The Evolution of Cannabis Activism in Canada

Cannabis activists from the Great White North come in all shapes and sizes, sharing the one common goal of ending marijuana prohibition. Now that legalization is almost a reality in Canada, what do these dedicated individuals who have spent decades fighting for personal freedoms do next? spoke with three legendary figures in the world of cannabis activism to see what their plans are post-legalization.

“I’ve been an activist for 27 years and been to jail three major times,” said Don Briere, owner of Weeds Glass + Gifts. Don has opened well over a dozen dispensaries in British Columbia and Toronto, and the number of active locations always depends on how many law enforcement has shut down.

Don firmly believes that Bill C-45 is too restrictive, but despite that fact, he is excited for the future of cannabis in Canada. “We’re optimistic. The courts recognize that we have a right for reasonable access [to marijuana]. Basically, the cannabis laws have fallen.”

Don already has plans when legalization takes hold in July of 2018 and he has no intention of slowing down. “We are going to keep fighting for our rights. [For example] reasonable access. That means you can come out of your apartment [to buy pot]and, hopefully, walk within a distance that’s the same as getting alcohol.”

In the end, once Don feels he is satisfied with the state of cannabis legalization in Canada, he is quite aware of what he would do next. “I would return from activism to lobbying and ensure that people can get jobs [in cannabis.]We have over 140 people working with us and that is just direct jobs,” he said.

Another activist who has spent the better part of her life fighting for cannabis freedoms is Jodie Emery. There is no denying that Jodie and her husband Marc have pushed legalization forward well before the government decided to do something about it. She too is not ready to put down her sword once cannabis is available in stores.

“We definitely need to have free pardons and amnesty for everyone who has ever been charged with at least possession, but ideally any cannabis offense that’s non-violent,” said Jodie. “If you’ve sold marijuana, or grown it, or have done what might be perceived as a large-scale cannabis offense, as long as there was no violence involved and it was a consenting transaction between adults then the only crime is that the law prohibits it. It’s extremely important that activism doesn’t end with the ability to open stores or possess 30 grams.”

The immediate work that Jodie is embarking on after cannabis is legal next July will certainly keep her busy, but what would she do once satisfied with the state of marijuana in Canada? Her answer is philanthropy.

“For me, I might want to just focus on business and the ability to have money to give to good causes. Things like prison reform and getting rid of punitive justice and trying to help communities recover from law enforcement, not just [for drugs]but all of it.”

Finally, there is Dana Larsen, who is one of the most unique cannabis activists in Canada. Among countless other efforts, Dana is the person behind the “Overgrow Canada” movement, where he went across the country distributing free marijuana seeds and encouraging people to plant as many as possible. This was in an effort to overwhelm the government with so many plants that they simply could not do anything about it. Dana is also a published author who has written an illustrated book on the history of cannabis in Canada.

Dana firmly believes that after legalization there will still be room for activism. “There’s a place for activism in lots of things that are legal or regulated in some way. For me, and I think for a good portion of cannabis activists, it’s actually broader than cannabis and always was,” he said.

“I consider myself more as somebody who opposes prohibition and drug war. I want to see an end to all prohibition and better solutions for all substances. I focused on cannabis because I feel that it’s the linchpin of the drug war. Although it took us 25 years, it’s the easiest one to get people to understand why it should be legalized, because [cannabis]is intrinsically safer, it has many medical benefits and is widely used.”

Dana added that he has done a lot of work to educate and push for the legalization of other drugs, something he is committed to seeing happen. “[Cannabis legalization] is a wonderful first step, but it’s only a first step in the broader effort of ending the whole drug war.”

Dana also feels that the fentanyl crisis that is afflicting Canada and other countries is a catalyst to discussing the end of the drug war altogether, and as an activist, he will make sure to be part of that conversation. “When people are dying, that changes everything. So many people have been touched by this fentanyl crisis now that I feel it’s going to start the process of helping to end the war on drugs and seeing that it’s really our policies that are causing this.”

Dana plans to continue what he does best after cannabis legalization, which is battling it out in the courts and doing whatever he can to bring awareness to the cause. “In terms of what I will be doing to help, I think the same combination of civil disobedience, court challenges, and awareness. I hope to expand the debate beyond cannabis over the coming months and years.”

For the moment, Dana is still hard at work with cannabis policy. He is the campaign manager for Mary Jean Dunsdon who is also known as “Watermelon.” She is running for Vancouver City Council in the October by-election in the hopes that she will be a revolutionary voice in the ongoing fight for cannabis freedoms.

Regardless of where the universe takes these three important figures in the cannabis landscape, they will undoubtedly be hard at work making sure that personal freedom of choice is something that we all enjoy. Cannabis legalization is certainly a win for the community and for Canada in general, but it’s clearly not the end of the fight.


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