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.
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.
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.
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.