By Ted Smith
When Owen Smith was arrested for baking cookies over 5 years ago, there was no doubt in my mind that history was being made. Since that fateful day, when he walked out of the apartment with no handcuffs and his head held high, Owen has been a modern hero. At the press conference the next day, the local media caught our excitement, and seized the opportunity to challenge these archaic laws.
History is made when the right combination of circumstances, individuals and politics spark the public interest and change the direction our society is moving. Owen’s arrest was definitely one of those occasions, though the story is not over yet. While many still doubt this case will make a significant difference in how cannabis is used as a medicine and how the public views this plant, there is no question in my mind. This trial changes much more than people realize.
Though the circumstances at first were nothing extraordinary, the evolving court proceedings have been truly groundbreaking and the potential for the outcome of the Supreme Court of Canada hearing is still to be seen. It is a classic case of David versus Goliath, as the forces of the federal government attempt to prosecute a young man for helping sick people use cannabis cookies and creams. It is absurd that our government would prohibit the use of cannabis extracts while allowing patients to grow their own medicine, thus telling the public that smoking is somehow safer and easier.
Owen was not just making cookies for his friends; he was working for one of the oldest medical cannabis dispensaries still in operation, in the world. Under my leadership, the Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club has strived to provide high-quality, low cost edible and topical cannabis products to people with proof that they suffer from a chronic physical disease or disability. These charges struck at the very heart of our organization.
Owen is one of the most humble, meek, gentle souls that I have had the pleasure of meeting. Far from seeking fame and fortune, he prefers building gardens for food to seeking the spotlight. Owen watched his sister benefit from cannabis extracts before she passed away, and this has made him deeply committed to helping others. Throughout this ordeal he has remained calm, steady, a guiding light in a sea of madness.
Attorney Kirk Tousaw has likewise been heroic in his efforts. With a passion for the plant rarely displayed by a lawyer, Kirk skillfully tore apart the government’s witnesses and theories. He carefully extracted evidence from our expert witnesses, Dr David Pate and the patients. At every level of court, he spoke with the confidence and clarity one would only dream of in legal representation on these issues.
Watching Dr Pate testify on the stand was like hearing Gandalf explain the essence of life itself. The patient witnesses all held their ground in cross-examination, wearing down the crown and helping the judge see the real human impact of these laws. Even the crown prosecutor got caught up in the moment and asked me for a tour of the club while I was in cross examination; we provided the tour during lunch.
Of course, Gayle and I complete the cast of characters in this extraordinary drama.
Finally, the current political and economic environment should make this case historically important when the decision is handed down, as it has the potential to turn the pharmaceutical industry on its head. As we know, the potential benefits of cannabis extracts far exceed those of smoking it, and open up a huge new market for drug producers while giving patients many more options for treating their illnesses. Scientists, patients, investors, healthcare practitioners, extract artisans, cannabis growers and entrepreneurs are all anxious to see derivatives become available so they can explore the possibilities without fear of arrest.
This trial brings to light some of the most important medical benefits of cannabis. Until now Canadians were told that cannabis is a recreational drug, and cannot be a good medicine because no medicine should be smoked. When the evidence of the benefits of eating cannabinoids becomes public knowledge, that negative image will get blown away like a puff of smoke.
After 15 years of operating a medical cannabis program, Health Canada has failed bitterly to create adequate, rational policies that promote health and protect patients from the heavy hand of the criminal law. Canadians will clearly see how backwards the medical cannabis programs have been, and they will do so just before the next federal election. While this is unlikely to become an election issue, it will be another important reason for Canadians to vote for a change.
With its seemingly perfect combination of circumstances, people and politics, the Owen Smith saga unfolds. We are very happy to produce Cannabis Digest to document this historic trial, and hope that by the next issue we will be able to report on how dramatically it has changed the way our society views the use of cannabis as medicine. Certainly you can count on us to continue to inform the public about this important case and how it impacts Canadian society.