420: Future of Cannabis in Canada

420: Future of Cannabis in Canada

Nazlee Maghsoudi

It seems that we are on the cusp of change for cannabis in Canada. Now that CSSDP members have reported and reflected on many of the 420 festivities that took place across the country, this post will focus on the future of cannabis in Canada to complete the 420 Blog Series. There are three main developments to keep an eye on…

Cannabis activists hold a rally on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on April 1, 2014 to protest the government’s new MMPR Regulations. Photograph by: Sean Kilpatrick, The Canadian Press

1) MMPR Injunction

As Lisa outlined in her post on 420 celebrations in Alberta, the MMAR Coalition of Repeal has blocked Health Canada’s new marijuana laws (MMPR or Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations) via a temporary injunction which will maintain patients’ right to grow or to have a designated grower until a constitutional challenge of the new system has been conducted.  John C. Conroy, the leading lawyer of the MMAR Coalition of Repeal, argues that under section seven of the Charter, everyone who is medically approved to use cannabis has a right to reasonable access to it as medicine. For many patients who cannot afford black market or licensed producer prices, MMPR will force them to have to choose between their liberty (being arrested and charged with production of marijuana) and their health (accessing the medicine that works best for their health). Judge Michael Manson granted the injunction, ruling that the group that will not be able to afford marijuana if prices increase as they are predicted to do so under MMPR will be “irreparably harmed by the effects of the (new regulations).” Although a trial has not been scheduled, Manson expects it to occur within nine to twelve months. Not long after the injunction was granted, the Government of Canada stated that they intend to appeal the injunction. It is not known when the federal appeal of the injunction will be heard. For now, the injunction stands, and patients can continue to grow until at least the next court ruling.

sbcbanner2) Sensible BC Referendum

In his post on 420 celebrations in Vancouver, Alex provided us with a recap of Sensible BC’s attempt to decriminalize cannabis by redirecting policing funds through a referendum. Unfortunately, this attempt at grassroots-led reform did not succeed last November as Sensible BC was unable to meet the minimum requirements needed to have a referendum. Sensible BC had to produce 300,000 signatures over three months. If that wasn’t difficult enough, the signatures had to represent at least 10% of voters in each of British Columbia’s 85 electoral districts. Despite the administrative hurdles, Sensible BC was able to gather over 200,000 signatures in three months in support of a referendum for marijuana reform. Sensible BC has more than 4500 volunteers, and is planning on giving the signature-gathering effort another shot soon. If you are living in British Columbia, be sure to visit the Sensible BC website to find out how you can support their efforts.

3) 2015 Election Opportunityzigzagjustintrudeau 

The Liberal Party has stated that they support legalizing and regulating marijuana. This is sure to spark major platform discussions during the 2015 elections. A draft policy paper created by the policy committee of the British Columbia branch of the Liberal Party of Canada gives some indication of what regulation of cannabis may look like in Canada. It recommends a 4 ounce limit for the amount a non-licensed distributor can purchase or possess without obtaining a special permit and  points to the need for other limits for cannabis-infused goods, plants for personal use, and marijuana extracts. The report also suggests the use of provincial liquor store networks as part of the infrastructure to deliver marijuana. Click herehere, and here to read more about what the future in Canada could look like if the Liberals legalize and regulate cannabis.

CSSDP is looking forward to what is sure to be an exciting year for cannabis in Canada. We hope to have even more to celebrate at 420 next year!

420: Prairie High

420: Prairie High

Lisa Campbell

John Conroy Q.C., Constitutional Lawyer for the  MMAR Coalition of Repeal

The last year has been monumental for cannabis legalization, with Uruguay, Colorado, and Washington State legalizing marijuana for adult recreational use. We also have a lot to celebrate in Canada, as the MMAR Coalition of Repeal has just blocked Health Canada’s new marijuana laws (MMPR or Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations) which served to outlaw patients who grow their own medicine or designate someone on their behalf. Led by constitutional lawyer John C. Conroy Q.C., this coalition has allowed patients and designated growers to continue to produce their own marijuana until the court injunction releases a final decision. To celebrate this exciting progression during the 420 weekend, I went to Hanna, Alberta to visit cannabis patient, grower and marijuana mom extraordinaire Tamara Cartwright-Poulits. Tamara is the Alberta Representative for the MMAR Coalition of Repeal, as well of the founder Canadian Students for  Sensible Drug Policy’s Lethbridge Chapter.

