Mixed Bag at the CHAMPS Expo
It was a mixed bag at the CHAMPS Expo this weekend in Toronto. Recreational users, medical users, lawyers, researchers, activists, glass blowing experts, and retailers were all there from all over Canada to see what was happening. This was the first year the CHAMPS Expo was in Toronto – a tradeshow organization from the US who specializes in “counterculture” shows. It was a similar layout to the Treating Yourself Expo that has run on the same weekend for the previous five years. CSSDP, for the first time, had our very own booth to talk to people about the harms of prohibition and give out information about how they could get involved. I had three goals in mind for the weekend: 1) get our name out there and make sure our booth looked good, 2) present a paper for the NORML conference on my own research, and 3) get a selfie with Jodie Emery.
The first day was an industry day, so I set up our booth in the morning, and since the Expo was so closely aligned to my research, I used it as an opportunity to chat with people about it as well. It was a good opportunity to connect with Licensed Producers, dispensaries, researchers, and other people in the industry. I quickly became friends with all the booths around me as we gave our spiels over and over again – trade shows are exhausting! It also gave me some time to walk around and see who was there – my favourite paper company, Pure Hemps, had a booth, along with Cheech glass (the largest distributor in Canada), Twister, the High 5 girls, Skunk Magazine, POTTV, among many, many others. It was really neat to see the live glass blowing happening, and the glass pieces that made their way to the tradeshow (sometimes from the other side of the country!) can only be explained as extremely beautiful art pieces, costing up to $10,000 for one piece. I also don’t want to forget the various activist-related groups that were present, such as the MMAR Coalition for Repeal, NORML Canada, Sensible BC (along with Dana Larson!), Educators for Sensible Drug Policy, and many others. The first NORML Canada conference also ran concurrently at the Expo on Saturday, run by individuals like Paul Lewin and Craig Jones, and there were some really exciting panels happening. Alan Young, a Toronto lawyer known for winning a pivotal 2008 case that proved parts of the old medical marijuana program (MMAR) were unconstitutional, kicked off the day with a keynote talk that highlighted the history of cannabis in Canada. Since my research area is medical cannabis and the new program, the MMPR, I was particularly intrigued by the “law and tactics” panel, which was covered by some of the big names in the game, including John Conroy, Rielle Capler, and Mark Gobuty from the Canadian Medical Cannabis Industry Association. This lineup was particularly interesting as John Conroy spoke about patients losing their rights to grow and the tensions with affordability under the new program, Rielle spoke about some key ideas about dispensaries, CAMCD, and their role in access and education (as well as their future role), and Mark Gobuty, to my surprise, agreed and said, “we strive to provide the same patient care.” It was fascinating to hear someone situated within the new industry, particularly as he is also the CEO of The Peace Naturals Project (a Licensed Producer under the MMPR), talk about both programs and what they are doing in terms of affordability programming and patient care within the constraints of the newly stated regulations. There was a stimulating back and forth between the panelists, who all put their points forward yet also seemed to have a real understanding of the respective places they were each coming from.
John Conroy @ CHAMPS
I also organized a panel with some friends from the University of Toronto. Our panel was centered on emerging social science research. It was such a great experience for a few reasons. First, I’m used to giving stuffy “academic” presentations, and this was an opportunity to just talk to a really mixed audience – medical users, recreational users, lawyers, researchers, activists and the like. Our audience included individuals such as Kirk Tousaw, Donald MacPherson, Rielle Capler and John Conroy (no big deal or anything…). It was the first time I didn’t have every word of a presentation right in front of me, and I spoke about just one piece of my dissertation work which focuses on how the MMPR is affecting dispensaries’ trajectories – part of a larger case study that looks at the intersection between social movements, entrepreneurship and the emerging medical cannabis industry. My colleagues, Rebecca Penn and Kat Kolar, also had some really great work to talk about. Rebecca spoke to the important history of cannabis dispensaries, and dispensaries as “embodied health movements.” I thought her ideas were great because they really questioned the construction of “expert” knowledge, where the medical cannabis movement has been largely framed around patient experiences and pushed forward by activists. It also sparked questions centered on the “hierarchy” of knowledge in the medical community, not just in terms of what types of studies are more valued, but also in terms of where these studies were coming from (US being at the top of the food chain, of course!). Kat gave a really great presentation as well, and one idea I thought was captivating was a look at female representations and marijuana use. She essentially discusses this shift, tracing the “stiletto” stoners all the way to today’s medical pot moms. This was so clever because she discussed how mothers of children in need of medical cannabis are reappropriating the same right wing rhetoric that has driven prohibition for years. “We need to protect the children” – well, these moms would say they ARE protecting their children, and to do that they need access to safe cannabis extracts for their kids. They build off the gendered ideas around women as caregivers, nurturers, and mothers, and have used this framing successfully to advance their claims (“Go Moms!”). Not to mention the argument that prohibition is tearing apart families and also forcing families to relocate to places like Colorado for access.
