Ending my fantastic career as a cannabis activist by interviewing the mayor of Victoria, Lisa Helps, has been a perfect encore performance. After 22 years of struggling, this very friendly conversation about the Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club, the city licensing dispensaries, smoking lounges and April 20 clearly shows how far our movement has progressed in B.C.’s capital city.
Giving viewers concise, detailed answers, Lisa Helps was very kind to take the time to explain much about what is happening on these matters, providing a window into city politics during these fascinating times.
This interview was set up shortly before I realized it was time to draw the curtain on my cannabis career and it seemed like a nice, classy way to conclude my exceptional journey in this field. In January, the mayor paid a short visit to the VCBC, her first time stepping inside a dispensary. In fact it may have been the first time in Canada that a mayor of a major city walked into a medical cannabis dispensary on friendly terms.
Next week I will write one final blog, a goodbye to the front lines, but for now I would like to focus on the interview and my relationship with city council..
When I started the club the mayor was Bob Cross, a former butcher who fought his way to the top on a law and order platform. At a city council meeting in Nov 1996, days before the election, I shocked the room by thanking the police for leaving me alone despite working publicly for 11 months and showed everyone some cannabis salve that we had available. In fact, from 1995 until this year I have made annual presentations to city council, keeping them informed of court cases and other political developments while giving updates about the VCBC. Over the years Mr. Cross developed a certain amount of respect for my efforts, in part because I was doing some important work helping street youth, but I was clearly a thorn in his side for years.
The next mayor, architect Alan Lowe, seemed less hostile to the issue but only slightly. When the VCBC started to get raided in 2002, I appended every public meeting for over two years, providing council with all sorts of information about the dismal Health Canada programs. I even ran for mayor myself in 2002, as I figured I was going to jail and it would help bring attention to my cause if they did arrest me during the campaign, which they did not. After council got a report from Health Canada, Mayor Lowe wrote a letter condemning their programs as inadequate and in need of review, which was a close to a letter of support as I could get.
During a business licensing hearing in 2005, two councilors Rob Fleming (currently an NDP MLA) and Denise Savoie (retired NDP MP) voted to grant the International Hempology 101 Society a license to sell pipes, scales and t-shirts at 826 Johnson St, while the VCBC sold cannabis products to sick people in the back of the store. However, most of council thought it was best to turn down the application but figured we could continue to operate the VCBC because we were a private club not open to the public.
While the next mayor was a strong advocate for community and non-profit societies, very little seemed to change under Dean Fortin. He refused to be interviewed by anyone from the Cannabis Digest, for example. Over the years, however, I developed a strong relationship with many city councilors, some going as far back to my days as a youth worker, to the point where I consider many on the council my friend as much as they are a comrade in making the world a better place.
Lisa Helps has been a breath of fresh air in politics in Victoria. Sh has impressed many by refusing to swear allegiance to the Queen when she took office and by sitting in the council at a chair equal in height to her fellow councilors rather than sitting in the large throne overlooking the room above them. Challenged by the homeless situation immediately upon getting elected, she has taken on many issues with a grace and passion for community that is inspiring a generation to get involved in public affairs.
Her words speak for themselves, so rather than quote her here I will defer you to the interview so you can see for yourself what she has to say.
This final chapter as a cannabis activist give me a sense of pride and accomplishment that is difficult to express in words. To go from being a stranger from Ontario living in a van with a dream, to seeing that dream come true and more, has been truly epic and this interview with the mayor clearly shows how successful my unique approach has been. Having the opportunity to interview the mayor about these interesting developments in legalization was the icing on the cake for the final curtain call on my exceptional cannabis career.