Tamarijuana

As a current member of the NORML Women’s Alliance, Tamara is a fierce activist for medical cannabis in Alberta, one of the most conservative provinces in Canada. Tamara and I met in Montreal at the Liberal Party Convention, where they bonded over rural Alberta life and being women in a male dominated field of activism. Tamara gives hope to all of Canada, in that she has never stopped being a cannabis activist and fighting for her right to grow. As a mother, she risks so much due to our country’s confusing marijuana laws, as depending on how police interpret Health Canada’s website, she could have her kids taken away just by the vagueness of the new rules. Tamara is a great example of how you don’t need to live in a big city to celebrate 420, as she opened her ranch over 420 weekend to support other activists who are fighting the good fight. I sat down with Tamara on 420 and talked about the challenges involved in being a part of Health Canada’s MMAR program and the future of cannabis legalization in Canada. Check out the podcast below!

 

420: Toronto

420: Toronto

Henry Ekelund

420 in Toronto has always been a rather strange thing to me. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of people protesting the illegal status of cannabis, all the while head shops all around the city are packed to the brim, throwing 420 parties and celebrating marijuana culture. My own 420 celebrations typically involve me just getting stoned with friends – and so I decided that this year I would actively participate.

Hotbox Cafe 420 celebrations.

Hot Box Cafe 420 celebrations.

Myself and a few other close friends decided to go down to a head shop called Roach-o-Rama. Inside of Roach-o-Rama there lies a vaporizer lounge called Hot Box Cafe. Hot Box throws a party every year on 420 that involves a multitude of marijuana related contests, as well as a bunch of great music, all for free, which we intended to get the most out of before heading home.

To be honest, I personally feel that the most important part of 420 is not the events themselves, but the people I meet from all corners of the world. We all shared a common interest already  – recreational marijuana use – but the sheer variety of people who smoke surprised me. There were people of every colour and creed, religion, and political view, all smoking and having a good time together.

I personally think that large scale 420 style events need to be held more often, as at least in my opinion, they bring out the best of stoner culture. 420 is a day of acceptance and love – we celebrate the plant we love to smoke, and encourage all to smoke with us in a day dedicated to it. I think that if anyone who was against marijuana legalization and regulation actually attended one of these events with an open mind, they would change their stance on the issue.

420: Fill the Hill Ottawa

420: Fill the Hill Ottawa

Kaity Crumbles

Unlike the hail that Ottawa was graced with the previous year, the weather on 420 was beautiful. It was sun shining, sunglass sporting, t-shirt wearing weather. This year, thousands flocked to Parliament Hill in support of cannabis legalization and regulation. Our small group of five people arrived at 2 PM and groups of people had already circled-up and set up their spaces. Most were sitting and smoking, but others were hooping, dancing, and doing poi; everyone was enjoying the beautiful day. We quickly moved to the front right-hand side of the lawn, set up our circle, laid down blankets and got cozy.

The atmosphere was in so many words – chill. Everyone was calm, laughing, and having a nice day with their friends, enjoying the sun, and smoking marijuana without the fear of being arrested. People were smoking bongs, joints, blunts, and pipes in protest of the current laws prohibiting marijuana. Although there were RCMP officers surrounding the Hill, there was no sense of urgency or tension in the air – no violence or anger. It was a peaceful day filled with beautiful, happy people.

