Courage. Compassion. Commitment.
On Oct. 20, 2010, the cannabis community lost one of its great leaders. Michelle Rainey, one of Canada’s foremost medicinal marijuana activist, succumbed to cancer with her husband Jef Tek and her mother Emilie by her side.
Michelle was a bright light in the community, combining courage and commitment to her convictions advocating the medicinal benefits of cannabis. “Medicinal Michelle,” by all accounts, was tireless in her work to inform, and to help individuals find their way to legal status.
In the early 1990s, Rainey began smoking cannabis in place of the daily regimen of pharmaceutical drugs she was taking to relieve symptoms of Crohn’s disease. She said cannabis did not trigger the same debilitating side effects as the pills. As she discovered the benefits of cannabis to her own body, she learned and read of Marc Emery’s activities. While she admired his work, she remained a closet smoker.
In 1998, Michelle had a chance meeting with Marc Emery at the bank where she worked, in Gibsons, B.C. She took the opportunity to admit her use and laud Marc as her hero. Shortly after their meeting, as fortune would have it, Marc was also looking for a housekeeper, and someone to do the grocery shopping and make meals in his home on the Sunshine Coast. Although she had a successful 10 year banking career, she had the courage to quit her job and began to work for Emery. Michelle felt it was fate that brought them together. They were a powerful duo, and changed the landscape of Cannabis activism over the next 10 years.
She was not the “maid” for long. Putting her organizational skills to work, she became integral in Emery’s organization and helped launch it into the empire it became. She was the “go to” person in the organization, making sure the bills got paid on time, packing seed orders, and organizing Marc and others’ efforts.
She was also one of the founding members of the BC Marijuana Party. In the 2001 provincial election, the party fielded candidates in every riding—79 in all. Michelle ran in Peace River South when there was no candidate available, operating out of the Alaskan Hotel, in Dawson Creek.
She managed to get U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s old campaign tour bus, nicknamed it the “Cannabus,” and toured the province with then-party leader Brian Taylor, who later became the mayor of Grand Forks.
Michelle’s organizing efforts were integral to the party’s aspirations, and many involved credit her with the success of the party during that election.
The party captured more than 50,000 votes—3.2 per cent—a pretty impressive accomplishment for an independent, upstart party.
In 2000, Pot TV was born in Marc Emery’s basement, and it was Michelle that coordinated the people and the equipment, as well as contributing her own shows.
Michelle’s Medicinal Marijuana followed Michelle’s gardens, and was packed with useful information for advocating the medicinal use of marijuana. She continued posting shows into the fall of 2010, where she announced the recurrence of her cancer and her intention to fight it using a highly concentrated doses of afghani bull-rider cannabis oil. “It is a labour of love” she said when she spoke of her husbands work to make the oil that she was ingesting.
She was the driving force behind the Toker’s Bowl—an annual event spanning 2002 to 2005. The bowl was attended by 200 guests who rated pot strains on over 250 points. Michelle succeeded admirably in her role as hostess. The parties were lauded as the best that the community had ever seen, and required months of planning and preparations. She will be remembered for her attention to detail, and endless supply of energy at the bowls.
At the 2005 event, she married her husband Jeff in a surprise wedding that was arranged by Michelle, and was a special treat to attendees of the bowl that year. Due to the raids by the RCMP—acting on behalf of the DEA—on the BCMP headquarters, this was the last Toker’s Bowl held.
In 2005, Michelle was indicted, along with Marc Emery and Greg Williams, for their activities with Marc’s seed-selling business. It was during this period that the relationship between Michelle and the Emerys soured. Eventually, after five years of legal maneuvering, Rainy and Williams agreed to a plea deal in Apr. 2010. Both were sentenced to two years probation. Marc agreed to five years in jail.
In June of 2007, Michelle’s advocacy reached new heights when she was a speaker at Idea City, Canada’s premier meeting of the minds, in Toronto. Idea City prides itself as being where Canada’s smartest people speak. Michelle had attended the even in the past, as Marc Emery’s partner, but this was the first time she had been asked to speak on her own. It was an honour for her that was earned through her hard work and dedication. It was also one of the accomplishments she was most proud of. It helped bring the movement more into the mainstream, and created awareness amongst a group of people who do not regularly hear the message that Michelle had to share.
Her efforts brought her into contact with numerous high-profile Canadians, including celebrities such as Romeo Dallaire, Henry Morgentaler, and Wade Davis.
On Oct. 28, I was fortunate enough to attend the memorial held for her by Vancouver cannabis activists, at the BC marijuana Party headquarters. I was awestruck by the memories shared, and by the sheer volume and calibre people in attendance. A picture of a compassionate, hard working, and courageous human being was painted.
All in attendance were inspired by Michelle in one way or another. Whether it was her encouragement to eat and live healthier, or to go to toastmasters, Michelle was a positive force in all the lives around her.
