While the rest of the country patiently awaits legalization, Vancouverites can take solace in the fact that the only necessary wait they might experience in accessing cannabis this week is in the line-up at their local dispensary.
But there’s an inherent flaw in operating in a legal grey area: for those who’ve only recently changed their minds about cannabis, accessing legitimate information regarding the many applications of the plant can be difficult.
Walking into a dispensary with little or no knowledge about what you’re looking at can be intimidating, and unless your doctor is of a particularly progressive school of thought, asking a medical professional might not garner the response that you're looking for.
Sure, you could ask your pal who likes to light up after work every now and then, but relying on the advice of a recreational user when you’re seeking more in-depth knowledge is probably like asking a McDonald’s employee how to grill a steak.
For Salimeh Tabrizi, a local clinical counselor whose relationship with the plant inspired her to found and organize the Cannabis Hemp Conference in 2015, the gap between cannabis experts and the general public has grown far too large.
In looking to help close the gap, Tabrizi is bringing a total of 50 speakers from all facets of the cannabis world to Vancouver in May for the third annual conference. Jam-packed with keynote speeches, panels, workshops, and a product expo, she says the event will offer something for everyone.
“This is something that Vancouver didn’t have yet—a comprehensive conference that doesn’t just look at industry, but brings in knowledge and education from all areas,” Tabrizi tells the Straight over coffee.
Among the list of topics covered by speakers and panelists are sacred, historical, and ceremonial use, patient access and patient care, growing and cultivation, activism, environmental sustainability, whole-plant hemp usage, extraction and concentrates, and even a cooking demonstration with Vancouver's beloved Watermelon. Another workshop will teach attendees how to grow four organic plants at home.
Speakers and panelists will include doctors, educators, researchers, biologists, authors, naturopaths, growers, consultants, activists, advocates, historians, entrepreneurs, dispensary owners, and more.
Calling them "fierce rebels of the cannabis industry", Tabrizi is especially excited by the keynote speakers that will be addressing a number of important topics at the conference.
They'll include Dr. Ethan Russo, a neurologist and leading cannabis researcher, and Graham Hancock, the best-selling British author who is well-known in cannabis circles for his book Supernatural: Meetings with the Ancient Teachers of Mankind. (Hancock used cannabis for 30 years to assist with his writing and bouts with anxiety, but stepped away after an experience with ayahuasca led him to believe that he “wasn’t using the plant in the most respectful way.”)
"Then we'll have Chris Kilham—He's done a lot of work around the world regarding fair trade and the use of other plant medicines, not just cannabis," Tabrizi adds.
The conference's fourth keynote, Anndrea Herman, is a hemp expert who assists in creating and reviewing hemp regulations in Canada, Europe, South America, and beyond. Recognized worldwide as a hemp ambassador and educator, she'll speak to the multiple uses of the plant, which doesn't contain the same psychoactive properties as marijuana.
"Hemp isn't always part of the spectrum at conferences, but it's important to look at especially when you consider the humanitarian and environmental impacts it could have," says Tabrizi.
She hopes that by holding this year's event at UBC's The Nest, the venue's status as a place of higher education will encourage recreational and medicinal users, doctors, nurses, naturopaths, growers, entrepreneurs, and the curious or uninformed to feel confident in the legitimacy of the information being presented. (In previous years, it was held at the Westin Bayshore and SFU's Harbour Centre campus.)
"Cannabis has been so stigmatized, and the thing we need to realize is that public perspective changes over time.
"It's hard for people to switch suddenly from 'drug' to medicine or aid, but I feel like the university holds a really strong foundation for academic learning and open source sharing," she says, adding that that shift in perspective is more likely to occur if someone hears that information from a researcher, expert or academic.
"We really want to create that kind of space for learning, and by having it at UBC in an academic setting, it will really convey to patients that they're attending a conference, not a 4/20 event—not that those aren't important; the activists that started these events paved the way for what we can do now."
For Tabrizi, one of the primary purposes of the conference is to provide attendees with the knowledge that there are ways to treat ailments that don't always involve strong and potentially addictive pharmaceuticals.
She says the conference is a great opportunity “for patients who are curious, the mothers and grandmothers and other seniors who are saying, ‘these pharmaceutical drugs are making me drowsy and I don’t have the quality of life I once had. What is this cannabis plant everyone is talking about?’
"The more that we know, the better our decision-making capacity can be. Pharmaceuticals, they work, and if you have a major injury, or acute pain, of course you might need opioids or pain killers, but it's becoming a crisis because of the overuse, overreliance, and misuse of these opioids, especially in regards to chronic pain," she says.
"As humans, we have a responsibility to take care of each other, and that's why we share these alternative, holistic, and natural ways of taking care of ourselves, and each other. People have a right to be informed."