420 Easter Bunny.

420 Easter Bunny.

Landing on Easter this year, I was curious to how big the turnout would be, but it was wonderful. No only did thousands of people attend, but so did many Easter bunnies. Some people came in costume, posing for pictures and sharing the fun with others on the Hill. One came decked out in a full bunny suit, giving out Easter eggs filled with candy to people all over the Hill. Bringing candy of our own, we invited the Easter Bunny to sit with us and enjoy some treats and share the rest of the day with us. Everyone was gracious and happy to be surrounded by the sunshine and be able to enjoy their day smoking and hanging out with their friends (new and old).

There was a great sense of community on the Hill and we particularly felt that sense of community within our own circle, which expanded to include the Easter Bunny, friends of friends, and late arrivals to the festivities. Our circle had expanded from a humble five people at 2:30 PM to fifteen people by 4:00 PM.

The festivities took place until 5 PM with speeches, music and performing acts taking place from 3 PM to 4 PM. The MC for this year’s event was none other than Precious Chong – the daughter of the one and only Tommy Chong. She was situated on the stairs that lead to the parliament buildings at the end of the Hill. From where we were sitting the speeches were unintelligible. The speakers were quiet and to hear properly you had to walk up to the very front (15 feet away). Precious Chong spoke openly about her use of marijuana and ending the prohibition of cannabis in this country. She was very political in her speech with a focus on voting out Harper in the next federal election, although she did not say who to vote for.

The Hill started to get very crowded around 4 PM, with people squeezing in for the countdown to 4:20 PM. It was 4:15 PM when I checked my phone for the time – it was almost here. By 4:18 PM everyone was standing in protest with arms, bongs, joints, pipes, vapes, and blunts in the air ready to light up when the clock struck 20 past. When 4:20 PM hit everyone lit up and a cloud of smoke filled the air; people were taking turns cheering and smoking – cause you can’t do both at once. Most of the crowd was gone by 4:45 PM as no one was permitted on the Hill past 5pm with paraphernalia. Not only did I have a wonderful time with my friends, but I also made some new ones like the Easter Bunny and many others who shared my view. Everyone left laughing with their friends and the enjoyment extended to the ride home.

420: Van City

420: Van City

Alex Betsos

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My roommate volunteering for Sensible BC. Note the Christians praying for the souls of the 420 people behind him.

“It’s a celebration more so than it is a protest,” my roommate Zach says to me as we walk around the packed social gathering that has become 420. Vancouver is a hub of cannabis culture, having been the first place to begin the series of protests that have become 420 rallies across the world. For a political rally, 420 has truly become a celebration of cannabis in all of its forms, with vendors and local drug dealers alike cashing in on the enthusiasm of the 30,000 individuals who came to this year’s rally. In total, there were two vendor booths that focused on policy based initiatives for ending the war on drugs, although there were also many dispensaries, which currently are fighting to stay alive under the new MMAR laws. The rally was tied together with amazing speeches by people like David Malmo Levine and Jodie Emery.

 

The Art Gallery

I arrived at the Vancouver Art Gallery at 2 PM to the smell of burning cannabis and two completely closed off streets covered in vendors and red-eyed youth. Everyone was smoking and partying, playing hacky sack and merrily ripping bongs. Police officers on bicycles rode by, no doubt slightly buzzed from the sheer amount of THC floating in the air. Those selling cannabis could be seen right beside brightly clothed police officers, who did nothing to stop them. Being at 420, one could almost forget that there is a war on drugs going on, or that cannabis is actually illegal.

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Some street buskers who were just on the edge of the celebrations.

There were four main areas of activity for those willing to be involved in blowing smoke at the system, including the main stage, the back of the art gallery, a side stage with a live band performing, and Robson Square skating rink. The main stage featured free weed being thrown into the crowd, by none other than David Malmo Levine, who between requests for people to sit down, reminded the crowd of the legacy he wanted to leave behind, namely, ending prohibition. Joints were launched at eager stoners trying to grab drugs that they would light at 4:20 PM.

The skating rink was filled with people relaxedly smoking, it had a completely different atmosphere to the other three spaces, in that one could walk with ease through the groups of underage stoners, and their older brothers-in-bongs. The rest of the spaces required maximum patience to walk through, as the groups of people wandering around created a barely penetrable wall.


