It’s time we stop treating Canadian cannabis activists like crackpots

Mainstream media has enough room for both the voices of old school activists and new school innovators

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      Well, mainstream weedia. You’ve been told off.

      This morning (May 16), Trevor Dueck, The Daily Hive film critic, posted an op-ed entitled: “It’s time we find a better voice for Canadian cannabis” which details the feeble reasoning as to why mainstream media shouldn’t be giving airtime to our community’s more brazen activists. I encourage you to read it first. "Hopefully that will clear up the 'How full of shit am I?' question you've been asking yourself.” (Name that movie.)

      The former co-host of the Cannabis Life Network “Flix Annonymous” podcast begins the tirade with: “It’s time for the cannabis community to grow up!” What follows is an ironic litany of disrespectful and whiny demands on behalf of the “modern cannabis consumer” carelessly padded with a tone that of a 16-year-old’s diary entry.

      I was on the edge of my seat waiting for a “like wtf?!” to pop up somewhere. Alas, I was only placated by an “are you crazy?” and a double-astrixed “fucking”.  Odd that Dueck’s entire piece calls for the grown ups in the room to please stand up but chooses to censor one of the most commonly used words in the adult vocabulary. I digress. 

      Now, I should preface this with the fact that had he simply said we need to make more space for new voices, I would have responded with a tweet full of @’s directing him to all the fresh, new minds getting attention from mainstream media…but he didn’t. He basically tells the pillars of the community to sit down and shut up while the new kids on the block take it from here. So, I’ll see your op-ed and raise you a rebuttal.

      Dueck begins by calling out mainstream media, not by name, and their heavy reliance on specifically three apparently harebrained, retro conspiracy-theorists stuck in “1994 prophesying” about the days when smoking weed and driving will be legal. Nowhere in the column does he identify the three advocates, simply that they may have a “good point or two” somewhere buried beneath their melodrama and “over-the-top sensationalism.” At one point, he links a Marc Emery segment on Global from last year, so one down…two to go.

      He continues on to say that more airtime needs to be given to the common cannabis user and, as a community, “we should demand better representatives who don’t dilute the cause.” (Read: the people who defined the cause.) Again, if you’d like a list of fresh, intelligent voices that are killing it in the mainstream media (Jenna Valleriani, Annie MacEachern, Travis Lane, Dessy Pavlova, Jack Lloyd, Trina Fraser, Abi Roach, Jonathan Zaid, Rosy Mondin, Natasha Raey) I’d be happy to oblige.

      As someone who specializes in critically deconstructing the nuances of the intersection between creative expression and technical application (a.k.a a paid cinephile), one would think there would be a fluency in understanding the balancing of dualities. Guess not.

      Our industry, and I say “our” as someone who is both an advocate and professional in the space, is built on the merging of old and new. My least favourite conversation that has evolved out of the cannabis community as of late is the one that questions the place for the old school at the helm.

      So, I’m not going to dissect some of the ridiculous statements Dueck makes about why cannabis and alcohol should be treated as the same substance or school him on the many failings of our current approach to road safety and consumption. I’m also not going to grab on to the point where he says we shouldn’t lower the consumption age because: “Have you ever seen a sixteen-year-old high? Enough said.” I want to focus on the single, salient point to which Dueck premises his entire argument: There should be less disruptive, provocative activism in mainstream media.

      Their picket lines and smoke-outs may have morphed into something more akin to a Globe and Mail byline or a Breakfast Television couch, but their cause has not and neither has the necessity for their voice. I would argue that now more than ever our community needs these voices. 

      While I don’t support all of the extremes being tossed around from either end of the spectrum, the point of using extremes is to challenge politicians, policy makers, law enforcement, media, and everyday Canadians to critically examine other viewpoints. We have been spoon-fed misinformation, myth, and fear tactics for 95 years. In order to disrupt those deeply embedded belief systems, we need aggressive, controversial weed warriors to stand up and challenge them…loudly. In an increasingly politically correct and sensitive media environment, there needs to be challenge to both capture attention and create change.

      In criminal law, for example, the burden of proof focuses not on proving yourself innocent, but places responsiblity on the prosecutor to prove that you’re not. So, if Marc Emery wants to say “smoking pot makes you a better driver”, the powers-that-be must prove that it definitively doesn’t before they can get away with making a law to prohibit driving while intoxicated. Otherwise, we are going to have someone who smoked three days prior charged with drug-influenced driving because remnant THC showed up on a blood test.

      Dueck then says: “Guess what?! We’re heading down that legalization road, slowly but surely. Here in Vancouver, we have already been doing this for a few years now.

      Guess what?! We’re only heading down that road because of the people he's carelessly dismissing, and slowly but surely we’re going to get to a better place because those people aren’t going to stop fighting for the fair treatment of cannabis users. 

      (Here in Vancouver, by the way, we’ve been “doing this” for at least 47 years.)

      Dueck also says he fully understands “the anxiety and paranoia” in leaving recreational legalization in the hands of the federal government.

      These activists are not fighting for the sake of public disobedience. They’re not paranoid, nor are they looking for a reason to pick at a scab while it’s healing. They’re fighting because someone who needs medical cannabis to treat their chronic pain is going to have to pay an added excise tax. They’re fighting because a 19-year-old who hands a joint to a 17-year-old at a party faces a permanent criminal record. They’re fighting because someone who needs to smoke cannabis to treat an imminent anxiety attack has to leave work, go home, consume, and wait an undisclosed amount of time before returning. They’re fighting because doctors are refusing to prescribe cannabis and instead handing patients fistfuls of Xanax and morphine. They’re fighting because the government is going to control the entire distribution line between farm and consumer effectively eradicating any freedom of choice. I can do this all day.

      I’m not entirely convinced he does fully understand the “anxiety and paranoia” around the federal government “royally fucking this up” or how bad things can get if activists don’t speak up.

      The final panel at Grassroots, The Georgia Straight’s expo for the cannabis curious in which we heavily relied upon blending prolific historic voices with new innovators, focused on a breakdown of Vancouver's fight for legalization. The room was packed and silent as Hilary Black, David Malmo-Levine, and John Conroy recounted their stories of hard-won victories that led to the seismic shifts we see taking place in our country today. Afterwards, Dan Sutton, founder of Tantalus Labs, came up to me while the panelists were stepping off stage and said something almost too perfect for this moment: “We stand on the shoulders of giants. And I am going to make sure I say that to each of them.”

      He then proceeded to speak to each panelist individually, shake their hand, and give their work the recognition and respect it deserves.

      That is what it looks like when a “modern cannabis consumer” who is leading innovation validates the prolific work disrupters have done and continue to do. That is our community.

      Those weed warriors were pepper sprayed, dragged out of protests, held in cells, charged with major criminal offences, and still aren’t afraid to speak up. Now that they’ve done the heavy-lifting and won the privilege for the “modern cannabis consumer”, it’s time to retire? I think the fuck not.

      Dueck says he is ready for the industry to evolve, but we’re already in the thick of its metamorphosis. We are having better conversations, but only because we’re finally taking the duct tape off the mouths of activists and placing them on the public platforms they deserved decades ago.

      Closing thoughts? The Daily Hive has put in a concerted effort to establish a voice connecting proponents of legalization to the rest of Canada. Don’t fuck it up now by asking the rest of the media world to bench the hugely influential and prolific leviathans of the community we're reporting on.