B.C.'s Green History, part 2
Mark October 17th, 2018 on your calendar (or enter in to your smartphone) because it’s not going to be just another crisp autumn Wednesday in Canada. Rather, it is poised to be one of the most important days in Canadian history – the date set for the full legalization of recreational cannabis use for adults nation-wide. Canada will become the second nation in the world to legalize use of the plant (in both dried flower and oil form, for now), behind Uruguay which did so in 2017. (Although Amsterdam is world famous for its "coffee shops", the widespread availability of weed there is due to Holland's cannabis decriminalization – not legalization – coupled with very lenient Dutch law enforcement.)
In 1923, cannabis – then a little-known plant only used by a few on the fringe and sometimes as a doctor-prescribed tincture medicine – was included in the list of prohibited substances under the Canadian Opium and Drug Act, first introduced in 1908 and championed by William Lyon Mackenzie King. Historians note that there is little record of any parliamentary or public debate surrounding the inclusion of cannabis as a prohibited substance in the Drug Act, especially when compared to the massive public and political debate, referendums and temperance movements surrounding the early 20th century ban on alcohol.
The prohibition of alcohol barely lasted 10 years in most provinces, and in Quebec not even a year! (Most alcohol prohibition in Canada, under provincial jurisdiction, was overturned in the mid-1920s.) Cannabis, on the other hand, has had to endure nearly a century of criminality. The activists fighting for legal access to cannabis have faced a decades-long uphill battle, rallying against a propaganda campaign which began with the 1936 film Reefer Madness and culminated with the 1980s Reagan-era War on Drugs.
The rise in popularity of smoking pot in the ‘60s and ‘70s certainly helped to mainstream cannabis and expose and ouster some of the stereotypes and misinformation spread by anti-pot propaganda; but it was a growing recognition of the medicinal benefits of cannabis that really helped along the efforts of legalization activists. These benefits include "hunger stimulation for wasting syndrome; anti-emetic and anti-nausea properties in AIDS or cancer chemotherapy; anti-spasmodic properties for MS, epilepsy and other neurological dysfunctions; [alleviating] eye pressure in glaucoma; and analgesic [pain relief] properties in a large number of chronic pain conditions" according to Lucas Phillipe, a University of Victoria Cannabis and Drug policy researcher.
A series of Ontario Supreme court challenges in the early 2000s was responsible for the legalization of medical cannabis in Canada, which played a large part in paving the long road to our forthcoming nation-wide legalization. The court had ruled it unconstitutional denying patients – especially those suffering from AIDS and cancer – a medicine that helped alleviate their symptoms. And although Health Canada set up a federal program to provide qualified patients with access to medical cannabis, the program was viewed by activists as insufficient when it came to providing for low-income and marginalized patients, and in response, compassion clubs were established to help provide cannabis to those in need. Differing from other dispensaries you’ve likely seen crop up across the country in advance of recreational use legalization coming into effect, compassion clubs are generally not-for-profit organizations and patients require a recommendation from a medical professional; the business owners must also possess a development permit and a licence to sell cannabis to medical patients. The first compassion club in the country – the British Columbia Compassion Club Society – was opened in Vancouver in 1997 and is now the longest continuously-run dispensary in the Americas.
Thanks in part to municipal business regulations, and the province's overall progressive healthcare system, some dispensaries in Victoria, for example, have largely evaded major legal repercussions. And as British Columbia continues to craft and monitor its legalization strategy, the province’s forward-thinking approach to medicinal cannabis and harm reduction could prove exemplary with regards to Canada’s recreational roll-out.
Next week, part three of our look at British Columbia’s contributions to the cannabis industry.
Story by Matt Talsma
Image by Tamara Robinson
DOJA does not condone or endorse the illegal consumption of cannabis.