Jodie Emery expressed deep sorrow for the loss of Michelle and regret for the estrangement over the past years. Michelle was in the Emery’s wedding party as Maid of Honour, and was a close friend to Jodie.
Marc Emery called the memorial from Prison in the U.S., and while it was difficult to hear him on the speakerphone he wrote of her passing with elegance. “Michelle needs to be recognized as one of the greatest activists this movement has ever had,” he said via an e-mail from prison. “Michelle may have literally given her life to the movement, and when people think about what they can do for freedom in their lifetime, Michelle’s life is a shining example of how much is possible, even under great duress.”
Dana Larsen, longtime friend and activist, joked about “boobie hugs” and remembered her energy and drive. In a blog post, he spoke of her influence and how endless her involvement and achievements seemed to be.
“One of the many things I admired about Michelle was her ability to speak with and rally together people of all sorts. She made friends and allies out of people from all walks of life and all levels of society. She was as comfortable talking to media moguls and celebrities as she was helping out impoverished and ailing Canadians in getting their medical marijuana license.” He wrote. “Michelle did so much more, it’s hard to list all of her accomplishments. I keep remembering new projects and aspects of things that she was involved in, it seems endless.”
Other high profile activists spoke at the memorial, including Chris Bennett, Greg Williams, Kirk Tousaw, David Malmo-Levine, and Lisa Kirkman who spoke at length of how important Michelle’s support was as she struggled to retrieve her son from the U.S. children’s agencies in Oregon.
Neil Magnuson spoke of Michelle’s timely phone call on his cell phone as he was beginning his first Freedomtour, with a goal to Rollerblade across Canada to raise awareness of the injustices associated with drug prohibition. Michelle’s call arrived when he was three-quarters of the way up the Malahat Hwy., on Vancouver Island. “I don’t think she knew how much that helped me, what I was doing was very hard, but her call made a difference as her bubbly, confident attitude carried me easily to the summit, and from there I never looked back.” He said.
My own encounters with Michelle reflected this same experience. Though we had met only a few times and communicated only occasionally by email she inspired me, not only with her encouragement to succeed, but she somehow managed to remember details about my life that most would not have taken the time to consider. Her well placed words continue to be a source of strength for me.
One of her last speaking engagements was for Hempology 101’s Cannabis Convention, in Naniamo. She spoke passionately about community, and compassion. She urged people to step away from their computers and electronic gadgets, and to get back to the basics of face to face contact, talking to neighbours, and growing your own gardens—getting back to the grass roots. She also spoke passionately about being on top of any health issues, and being your own advocate for your own health. She urged attendees to talk with their doctors when they experienced concerning symptoms, even if they were embarrassed.
Only the week before this speaking engagement Michelle had undergone surgery to remove Melanoma from her back and neck. Large strips of flesh were removed from her body in an attempt to remove the cancer from her body. However, one would have never guessed she struggled with any health issues.
Despite her illnesses throughout life, Michelle remained a picture of health. Always “put together,” it was rare for one to spot Michelle not looking her best. Beautiful by anyone’s definition, she always took the time to take care of herself, with her trademark red lips, and long blonde hair.
This past June, she took part in the cross Canada “street meet” organized by Hempology 101. Events took place in 24 cities and towns across Canada. In Maple Ridge, where Michelle lived, she walked down the street with signs, wearing her medicinal T-shirt proudly, and engaged people. She shared her story, and passed on information about the proposed law, with many she came across. She told me by email that had lots of honks and smiles and that “over all it was a successful day.”
Michelle also offered a “Medicinal” shirt to anyone that wrote letters to government officials about bill S-10, which creates mandatory minimum sentences for the first time in Canada, for growers and producers of marijuana, and marijuana extracts.
Michelle also had an online following. Forums were buzzing with memorials and regret of her loss. Cannabis Culture’s forums, where Michelle got her start, expressed great regret at the loss of a their “den mother” and friend. Her facebook page filled with messages of appreciation, and of how she inspired others.
During the past few years, she was the director of sales and marketing for Treating Yourself magazine, a medicinal marijuana magazine written for patients by patients, based in Ontario. Publisher Marco Renda declared that Oct. 20, should be known as Michelle Rainey day in the magazine’s forums to honour an amazing woman and activist.
Jef Tek, has vowed to carry on Michelle’s work. A memorial website maintained by her family, states her daily purpose: To educate the educators and persuade the legislatures of this world that marijuana is medicine and should be legalized. The Medicinal Cannabis Education Package she developed remains available to help Canadian cannabis patients find access. Her famous “MEDICINAL” T-shirt with a marijuana leaf in the “A” has become an icon. The shirts are still available for sale to support the Michelle Rainey Foundation for Continuing Crohn’s, Cancer and Cannabis research.
“I want people to keep working, keep working for change—too many sick people are still having difficulty getting their medication,” Rainey said shortly before she passed away. “That’s what I want as my legacy —change.”
She will remain an inspiration and an example, particularly to female activists in the movement, for years to come.