Twenty two years ago, at the tender age of 25, I started to attend Hempology 101 meetings and was infected with a passion that has fueled me in a course that would change Canadian history.
That passion brought me together with the most incredible woman I have ever met, a woman who died at home last fall after a long battle with cancer. Now my broken heart is too heavy to continue and I can look back on my career with great pride, having accomplished all of the goals that I set out to do, and much more, with few major setbacks and little jail time.
For many reasons I feel extremely proud of the work I have done over these past 2 decades. Indeed, I might be one of the most successful grassroots pioneers this soon to be legal multi-billion dollar industry has seen and it is not from lack of success that I am stepping aside. If anything I am leaving while at the top of my field, with fame and potential fortune within my grasp.
Thankfully much of what I started will continue. Owen Smith will stay as the anchor of the Cannabis Digest, producing the design and website material, along with editor Judith Stamps and my dear friend Kristen Mann is temporarily taking over as publisher until a permanent one is found. At the Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club, general manager Brandi Woods has a firm grasp of the organization, which will be blossoming this year as the final stages of licensing are completed. April 20 in Victoria is going to be organized by several people and I am not worrying about it and more than I am about the 420 circles at UVic.
Alas, it is clear to me that for my own personal health it is time to take a bow and leave the stage of public life, as the stress of this work combined with the profound sadness I feel will eventually take a huge toll from me if I do not look after myself first. After decades of caring for others and putting the world first, I am drained and not finding working in the cannabis field to have the same vibes I once felt. Mentally, physically and spiritually I need a major change of pace, with less pressure and much more time digging in the earth.
Little did I know as I was preparing to be the Master of Ceremonies at the first 420 in Vancouver in 1995 that I would have such an important role to play in the legalization of cannabis. At the time I had committed to writing a textbook for Hempology 101 to educate the public about cannabis, hemp and prohibition. Soon after moving to Victoria and starting a Hempology 101 Club at UVic, I began meeting patients that needed access to cannabis products, meet a herbalist and baker and started the Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club while living in a van in Jan 1996.
It has been a wild ride since.
One day I hope to write a book of stories of my activism, as I could tell dozens of tales about this fascinating journey. Here are some of the highlights:
Founded the world`s oldest compassion club, the Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club, which is in the process of getting a license from the city, including an exemption for its smoking room.
Written and published HEMPOLOGY 101: THE HISTORY AND USES OF CANNABIS SATIVA.
Created and published a national newspaper, the Cannabis Digest.
Managed the court case of Owen Smith, my former head baker that won a unanimous Supreme Court of Canada decision that made cannabis extracts legal for patients.
Defended the club with lawyers in 5 trials, which included 4 raids on the club, beating all 15 trafficking charges using various constitutional arguments.
Got arrested giving out 420 pot cookies and eventually convicted of trafficking THC by a jury after a week long trial. Was given a one day jail sentence, making me a cookie convict.
Appeared in the movie Kid Cannabis in my club doing my job.
Spearheaded rallies and phone jams across the country in protest of mandatory minimums and the government`s attempt to take patient gardens away, including a press release and rally on Parliament Hill April 1, 2014 when the MMPR came into effect.
Formed weekly 420 circles at UVic for 18 years and helped start Hempology 101 club at UBC which has held weekly 420 circles for 6 years.
Created the world`s first live cannabis gameshow, REACH FOR THE POT.
Appeared at or organized approximately 3,500 cannabis rallies, court hearings, board meetings, press conferences, lectures, conferences and other events.
Of course there have been a few failures but for the most part I have not made any major mistakes in my career and have spent little time in jail for a guy who managed to sell about $25 million dollars worth of cannabis with a megaphone in his hands. That number includes all of the years before the fall of 2012, the year I turned the VCBC into a non-profit society and let it take a life of its own. Selling cannabis to the sick and dying in the face of the authorities for so long was a righteous way to put food on the table, and anyone who knows me can assure you that I took as little as I needed for myself knowing the source of my income was mostly sick people on disability.
Out of all of my accomplishments I am certainly most proud of the VCBC, especially the edible and topical cannabis products we developed over the years. Many people have improved and extended their lives by using the many different products we have created from patches to salves, lozenges to Budda Balls and of course our cookies. That is one of the things that brought Gayle Quin and I so close.
Her story could also fill a book. When she came into the club in the summer of 2003 we were both struggling. Years of poor health and poverty had taken a toll on her, while stress and my ex-girlfriend were draining me. In many ways she saved my life.
