistic advice to members who ask. Her vivid presence almost defies memory of her illness—a testament both to her strength and to the healing properties of cannabis.
With this in mind, I recently sat down to puff and chat with Gayle in the smoky back room at the club. Here is what I learned about the hard road she walked to be here today, healthy, happy, and wearing a healing heart on her rainbow-coloured sleeve.
Saanich is an Arcadian peninsula, green enough to make Ireland look like Mordor in comparison. In precolonial times, this land made the people who lived on it rich, producing much more food than they could eat every year, in the form of dried camas bulbs and the corns of Gary Oaks. Growing up here on a small farm, Gayle was ex- posed from an early age to this potent life force. Playing in the long grasses and trees as a child, she became fascinated with the elusive order that permeated her childhood landscape—the hidden ecology behind everything. She befriended Nature.
It was here, at the age of 13, that Gayle had her first encounter with cannabis, in the form of hash. She immediately resonated with the resin, becoming an ardent stoner and quickly figuring to support her new pastime by setting up a modest apothecarian practice, selling just enough to pay for her own share.
A few months after this discovery, a friend approached young Gayle with a small handful of something strange called “Mexican Weed.” Confused, Gayle asked her friend why she should be interested in a bit of powdered grass and seeds. Her friend explained simply that this plant was, in fact, the source of the sticky brown goo she’d grown to love. Sold, she quickly realized the potential in the leftover seeds: seeds grow into plants, plants in turn make smoke and seeds. Simple, right?
Well, not quite. Gayle’s older sister quickly let Gayle know that she could get into trouble for all this. Her family was traditional and Christian, so secrecy was the order of the day for the green stoner. At first, she sprouted the Mexican seeds and grew them in a cupboard in her room. But before long her mother found them, and, scolding, threw them out of the house.
Undeterred, Gayle waited until things cooled down, went outside, found the poor uprooted seedlings, and planted them safely on a secret knoll where she knew they would be safe from her folks. Saved, these plants became the first of many crops Gayle would grow, providing her with medicine and the seeds to sprout more.
And medicine is what it was, for as a young woman, Gayle suffered from a painful condition, little understood at the time, called dysmenorrhea. For a few days of every month she would be bedridden with menstrual cramps, unable to go to school or help out around the house. The first time this happened after she had begun to smoke, she realized that cannabis was seriously reducing her pain and discomfort, and even allowing her to function normally despite an illness her Doctors were unable to treat.
Four smoke-filled years later Gayle left her family home to be married. Her and her new husband moved into a little urban farm in the Rock Bay area of Victoria, and hunkered down to start raising a family, with a lush garden, three or four pot plants, and a few chickens. Free from her parents’ rules, and with an herb-loving man by her side, Gayle was finally able to smoke as much as she could grow in her little backyard grass patch. Also, when she became pregnant with her first
son, dysmenorrhea was again a serious issue, though thankfully it was much easier for her to medicate regularly while not living with her parents, and so things went smoothly overall.
A second son and a few years later, Gayle and family found themselves moving to a five acre property on the hippy haven of Saltspring Island, well known locally for the excellent quality of the outdoor herb grown there. Eager to take advantage of this climate, but wanting to keep her family safe from police and thieves, Gayle made a pact with her childhood friend, Nature, that she would only grow enough for her family, and would give any extra away to the people who needed it most. She recalled how her father always charged the same price for his plums and rhubarb, regardless of how high the going rate was. People needed food, and he had more food than his family needed, so why should he gouge? Likewise, Gayle had more than enough medicine, and life was good.
But life is a collection of cycles, and in the middle of all this Gulf Island beauty, in the healthy green of the coastal forest, Gayle became very ill. She couldn’t keep any food down, and was in constant pain. When her husband eventually managed to drag her to the hospital (literally; Gayle doesn’t like going to the hospital), the Doctors could tell she was ill, but having no idea what the cause was, they quarantined her for 10 days. They then released her without a diagnosis, and it wasn’t until eight months later, when some test results returned from a lab in the U.S. that she learned she had a relatively new and little-understood condition called Hepatitis C.
Her appetite a shambles, her energy tapped, sleepless, Gayle needed to find some way of eating and, more importantly, keeping the food down. Her Doctor’s initial prognosis had been that she would die within five years, but with sons aged 11 and 13 at the time, she found this unacceptable. Her answer: a recipe for herbal pancakes— easy to cook, and easier to eat, and what’s more, they kept themselves down and made sleeping a piece of cake, so to speak. In this way Gayle got her strength back. With enough food and sleep, her body began to right itself. Her liver, swollen from the infection, began to shrink. Her Doctor, mystified, began to document the case in great detail. Two years after telling her she would deteriorate towards an imminent death, her Doctor confirmed what she already knew: she was actually getting better. Her liver was shrinking, her energy returning, and 11 years after contracting the virus, tests showed that it had completely left her system.