MMAR Coalition Against Repeal
Karl and I @ CHAMPS
Three of our members also came to help out over the weekend. I have to say one of our long-term members and head of the Toronto chapter, Karl, impressed me with his approach to getting people engaged in conversations about prohibition. He would literally just stop people and ask, “how would you change our drug laws?” and it worked! More often then not, people gave a small smile or a laugh and came over to our table for a conversation and some materials. I thought I could take a page from his book in terms of how to get people over and engaged with our booth. He also gave people really tangible ways they could get involved, demonstrating that he, for example, made these pamphlets, or wrote this piece on why prohibition harms. I liked the idea of giving people realistic, rather than overwhelming, ways they can contribute to ending prohibition. As an organization, it was good practice for us to see the best ways to engage people with our organization. We agreed that in the future we would have ‘take home’ packages ready for people who want to start chapters (particularly since there were people from all across Canada!), as well as packages for businesses who wanted to help us get the word out – more flyers, pamphlets and the like. Going forward, we’ll certainly take this experience with us as we grow and develop, hopefully having a presence at more shows like this.
Legalization Tactics Panel
Sunday’s conference kicked off with our own Donald MacPherson, as well as Kirk Tousaw, Jodie Emery and Eugene Oscapella on a panel centered on legalization laws and the future. This was also one of the my favourite panels. Topics covered a range of ideas on legalization including potential future models. Donald and Kirk brought up ideas around municipal regulation and cannabis law, which is particularly interesting to me since the City of Toronto just passed its own set of bylaws around Licensed Producers and the MMPR. A passionate Jodie Emery spoke about how change is incremental, and how we should work towards ending prohibition, even if that means starting with decriminalization. Oh, and just in case you were wondering, I did get my selfie with Jodie Emery.
Jodie Emery and I
While 420 was celebrated across Canada, there were reverberations across the world. In Fort McMurray, the celebrations came a little bit late. The stigma of marijuana due to a corporate culture of drug testing means that users must remain in the closet and go to great lengths to conceal their use. Yet it took just one oil worker to fail his drug test and take to the streets! After a picture of this one man protest went viral on the internet on a local Facebook community group “Fort McMurray Everything Goes,” the protest grew. Fort McMurray is famous around the world for being the heart of the tar sands, otherwise known as the oil sands. Whether or not you agree with the extraction of fossil fuels, the notion of denying someone employment based on their drug of choice is inherently wrong. Harry Slade writes exclusively for CSSDP on his recent experience of being denied employment based on his past marijuana use, and the support he received in his protest for drug policy reform.
I’m writing here today as, evidently, speaking your mind in a place where few people have the time (or will) to do so attracts attention of the best kind to yourself. My name is Harry Slade, I’m 24 years old, and as of the moment I am a worker in Canada’s Athabasca Oil Sands. Well, sort of. I’m not working at the moment, because the fact that I partook in the consumption of marijuana at some point in the past has rendered me unemployable, at least until I provide a urine specimen free of THC. I felt deeply discriminated against by this experience, and it provoked me enough to express my views in public.
The original catalyst for my demonstration was the fact that I felt I was unjustly denied a job because I had THC in my system. Alas, the wide-spread usage of drug testing of employees that tests for past drug usage does nothing at all to prevent future accidents from occurring. While alcohol testing is immediate, drug testing is not. The Ontario Court of Appeal even recognized this in Entrop v. Imperial Oil:
“On the other hand, the Court noted that drug tests such as urinalysis cannot measure whether a person is under the effect of a drug at the time the test is administered. A drug test can only detect past drug use. An employer who administers a drug test cannot tell whether that person is impaired at that moment, or is likely to be impaired while on the job.”
Frankly by the amount of support received over the weekend, it wouldn’t surprise me if the majority of folks working in the oil patch didn’t have THC in their system! In the oil patch, drug culture is so prevalent that an entire black market has emerged to help workers obtain clean urine. Detox kits are $120, piss bags go for $100 and you can fill them with fake urine which you can wear in a pouch under your shirt. Clean urine is available for purchase on the black market locally, and you can even buy it in a powder dehydrated form online!