“Plant the seeds of freedom, overgrow the government” – Jodie Emery

There were 3 political groups with vendor spaces at 420: the Liberals, the anti-enbridge activists, and Sensible BC.

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Liberal Party Booth.

The Liberal Party had a booth, and a petition to legalize cannabis, as well as a flyers that on one side read “Keep Calm and Legalize it,” and on the otherside had an invitation for a Liberal townhall panel with Jodie Emery, Dana Larsen, John Conroy and Steve Finlay. I talked to the Liberal canvassers, and they proudly told me about how they were the only party with a booth and had been coming to 420 for the past three years. The Liberal Party has been the only political party making serious inroads against Harper in fighting for cannabis reform, although their stance on other illicit substances contradicts their research-based approach to cannabis.

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Anti-enbridge activists.

 

To show solidarity between policy reformers, I walked by a tent with anti-pipeline signs. The group was extremely responsive to cannabis legalization, and wanted to help stop the Keystone XL Pipeline. They were very enthusiastic about the social change that could occur at events like this, and their signs were a refreshing sight, in a sea of cannabis vendors.

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Great passion from the guys running the Sensible BC booth.

 

The last political group with a vending table was Sensible BC (I heard the Green Party was there, however, they remained elusive, and I never found them at 420). Considering the current political climate in Canada, Dana Larsen’s project to decriminalize cannabis by redirecting policing funds through a referendum is one of the few hopes for true grassroots reform. Sensible BC fell through last November when they were unable to meet the minimum requirements they needed to have a referendum. Zach was volunteering with Sensible at 420 as they tried to find more volunteers to help them prepare for another chance at achieving electoral reform through a direct democratic process. Not everyone was comfortable with signing up to help the cause. Some were afraid that said information would be released to the government, and refused to sign up. Sensible BC was extremely happy to have anyone come up and help them, and were extremely nice to me when I talked to them.

The most political place of all was of course, the main stage. Jodie Emery gave an impassioned speech about freeing her husband, Marc Emery, and the need for everyday citizens to get involved in stopping Stephen Harper. Politician and activist, Jodie Emery has become part of the face of cannabis protest in Vancouver, only possibly overshadowed by the large picture of Marc Emery smoking in the background, a reminder that prohibition can still have personal consequences. She promised that when Marc Emery was released they would fight against Stephen Harper, joints flew in the air as cheering elevated the crowd.

Questions still remain. Where were the NDP at 420? The party’s membership has actively voted for cannabis legalization, and drug decriminalization at their General Meetings. The NDP’s lack of involvement in this issue is disconcerting at best. Jack Layton did an interview with Marc Emery back in 2003, and although the NDP stepped back from full legalization in 2010, decriminalization was still at least a viable option. Mulcair’s unwillingness to talk on the issue has endangered some of his pro-cannabis MP’s.

Secondly, the lack of harm reduction materials at 420 plays into arguments by people who wish to see cannabis criminalized. A religious organization prayed for the souls of all those at 420. One can only imagine that their belief that cannabis is sinful and hedonistic can only be helped by a lack of harm reduction information and adequate risk assessment. A recent post on Reddit “The Front Page of the Internet,” asked about the negative effects of cannabis, and the amount of level-headed responses was huge! One table was offering free water with purchases of ‘bud’, which was a great start, although full acknowledgement by organizers might help clear the air. I saw at least one person being treated by paramedics, and while that is actually pretty good for an event of this size, actions could still be taken to implement safer cannabis usage.

At 4:10 PM, Levine intensified his requests to sit down, as he threw joints into the air. The crowd was energized, the excitement for 4:20 PM reaching new highs. Bands played songs about smoking ganja as people sat on the damp pavement outside the front of the Vancouver Art Gallery, awaiting the moment when the countdown would begin, and the clock would strike. We counted 20…19…18…17…16…15…14…13…12…11…10…9…8…7…6…5…4…3…2…1… Happy 420! Joints were lit and passed around, reggae music filled the silence that was a chant, and The Art Gallery filled with smoke, as cannabis enthusiasts burned their weed in solidarity.

