B.C.'s Green History, part 1
If you’ve ever had a conversation about pot in a place like Ontario, you’ve undoubtedly heard certain strains being touted as high-grade "B.C. Bud". There was something about highlighting weed as coming from British Columbia that made it more appealing to the consumer, like Italian leather or a fine French wine. Cannabis from B.C. has historically had a reputation as being expertly grown, highly potent, and generally of top quality, compared to seed-filled "cess" – which typically alluded to cannabis grown outdoors, with little attention given to the proper care required to produce some really dope dope. But where did B.C. bud’s gold-star reputation come from?
As a recent Toronto-to-Victoria transplant, I can definitely attest to the flourishing green scene here. Pot dispensaries dot the urban landscapes of downtown Vancouver and Victoria, and weed seems to be embedded in the culture. Research done by the University of Victoria indicates that 13% of B.C.’s population reports cannabis use in the past year, compared to 10% nation-wide (though I suspect the B.C. figures to be under-estimates). An interesting combination of favourable climate, historical contingencies, changes in technology, and perhaps the more laid-back lifestyle, all contribute to the popularity of cannabis from the west coast.
Cultivation of cannabis in Canada has a centuries’ long history. Hemp was grown in central/eastern Canada since the 1600s as a cash crop, providing fibre and textiles for rope and sails to the British Navy. These crops, however, contained little of the psychoactive compound THC and weren’t widely utilized to provide the reported medicinal benefits we now know of today.
Before Canadian prohibition of cannabis in the 1920s, when cannabis was lumped in to a bill criminalizing other substances such as opiates and cocaine, extracts of the plant were widely praised and promoted by doctors for their positive effects treating myriad nervous system ailments. These medicines were imported mostly from India (hence "Cannabis Indica") and were mainly liquid tinctures. One of the difficulties with these extracts was that the key active ingredients – THC and CBD – were unknown, and the technology did not exist to gauge potency. This, perhaps, may have been a factor in its eventual prohibition, since sometimes-users may not feel much effect at all, while at other times experience an extremely potent high. Smoking cannabis was not widely practiced until decades later, during the counter-cultural revolution of the late 60s.
Long-time Victoria resident and writer, Kris*, tells me of her first encounter with smoking weed. In '69, she moved to Fort Saint James, a small town in northern mainland B.C., where she met some "weird bush people with long hair and wearing beads that smoked this funny stuff that made me not want to get out of my chair." They were hippies and peaceniks from American west coast states who had fled to Canada to escape conscription into the Vietnam War. Historian, advocate, and author, Dana Larsen, confirms that the role of draft dodgers in bringing weed to B.C. was "certainly a significant part of the history".
Kris tells me that while the American "draft dodgers" did not necessarily get on too well with those working in rural logging and mill towns in northern B.C., the young locals did take a liking to the plant that these pacifists had brought with them to Canada. Larsen also notes since the war objectors did not have Canadian citizenship, and so could not easily obtain work, many began growing cannabis, eventually developing the black market weed industry there.
The cannabis plant was initially grown outdoors in household gardens of northern rural towns or in out-of-the-way fields where a small crop could be clandestinely cultivated, with B.C.'s warm and wet climate ideal for producing a good yield. Despite this, there was growing demand for weed as more young people joined the counter-culture movement of the 60s and early 70s and were introduced to the plant, and shipments began flying in from South America.
In the 1980s, new technology and, ironically, the ramping up of America's War on Drugs, spurred on B.C.'s pot “industry”. New government surveillance technology meant less shipments got through from South America, and also encouraged B.C.-based growers to move their operation indoors to escape detection. Indoor grow-ops flourished as new technologies in artificial lighting and hydroponics allowed experienced outdoor cultivators to use these new systems indoors to produce optimal conditions for higher yields, and they could carefully administer plant food and fertilizers to increase potency. Indoor cultivation also allowed for experimentation and cross-breeding to create new and stronger strains. As the B.C. weed industry continued to expand, so did its reputation for really good ganja, as the province became an illicit exporter of bud throughout the rest of Canada, as well as to our neighbours to the south.
Next week, part two of our look at British Columbia’s cannabis culture.
Story by Matt Talsma
Image by Tamara Robinson
Some names have been withheld.
DOJA does not condone or endorse the illegal consumption of cannabis.