Let’s start at the beginning shall we? Last Friday May 9th, I made a sign proclaiming my desire to legalize marijuana, and took to Franklin Ave, which is downtown Fort McMurray’s “Main St”. The response I was met with in the ensuing 2 hours was overwhelming. The minute I stepped out onto the sidewalk, I was met with a cacophony of honks and cheers. Folks rolled their windows down, and slowed down to tell me how I am their hero, I am a boss, the man, champ, etc. At first glance you would assume owning a diesel-powered pick-up truck is a requirement for residency, yet even still, the few pedestrians in Fort McMurray stopped, shook my hand, and shared their own experiences with marijuana in Canada.
I had no expectations for my actions to spread virally across the internet, but I discovered later that evening that my actions had caused a firestorm on the Facebook group “Fort McMurray Everything Goes” perhaps the most active online forum for residents of Fort McMurray. The response inspired me enough to get in touch with Lisa Campbell, Outreach Director at CSSDP, and we organized ourselves to continue to demonstrate the following Sunday. We created a giant sparkly banner which we erected downtown on Mother’s Day, which coincidentally was also the day that the by-election in Fort McMurray was called. If I thought the response on Friday was overwhelming, Sunday was monumental!
Right as we set up, Lisa and I were promptly approached by the manager of the local McDonald’s restaurant, a young lady who politely asked us to move as she didn’t want to see that in front of her business. I replied that we were on public property, as we were on the sidewalk, but not wishing to create unnecessary friction with members of our community, acquiesced to her request. The ensuing few hours were, astonishing in my opinion, even considering my experiences on Friday. Once again there were honks and cheers from a diversity of Fort McMurray citizens. A man who appeared to be homeless was the first to pass, he responded that we should “legalize crack!” An older dude in a massive lifted truck stopped to pitch us a joint, proclaiming “It’s hash, enjoy guys” before pulling away with a roar of his engine. While we didn’t smoke the joints that were thrown our way, many of our supporters picked them up and indulged for us. Two younger guys took it upon themselves to buy us some pop from the McDonald’s, some other younger gents tossed a hand full of change to us while sounding hand held air-horns out the window. Judging from the response, Fort McMurray-ites would like to see the legalization of marijuana, for both medical and recreational purposes. While Alberta is the heartland of Conservative Canada, one of the most “liberal” ideas is met with enthusiasm. Why? Because it just makes sense!
Leigh Townend Ayton
Today is the first ever International Harm Reduction Day, and in celebration I’m taking to the blog to talk about what harm reduction means to me. In my previous work as a harm reduction program manager, I often fielded (well-intentioned) questions about whether or not I found the work scary. I took the time to sit with people, hear their concerns, show them what an injection kit (for intravenous drug use) or pipe kit (for inhalation drug use) looks like, and have a conversation. But one of the most helpful ways I found to address the stigma and fear around harm reduction, be it at a dinner party, on a hike, or in a formal training scenario, was to remind people that they were already harm reduction practitioners.
You, yes you, are already practising harm reduction.
We all practise harm reduction in our daily lives. Harm reduction is so much more than needles and pipes, and while most of my work focuses on harm reduction in substance use, it’s certainly not limited to that. As practitioners we are building communities, challenging colonialism, looking out for others, and caring for ourselves. We are checking in, asking questions, and listening. We are bringing a pitcher of water to our friends on the dance floor and helping them arrange safe ways home. We are educating ourselves, using inclusive language, acknowledging risks, and doing our best to make things safer. I asked a few members of our CSSDP community to share how they practice harm reduction:
“I check out pharmaceutical drugs that I don’t recognize on a pill identification website before taking them.”
“I try to up my produce or liquids uptake on days when I eat lots of junk food to counterbalance”
“I practice harm reduction with straws for safer snorting, condoms for safer sex, earbuds to reduce the risk of hearing loss, and a helmet when biking.”
“When my friends and I consume opioids, we keep an eye on each other and have a vial of naloxone handy.” (A list of where to get naloxone in BC is available here)
“I try to include self-care/organization hours in my schedule so I may continue to live a busy and enjoyable life without feeling too stressed.”
“I pack extra clothing when I suspect it may be cold in the evening but want to party in light clothing, like tights.”
“I have a Marquis reagent lying around so that my friends can make sure that the capsules they bought contain MDMA and not a substitute.”
In honour of International Harm Reduction Day, tell us how you practice harm reduction! Send us a note or a photo with your own tip.