It was during all this downtime on Saltspring that Gayle began seriously indulging her interest in alternative forms of medicine. Reading about herbal remedies, nutrition, and various types of energy work, and even going to school for kinestheology, she honed her healing skills, first on herself, and then, as she realized her potential, on others. Curiously, for most of her life, friends had been bringing Gayle things to heal: plants, pets, and eventually people. With her new knowledge and skills, and despite her illness, she became an unstoppable force for health.
Unfortunately, during this time her husband developed a taste for strong spirits that disagreed with his temperament, and the marriage ended. Due to continued harassment from her ex, and because there were no police on Saltspring after 6 p.m. in those days, Gayle was forced to leave her lovely little farm to move back to the safety of Victoria.
Though, she was safe from her abusive husband in the city, she was left homeless. Relying on the compassion of friends, she eventually found a gig helping out at a little grow show. This got her by for a couple of years, but over time she realized she was being taken advantage of, and so decided to look elsewhere for livelihood.
Just around this time, she was introduced to the VCBC by a friend of hers who was quite involved with the organization. She immediately felt at home, stepping in and stepping up to do whatever she could to help the club flourish, as she had helped so many plants over the years. She volunteered to do whatever was needed, and eventually found herself leading the Hempology 101 circle at UVic during a period when Ted Smith wasn’t allowed on campus. It wasn’t long before a staff member missed a shift and Gayle was around to
pick it up, and she’s been working her butt off for medicinal cannabis ever since.
To date, Gayle’s contributions to the club and Hempology 101 have been countless and invaluable. After her work at the university, Gayle started leading a working group of VCBC regulars. They would gather once a week to brainstorm ways to help the movement. It was here that the idea came up to revive the old Hempology 101 newsletter, The Budweiser, though the name didn’t suit the professional image the group now wanted, so they decided to call it Cannabis Digest.
The first issues of the Digest were simple doublesided photocopies. As more writers, readers, and advertisers emerged, it grew, first to four pages, then eight, and finally it moved from the photocopier to the proper press, to become the nationally distributed 24 page spread that it is today. It’s fair to say none of this would have happened as it did if Gayle wasn’t behind it the whole way, both behind the scenes and with her regular “Updates” column, now in its 34th installment.
Meanwhile, sensing her healing spirit, many members of the club began to turn to Gayle for advice on alternative forms of healing that could complement medicinal cannabis. She brought her knowledge of herbs, kinestheology, acupressure, reflexology, and massage to the table for them. Some of these consultations resulted in new topi- cal and edible products being made available to the membership at large, including goji lozenges, various herbally infused salves and massage oils, kamut puffs, and glutenfree oat cookies made with bud for people with wheat allergies, or who need to medicate orally without the heavy sedative effects of cookies made with leaf. She also makes a line of teas with herbs she’s handpicked from the wilderness. Just as she took the Cannabis Digest to a new level, she expanded the club’s selection of topical and edible products, making it one of the most impressive anywhere.
Somewhere in the middle of all this, Gayle found out she had breast cancer. Undaunted by menorrhea, various food allergies, two difficult pregnancies, the repercussions of having a hysterectomy at age 25, chronic ear infections, a serious yeast infection, a 10year battle with Hepatitis C, and a lengthy mercury detox, this new challenge was difficult, but far from impossible. As one member rightly put it at the time, “I feel sorry for cancer, because it picked on one of the strongest women I know!”
The battle definitely took its tole on Gayle, who drastically reduced the amount of time she dedicated to the club and Hempology 101 while un- dergoing treatment and recovery. Even Ted had to take some time away to care for her. But she had surgery to remove the cancer, and ever since, she’s been recovering rapidly and feeling great.
It was the bakery trial this past winter that brought her back into action fullforce. She recounts that it was difficult for her to sit long hours on hard courtroom benches, but she stuck it out, testified, and saw the MMAR changed accordingly when all was done. Through the months this took to complete, Gayle’s energy level was constantly rising, so that by the time court was done she was back to her fulltime schedule helping out around the club and Hempology 101.
In fact, just recently her Doctor told her the cancer is completely gone from her body. This was without any chemotherapy, radiation treatment, or postop prescription painkillers—just lots of Ryanol, Stalkanol, and Cannoil. She’s able to run without pain now, works 50 hours a week, and manages to keep the rest of us who work here out of trouble (no small feat).
When I ask her what she plans for the future, the obvious comes to mind—travelling with Ted to help promote his new book and Hempology 101, and continuing her good work at the club, which is getting busier by the minute. She also wants to start a health blog, because she doesn’t have time to write a book but wishes to share her knowledge with people who want to take personal healing into their own hands. She laughs as she says she’d rather be teaching people to heal themselves than doing all the healing on her own. I agree. Teach a man to fish, as they say.
Then her eyes light up and she says, “I’ve always wanted to race dragon boats! Maybe next year I’ll join a team.” All I can say to that is “go for it!” And Jah save anyone who decides to paddle against her.
By Ryan Fink