We fell in love at work. It was intense. Our passion for helping others and building community was contagious. We made cannabis superhero costumes to parade around in. We constantly challenged each other to do better. We shared our love freely and fiercely with those who touched our lives. Our love shone from the depths of the club, vibrating like a drum in the night.
Cancer took that all away.
The last 3 years of her life were spent in my care. We became so attached during this period of our relationship it was like I was her arm to the world and the key to her heart. The last 2 years were very intense, as she spent most of the time in a hospital bed at home with a broken back and leg where the cancer had eaten it away. She passed away peacefully at home in Sept last year.
At first I thought I could continue in my activism. It seemed like work was helping me focus on something positive. After all of these years of risk with little reward, my work was ready to pay off in all sorts of ways and my future seemed certain. At least that is what my head said.
My heart, however, had a different plan. My heart could not bear doing cannabis activism without me love any longer. It was hard enough going alone the last few years as I delivered newspapers and attending the occasional event but now that she is not even here to talk to when I get home, there is an empty hole in my life that cannot be filled. I do not have the passion I once had, the passion that made me successful. Between the long years of stress and the loss of my love, it is time for me to retire to a much quieter life.
While at first in my despair I thought I would just find a job working on a farm growing food, it soon became clear to me that I should build a tea company in her name, using the various recipes she developed using wildcrafted and easily cultivated herbs. That is going to be my focus now: Gayle`s Tea. Now I am a herb farmer and tea dealer. It feels good to do this in her honor, a tribute to the knowledge she left behind, and it feels good for myself, a way to heal in a work environment that will be less stressful and ground me to the earth.
Now I find myself grieving the loss of my friends I have made across the country, indeed the world, in this line of work. There have been so many incredible people come into my life along this journey that I feel rich just knowing them all. Hopefully many of them will be able to visit me at the Cobble Herb Retreat on Vancouver Island, where I plan on hosting many tea parties.
While I have decided to avoid going to any more cannabis events, it would be nice to say goodbye to many of the people I have cared for and worked with. I also planned on going back to Ontario to see my mother, family and friends in Cambridge in the late spring. There are still hundreds of my textbook at my sister`s house in Cambridge and a big pile here too.
So I am going to have retirement parties in Victoria and Cambridge, giving some of my friends a chance to say farewell, smoke a joint with me and buy a book for the special price of $10. In Victoria I will be going to 3 places Sat May 20, starting in the VCBC at noon where I will stay until it is time to march to Beacon Hill Park for 4:20, and before ending the day at the Green Ceiling.
Hopefully a couple of old high school buddies will be able to provide some music entertainment. It will be really great getting together with my old friends from where I was born and raised, as well as seeing many Ontario activists that have had little direct contact with me over the years. Hespeler will have never seen a 4:20 circle like the one we are about to form then.
It has been an honour and pleasure to work with many of you in this industry and I look forward to watching the cannabis scene develop over the years as legalization unfolds. My decorated career has witnessed many memorable experiences that have made my life rich and made the world a better place. Leaving behind this legacy like a trophy on my fireplace mantle will always fill me with great pride. Now I have another legacy to create, one in the name of my love Gayle Quin and the gifts she brought into the world.
Before I say goodbye I must thank everyone who supported me over these years. Thousands of people have done big and small things with me, from trusting me as a source of medicine, advertising in the newspaper, hosting rallies in other cities, writing articles, financially supporting me when I cared for Gayle and so many other acts that it is impossible to even try to remember everyone I owe thanks to. Through all of my work I have been surrounded by a team of people willing to follow me as we faced a seemingly unbeatable opponent. Saying thanks does not seem enough and hopefully I will have a chance to do that in person to many of those that mean the most to me.
Saying goodbye to the cannabis movement feels much like when I said goodbye to my friends and family in Ontario when I finished university. While I am not going anywhere physically and will be in fact spending much more time at home now, this feels very much like making that huge decision, one I will never regret though it still pains me to be so far from family and friends I love dearly. The old Kenny Roger’s song keeps playing in my head, “You Got To Know When To Hold Ém.”
This is goodbye to my work liberating cannabis but it is not a goodbye to the many wonderful people I have met. Hopefully over the years I will be able to share a tea with many of those I have come to know and love along this journey. Until we meet again, my friends, this is farewell. Thank you for all of the great memories.