Looking for some harm reduction resources? Here are a few of my favourites:
DanceSafe’s mobile app
Drug Info from the Trip! Project in Toronto
Video: The Insite Story
Report: Nothing About Us Without Us: Greater, Meaningful Involvement of People Who Use Drugs by the Canadian HIV Legal Network
Now that the cloud of smoke has cleared from Queen’s Park in Toronto, I’d like to report on my impressions of this year’s Global Marijuana March (GMM). The most noticeable difference this year from years past was the lack of the Freedom Festival; the GMM in Toronto used to be a cultural hub for people who use pot and supporters of sensible drug policy reform but also a reclamation of public space, a music festival and a movement which showed that drug policy is inter-sectional and affects everyone in our society. It was a safe space for various communities to gather to show their support for reformed policy but also (and just as importantly) it was a cultural melting pot (pun not intended) of people just being people. This is an important point as it goes to show that drug policy reform, whether in the form of decriminalization or legalization, is not going to look like the apocalyptic vision many scare tactics have led us to believe, but more like just any other day (maybe with a few more people having fun in the outdoors and of course with less unjust arrests and less taxpayer’s money being spent on enforcing non-violent “crime”).
The Freedom Fest was a draw for people from all over Ontario and it seemed like both this year and last year, less people were coming from outside of the city for the event. The city refusing to provide permits these past two years for public gatherings at Queen’s Park meant lack of music stages, public speaker stages, harm reduction and drug policy info booths, as well food vendors in the park, which visibly reduced attendance (or at the very least, created a perceived smaller attendance as less people stayed for the whole afternoon). This goes to show how prohibition just pushes people and the drug trade into the underground and legitimate businesses lose out on money that instead gets diverted to the black market. The Freedom Fest was just one of many large public gatherings which have been getting shut down in Toronto in recent years or pushed out of the city’s downtown core (i.e. The Muhtadi International Drumming Festival which also used to take place at Queen’s Park annually but has been moved East of the downtown core to Woodbine Park) and it’s definitely having an impact on nightlife, youth culture and, in turn, tourism.
That being said, most people I saw weren’t there for a vocal protest (although I’m sure many were as my experience is subjective) but rather were happy and relieved to have the opportunity to be free to partake in their normal everyday lifestyle without judgement or prosecution (even if just for a day). It was more a form of non-violent civil disobedience than anything else as people from all walks of life lit up to celebrate what should already be their right as part of the Canadian Charter. With public opinion and policy quickly changing in favour of regulation instead of prohibition, and many parts of the world (including several US States and Uruguay) reforming their drug policies for more accepting and pragmatic ones, there was an air of calmness and expectation that change will come soon so long as we are publicly supporting it.
At High Noon on Saturday, May 3, 2014, over 25,000 people gathered in downtown Toronto for the 16th annual Global Marijuana March (GMM). The peaceful gathering marched in protest of recent changes to Health Canada’s Medical Marijuana program and the Federal government’s new mandatory minimums for marijuana possession.
Last year’s GMM drew an impressive 25,000 medical and recreational supporters and enthusiasts, and this year was no different. Since last year many victories have been won for sensible drug policy in the United States and elsewhere. It’s time for Canada to catch up. Fittingly, the slogan of this year’s march was “It’s Time!”
Before and after the march, there was a giant smokey gathering of medical and recreational marijuana users in Queen’s Park. In recent years, the City of Toronto has disallowed permits, leaving the park with no real entertainment or even a stage for speakers. A speech or two was made by Matt Mernaugh, local advocate, author and politician, pushing for change and urging people to vote. The lack of legal vendors and police inside Queen’s Park creates a ramshackle market of people selling their edibles, oils, t-shirts and wall hangings, giving a glimpse into the future world of regulated marijuana. This year, the food trucks have also caught on, a number waiting just outside the park to satisfy the crowd’s munchie needs.
On this overcast Saturday afternoon, tens of thousands made their own party. Burning their favourite herb, playing music, discussing their favourite strain or the benefits of specialty THC oils for arthritis. Everyone is friends here and its easy to forget you’re standing in the middle of 10,000 people. In it’s 16 year history, the event has not had a single arrest.
At 2 PM the march began, thousands streaming down Bloor Street playing reggae music, singing, chanting and enjoying the startled looks of unsuspecting passersby. Many carry signs or flags demanding changes to our drug policies. Some want legalization and regulation, others simply want legal access to their medicine, but everyone here agrees the current laws are wrong.
The smokey snake makes it way through downtown Toronto spreading love, joy and hopefully some knowledge about sensible drug policy. Spirits are high as joints are passed around and chants of “Free Weed!” and “Free Marc Emery!” ring down Young street. It’s Time!
Young and old from all across the province gather together to show that marijuana is not the harmful, deadly drug our government sees it to be. It is, for many people, medicine and contributes greatly to their health. Others simply enjoy getting high, watching a movie and eating a bag of Doritos. Everyone attending the Global Marijuana March is asking the same thing: Should either one be a criminal offence?