A Quarter Century of Victories, Losses and Community
What a long, strange trip it has been!
This week marks 25 years since I moved to Victoria to start my career in the cannabis field. Legalization seemed inevitable to me and I was on a mission to teach the world about how important cannabis could be to our health, economy, environment and community. To say it has been an epic journey would be an understatement.
Here are some of the highlights:
1995-2017 Organized the International Hempology 101 Society as it fought prohibition using various methods of engaging in participatory education in civil disobedience, including approximately 3,800 rallies, press conferences, board meetings, conferences, lectures, game shows and 420 sessions. During this time a student club at the University of Victoria held weekly 420 meetings. At one point we had active student clubs at 5 post-secondary institutions. The UBC Hempology 101 Club is still active and meets every Friday at 420 just outside of the Student Union Building.
1996-present Founder of the Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club, the country’s oldest compassion club, now with over 8,000 patients served. For 10 years we also had a branch in Halifax under the leadership of John Cook and a few years up island in Coombs with Mark Russell. From the beginning the club has focused on providing low cost, high quality medicine.
Nov 1999 Successfully gave away 101 cannabis cookies at the downtown library in full view of police, gaining lots of media exposure.
Nov 2000 Arrested twice the same month, first for passing out joints at the University of Victoria Hempology 101 Club’s weekly 420 and then for trying to give away 420 pot cookies at the downtown public library. Eventually convicted of both, with the first getting me a fine of $500 and the second a day in jail after a week long jury trial.
2001 Presented to the Senate committee on decriminalization of cannabis that concluded in its report the next year that cannabis should be fully legalized. In its final report the committee included a recommendation I made regarding hosting an international drug convention to review exisiting policies, and apparently I was the only person who made that suggestion in my written submission.
2002-03 VCBC survived 4 raids in a short time period, putting the club in debt but not out of business, as it reopened every day after each raid. All charges were beaten in court using various constitutional arguments.
2002 Ran for mayor and came in third after Alan Lowe and current city councilor Ben Isitt.
2002-present Was able to get the City of Victoria to officially declare International Medical Marijuana Day on various dates over the years. Now IMMD is celebrated on June 11, the anniversary of the Owen Smith decision at the Supreme Court of Canada.
2005 Received the Patient Speaker Activist Award from Cannabis Health magazine.
2003-present Published the Cannabis Digest newsletter/newspaper. Starting off as a small newsletter for the VCBC membership, after Owen Smith was arrested in 2009 we turned the Cannabis Digest into a national newspaper, printing 10,000 copies 4 times a year and shipping them across the country. However, after 2017 the paper stopped printing and has only recently been brought back as a club newsletter.
2006 Developed a game show, Reach For The Pot, which we played all over town, including nine years of a tournament with 8 teams, with the winners getting personal trophy bongs.
2006 After hearing from us, Victoria city council requested Health Canada provide information about the legal medical cannabis program. Council was so displeaseed with the answers that afterwards they wrote to the federal government about how the program was inadequate and ineffective.
2006-2013 Taught a free, non-credit lecture series at the University of Victoria with the UVSS Hempology 101 Club. There were 11 classes per semester, often featuring special guests. The videos can all be found on YouTube.
2007 Organized a national phone jam campaign and coordinated over 50 protests at MP offices across the country on the same day to fight mandatory minimum sentences being brought in by the federal Conservatives under Stephen Harper.
2008-2011 Formed Team 420 to play in a local dodgeball tournament and then bought balls to play every week. We even tried other sports like soccer and frisbee golf. I also ran in the TC 10 K three times in Herb, an 11 foot tall pot leaf costume and went over to Vancouver for the Fun Run with Herb once, too.
