Story by Sarah Petrescu
"Canabonds," hemp theme parks and government-issue Maui Wowie—these are not just the products of pothead daydreams anymore. Victoria’s fifth annual Cannabis Convention brought hemp and marijuana advocates together to discuss the potential future of ganja in Canada. Legal issues, industrial hemp franchisement and expansion of medicinal marijuana rights topped the agenda for the one-day convention at Camosun College last Sunday.
At first glance, the 100-person gathering seemed like your typical cannabis get together. Marijuana leaf insignias, patchouli-scented air and a hippy covering Peter Tosh’s "Legalize It" set the tone while self-conscious college students and the odd business-type speckled the crowd.
Although the feel was casual, the agenda targeted future issues and opportunities emerging if Canada legalizes marijuana. In 2001, Canada became the first country to legalize medicinal marijuana. The following year, a Senate committee on illegal drugs recommended general legalization of cannabis, and last month the federal Liberals introduced Bill C-10, which would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana if passed.
Ted Smith, founder of campus club Hempology 101 and the Cannabis Buyer’s club, organized the conference and is already gearing up for legalization. His "Canabonds" are $25 certificates promising shareholders a quarter-ounce of "quality cannabis" once marijuana is made legal. Smith uses funds raised from the bonds for legal fees and advocacy work.
"This is a movement I am passionate about. I also have a lot at stake and that drives me to put myself fully into it," said Smith, who has been arrested four times and has battled six trafficking charges.
In the nine years Hempology 101 has been active, Smith said he has seen a huge increase in acceptance towards marijuana use. Although he is legally banned from the UVic campus for distributing pot cookies and sharing joints, Smith stays connected with club organizers.
"People used to be cautious about coming to meetings. But at one point last year, we were getting 120 people, right in the middle of the campus," said Smith, referring to the club’s notorious 4:20 meetings in front of the UVic library.
"My thing is education about cannabis. Universities and colleges are places where people are already primed to learn and looking for movements they care about," said Smith.
Smith said he focuses his activist efforts at universities and colleges because he knows they are breeding grounds for future community leaders.
One cannabis-friendly community leader is Brian Taylor, editor of Cannabis Health Magazine, a former mayor of Grand Forks and keynote speaker at the conference. Taylor has a long history of marijuana advocacy in BC, namely as the leader of the Marijuana Party when they garnered 500,000 votes in the 2001 provincial election.
"To some people in my hometown I’m a resident hero and to others I’m a damn embarrassment," Taylor commented.
Taylor now focuses his advocacy on medicinal marijuana. A few years ago, his chest was crushed when a barrel landed on him. He said marijuana relieved his pain and helped him heal faster.
"My doctors couldn’t believe how quickly I improved and how under control my pain was," said Taylor .
Taylor is convinced that the federal acceptance of medicinal marijuana will lead to general legalization of the plant. He thinks the government should contract more growers to provide for medicinal marijuana users and prevent them from the burden, and liability, of growing marijuana themselves.
"We already have ground on this front. Medicinal marijuana is the door we need to go through because Health Canada wants to work with us on this," said Taylor.
Another speaker at the conference is looking to cash-in on the legalization of marijuana. Brian Johnson, president of Transglobal Hemp Products Corp., wants industrial hemp to become a leading industry on Vancouver Island.
A former land development consultant, Johnson spent three-and-a-half years studying ghost towns on Vancouver Island for investors who wanted to buy abandoned commercial properties.
"I began to see some real opportunities for industrial hemp products, especially since our forest and fishing industries are falling apart," said Johnson.
Ten years ago, Johnson delved full-time into his company. Beyond industrial hemp products such as clothing, food and fuel, Johnson wants to promote hemp-seed factories as tourist attractions—kind of Hempland theme parks. He also has a movie script optioned about a young boy’s discovery of an antique hemp seed-processing machine.
"Industrial hemp has limitless possibilities and it is extremely environmental. I want to make money for Vancouver Island—following the rules of government, because if cannabis does become legal in the future, we want them on our side."