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I ran into someone wearing a CSSDP-Vancouver t-shirt!

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My personal favourite vendor, this guy was dancing around the entire time, having a great time

420: High’d Park, London, UK

420: High’d Park, London, UK

Nazlee Maghsoudi

Despite the rain, thousands gathered in Hyde Park, London, UK to celebrate 420 and show their support for cannabis legalization and regulation. Cannabis enthusiasts were reminded of the illegality of their drug of choice upon entry to the park as signs stating that, “Possession of cannabis is illegal” and “Extra police on patrol in Hyde Park” were abundant. We even spotted a “Cannabis surrender bin.” Given that the 420 celebrators already know the legal status of cannabis, these warnings did not stop thousands from publicly lighting up throughout the day.

 

The London 420 Pro Cannabis Rally 2014 was organized in part by NORML UK, an advocacy group that strives to influence the positive transformation of laws to enable responsible medical, spiritual, recreational, and industrial uses in the UK, and provides support to those seeking the normalization of cannabis users. NORML UK was set up just outside Hyde Park for the duration of the celebrations to wish everyone a happy 420, spread awareness about their cause, and garner support both in the form of memberships and donations. I spent the day volunteering at their booth and speaking with many interested folks about the benefits of cannabis legalization and regulation. NORML UK also organized a host of speeches, however, due to technical difficulties and police resistance, most were not delivered.

 

420 Celebrations in Hyde Park, London, UK.

420 Celebrations in Hyde Park, London, UK

Mass numbers of police were present in Hyde Park to monitor the 420 festivities. Although they largely left the smokers alone, there were some sightings of arrests, ticketing, and in one case, even physical assault. The primary complaint regarding police activities was that they did not allow NORML UK to distribute flyers and leaflets inside the park, stating that such promotional activities were not allowed inside the royal park. However, we did spot a promoter of religion inside the gates distributing materials, which was evidently overlooked by the police. Although they could have certainly behaved more aggressively towards the cannabis enthusiasts, we are still left wondering why our tax dollars were wasted on the mass police presence (at triple time no less given that it was Easter Sunday).

 

The celebrations culminated at 4:20 when cheers could be heard from the crowd of cannabis enthusiasts and thousands of joints were lit in protest of current cannabis laws.

 

Introducing the 420 Blog Series

Introducing the 420 Blog Series

Lisa Campbell and Nazlee Maghsoudi

On April 20, cannabis users across Canada and around the world will be celebrating 420, challenging the stigma around cannabis and fighting for drug policy reform. CSSDP is launching a 420 Blog Series to report and reflect on 420 festivities. CSSDP members from Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa, Alberta and London, England will be attending and writing about 420 festivities. If you would like to be involved, please send an email to our Chair of the Board of Directors, Nazlee Maghsoudi, at nazleem@cssdp.org. We are happy to accept and publish posts from CSSDP members and non-members, from across Canada and abroad, and from places that are represented and are not represented in the series thus far.

420 Canada

If you have the privilege of living in one of Canada’s major cities, there are lots of celebrations to be had! In Toronto, not only will there be celebrations at the Hot Box Cafe in Kensington, but you can also light up in Dundas Square to protest prohibition. Things will be just as big at the Vancouver Art Gallery, and in Ottawa there is a huge national rally to Fill the Hill! Pretty much any major city in Canada, from Montreal to Calgary to Halifax has something going on to celebrate 420. Get yourself to the closest rally by searching the 420 Rally website by province to see what’s going down locally. Even if you aren’t close to a major city centre, you can still celebrate in your own way by getting together with friends and family and sharing cannabis. You don’t have to be at a huge march to celebrate the successes of the cannabis movement!  Whatever you do to celebrate, blog it, tweet it and share your experience through social media to get the word out. Prohibition of cannabis is failing worldwide, and it’s high time that we legalize and regulate it.