2009-2015 Managed the trial of Owen Smith after he was arrested in the club’s kitchen. After we won the first round of court in 2012, we turned the VCBC into a nonprofit society and began paying all applicable taxes. My main roles were organizing the witnesses, including myself, discussing strategy with lawyer Kirk Tousaw and paying for the trial until we got to the Supreme Court of Canada, at which piont we started to fundraise. The unanimous Supreme Court of Canada 2015 Smith decision made cannabis extracts legal for patients, changing the way the medical industry looks at the potential of cannabis as medicine and paving the way for legalization.
2012 Won the Michelle Rainey Award as voted on by members of the now gone MedPot website.
2011 Got enough votes from the entire student body at UVic to make the weekly 420 gathering in the center of the university a traditional cultural ceremony that gained protection from the campus smoking bylaw.
2012 Published 4th edition of the Hempology 101 Textbook. The first three editions were limited to 100 copies on hemp paper, the 4th addition is very professional in appearance and content. Toured around the country with Gayle Quin in several small segments, including conventions in Halifax, New Brunswick, Ottawa, Vancouver and Toronto. It is now available for free online.
2012 Appeared in the film Kid Cannabis in a scene filmed inside the club.
2013 Started a campaign to sell Cannabonds to raise legal defence funds, promising a ¼ OZ of cannabis for $25 after legalization. We sold several thousand dollars worth. Only two people cashed in their bonds after legalization.
2013-2016 For a few years my activism slowed down as I cared for Gayle Quin as she slowly died from cancer. Ultimately, in 2017 I took a nine month break from the cannabis field altogether, as I could no longer cope with her loss and continue working. However, the VCBC desperately needed me and in the fall of 2017 I returned.
2014 Organized a press conference and rally on Parliament Hill in Ottawa to protest against the government’s attempt to take personal gardens away from patients. Eventually the Allard decision forced Health Canada to reinstate the personal and designated grower part of their program.
2016 Personally mentioned in NATUROPATHIC ONCOLOGY; AN ENCYCLOPEDIA GUIDE FOR PATIENTS AND PHYSICIANS, by Dr. Neil McKinney for my work helping cancer patients gain access to cannabis extracts and edibles. This book is basically the handbook for fighting cancer using natural medicines and I am honored to call Neil a friend.
2015 Mentioned in Dana Larson’s wonderful book, CANNABIS IN CANADA: THE ILLUSTRATED HISTORY, which included a fun drawing of me yelling into a microphone.
2018 Ran for Victoria city council.
2018 Wrote a forward to Daniel Boughen’s amazing grow book, MEDICAL GROWING: A GARDEN OF PEACE.
Nov 2019 Prepared VCBC for raid by the Community Safety Unit, which happened in Nov. Reopened the next day
Dec 2019 Did an excellent presentation at the Langford TedXTalks but the company decided I violated their community standards and would not post the video on their site.
Jan 2020 Got the Victoria City Council to unanimously support the VCBC in its attempt to obtain an exemption from the new cannabis laws.
Jan 2020 Obtained part of a lawsuit against a former employee, gaining the club some financial security after the raid by the CSU.
July 2020 Opened the VCBC up the day after a second raid by the CSU.
Over the years I have also visited likely somewhere between 200-300 illegal cannabis dispensaries, from strict medical to full recreational, and 1 legal store. Probably been in as many head shops. Have not been in many gardens over the years, given that I have overseen the sale of around $35 million dollars worth of medicine, but I have likely been inside around 50.
Of course I cannot forget the hundreds of media interviews I have done, on radio, TV, print and for online websites. I have been on TV programs like the Judy Tyabji Show and the local SHAW station and created many videos for our YouTube site.
This might seem impressive but it was all just practice for the very important work I am doing now to keep the VCBC and its members alive. Please help us get an exemption from Health Canada so our work can continue.
This journey would not have been possible without the constant support of my friends and co-workers. Every single day others have chosen to join me in this quest for better cannabis policies and I owe an enormous amount of debt to those who have stood by me or otherwise supported us in this righteous fight over this quarter of a century. Thank you all.