Cold Turkey in Crimea?

Cold Turkey in Crimea?

Nazlee Maghsoudi

Drug users in Crimea are facing disaster as they watch the stock piles of methadone and buprenorphine – medications that allow them to live normal and productive lives – run out in front of them, likely for good.

Those following the situation in Crimea have undoubtedly heard the concerns of the Tatars, the Jewish community, and even the affluent middle class, but the group in the most immediate danger of having life as they know it turned on its head – 803 drug users in opiate substitution therapy (OST) programs – have, as is often the case, received little attention.

Ironically, the March 16 referendum in Crimea took place at the same time as representatives from nearly every country met at the United Nations (UN) in Vienna to discuss the world drug problem at the annual meeting of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND). For individuals like myself who are part of the drug policy reform community and were present at the CND, the outcome of the referendum was viewed through the lens of drug policy. Crimea, a region with progressive drug policies, had voted to be integrated into the Russian Federation, a nation that falls on the opposite end of the drug policy spectrum.

Since 2006, Ukraine has been in leader in harm reduction in Eastern Europe, implementing programs that reduce the harms associated with problematic drug use, such as OST. Beyond enabling drug users to participate in society by making them feel well or normal, such programs have also been credited with the dramatic decline in the HIV infection rate amongst drug injectors in Ukraine, who went from accounting for 62% of new HIV infections in 2002 to 33% in 2013. Another key benefit of OST is that it acts as a gateway for sick and marginalized people to access health services, such as treatment for HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, and tuberculosis.

Russia takes a “war on drugs” approach to drug policy, recommending that addicts quit cold turkey, banning the use of methadone and many other harm reduction programs, and imposing severe punishments for even minor drug offences. These strategies are blamed for the 11% increase in the number of people registered as HIV positive in Russia in 2013. On March 20, the head of the Russian Federal Drug Control Service, Viktor Ivanov, announced his intention to shut down OST programs in Crimea as his first priority. This came as a surprise to patients, who had been assured by local doctors prior to the referendum that the OST programs would be extended to at least the end of the year, and many of which had voted to join Russia.

However, even before Crimea has been integrated into the Russian Federation, the effects of Russia’s approach to drug policy have already seeped into the region. Roads to the peninsula have been under the control of Russian law enforcement for weeks, making the supply of drugs to the OST programs in Crimea impossible. Any hope for future supplies was squandered when the Ukrainian health minister stated that Ukraine would not be sending any more methadone or buprenorphine to Crimea, and that patients should move to the mainland if they wish to continue their OST programs. OST programs in Crimea have at most enough drug supplies to last till mid-April, and have already begun cutting back patient doses to ensure the supplies last as long as possible.

The abrupt end of the OST programs in Crimea means three things for patients. First, extreme withdrawal symptoms will interrupt the lives of drug dependent patients, leading to increases in acute illness and the number of patients reverting to self medicate through the illegal market. Second, Crimea is at risk of a rapid growth in the HIV infection rate, potentially to Russian levels, which would irreversibly undermine years of effort to reduce the spread of AIDS in Crimea. Third, patients will lose accessible health facilities that provide them with essential treatment for HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, and tuberculosis. Unless they leave their homes and relocate their lives, this is the bleak and immediate future of OST program patients in Crimea.

In case you are not already outraged by the blatant disregard for the human, and particularly health, security of Crimean OST patients, it is worth remembering that both methadone and buprenorphine are included in the World Health Organization (WHO) Model List of Essential Medicines and OST programs are recognized by the WHO and by UN agencies as an essential response to preventing HIV amongst drug users. Despite all of this, the efforts of the drug policy reform community, particularly organizations representing people who use drugs such as INPUD and ENPUD, have been fruitless. Methadone and buprenorphine stocks continue to diminish and the continuation of OST programs in Crimea seems a remote possibility. Fear runs high in Crimea, as OST patients know that any dose could be their last.


Check out this video by ENPUD to hear what Crimean OST patients have to say for themselves.