Weed, Pot, Mary Jane, marijuana – these are all names for cannabis and its derivatives. Marijuana has been helpful to people with chronic pain issues, in calming muscle spasms and in neutralizing the nauseating effects of medications.

According to the Canadian Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH)’s website, 44% of Canadians say they have used marijuana at some point in their lives. A Statistics Canada report on Police-reported drug offenses in 2013 stated that there were approximately 73 000 reported cannabis offenses that year, 80% of which were for possession.

Marijuana has become one of the wedge issues in the current election because of the Liberal Party’s plan to legalise it. The problem, however, is that many voters don’t know what the current state of Canada’s marijuana legislation is.

Cannabis and its variations and derivatives are considered controlled substances under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA). This law works in conjunction with the Criminal Code to control drug offenses. Marijuana offenses can be lumped into two categories: possession-related, and supply-related (production, trafficking, and importing).

Photo by Hannah Hackney
Photo by Hannah Hackney

If you have marijuana in your actual possession, someone is holding it for you, or you have it stashed somewhere, you are considered in possession. You can’t possess, seek, or try and get it. If you try and get it from a doctor or dentist, you are guilty of an offense unless you disclose to them the particulars relating to its acquisition and every attempt you’ve made to try and get marijuana in the past 30 days.

The penalties for all these offenses vary depending on how many times you’ve been convicted. The maximum prison sentence for possession of is five years less a day OR for a first offense, a prison sentence not exceeding six months or fine of up $1000 or both.

For a second offense the maximum jail term of five years less a day applies, or you could be made to pay a fine of up to $2000 or serve a jail term of up to one year or both. In all cases, conviction will result in a criminal record.

Trafficking marijuana is selling, administering, giving, transporting, transferring, sending, or delivering it. Trafficking is also the selling of an authorization to obtain that people would have gotten from a healthcare professional, or even offering to do any of the aforementioned things.

The sentence depends on aggravating factors like whether the person used or threatened to use violence or a weapon, sold the drugs for a criminal organisation, or did so near a school or to a minor. The maximum sentence is life in prison, the minimum is one year. However, IF the amount of cannabis being trafficked was no more than one gram of resin or 30 grams of marijuana, the maximum sentence is five years less a day.

Importing and exporting of marijuana fall under article six of the CDSA. The maximum penalty is life imprisonment, the minimum is one year. The sentence depends on whether the offense was committed for the purposes of trafficking, if the person abused a position of authority or trust, or whether the person had access to a restricted area and abused that access to commit the crime.

Growing marijuana and doing anything to alter its chemical or physical properties is considered production under the CDSA. The sentences vary according to the amount produced and aggravating factors like whether you’re using someone else’s property, said production put minors at risk, was a public safety hazard located in a residential area, or the person set a booby trap in the production location.

Growing marijuana comes with a maximum sentence of 14 years and minimum sentences of six months if you have less than 201 plants and more than five. If you have more than five plants but less than 201, you’re considered to be producing to traffic, and any of the aggravating factors apply – the sentence is nine months or the 14 year maximum.

Parliament Hill 420 Rally 2013 (photo by Joel Balsam)
Parliament Hill 420 Rally 2013 (photo by Joel Balsam)

If the number of plants is over 201 but less than 500 and any of the aggravating factors apply, the minimum sentence is 18 months. If the offender has more than 500 plants, the minimum sentence is two years unless the aggravating factors apply in which case the sentence jumps to three years. Though the law is silent about what the penalty is for having four plants or less, chances are you’ll get charged with possession, not production, as you were probably keeping those plants for personal use.

The Liberal Party’s plan is to “legalize, regulate, and restrict” access. Legalization would start with a task force of public health experts, substance abuse experts, and enforcement specialists to advise on the creation of marijuana regulations. This includes removing marijuana consumption and possession offenses from the Criminal Code, and enacting stiffer penalties for those who push marijuana at minors, drive high, and sell it without obeying government regulations.

Many critics argue that decriminalisation, and not legalisation, is the answer to society’s marijuana problems. Decriminalisation is the act of making something legal that was once illegal. Legalisation is the legal recognition of an unregulated practice or illegal act that society has already been tolerating.

However, Canadian society hasn’t exactly tolerated marijuana as police continue to arrest even those who keep the drug for personal use. These people often find themselves stuck with criminal records and there is no proof that tough cannabis laws deter use. Those convicted of marijuana offenses often continue to smoke it.

With the Harper Conservatives bellowing about how marijuana is worse than tobacco and most statistics saying otherwise, it is imperative that Canadians know what their rights are with regards to cannabis related offenses.

Regardless of why you have marijuana in your possession, remember that as long as it remains illegal, you can find yourself with a hefty fine or even stuck in jail just because you wanted some to ease your pain or lighten your mood and couldn’t get a prescription.

* Featured image by Joel Balsam

Laying in a tent that defies all logic and common sense underneath a sleeping bag because everything is pulsing, feeling the vibrations of live music and people. Smelling nature, every sense electrified, and every feeling new and intense. Beneath your eyes are more colours than you could have ever imagined, melting into each other and swirling uncontrollably to create a new way of thinking. Music is more intense, art is more beautiful, everything is sensual, and your mind is open wider than it has ever been before.

Sounds great right? Be careful! Drugs are fucking scary and can kill you. Being reckless can mean DEATH! It’s important to be in a safe place with people you trust while tripping. A bad trip can change your life forever – but I’m not going to give you the scary accounts that your D.A.R.E. counsellor gave you. Be an adult and make up your own mind.

Music festivals are more than just pretty girls dancing in flowing dresses with flowers in their hair and guys playing frisbee, while bands play all day and night. Music festivals are also the Number One place where people experiment with psychedelic drugs. Rapper A$AP Rocky openly reports that he took LSD at the South by Southwest festival and then slept with nine women. Whoa. Not everyone has psychedelic orgies, each experience is different.

A painting I did of Lisa Frank on acid.
A painting I did of Lisa Frank on acid.

I was recently at a smaller scale festie and I couldn’t believe how many people were selling all the drugs. “Molly… Mushrooms… Ketamine…” were common greetings, almost like a peanut salesman at a ballgame. Every conversation I overheard involved the sentence “Man, I was really tripping balls last night!” Every person there was on something, it seemed. I was surprised how out in the open it all was, considering that all of these things are illegal. The police were out in full force all around the gates of the festival. I know a few people who were busted for weed. They didn’t get all the drugs though.

Scantily clad smiling girls and sweaty shirtless guys slithered about with wide eyes, fully dilated pupils, and the look of a god/goddess. Hula hooping, flow arts, dancing, making and listening to music, and art making are commonly enhanced by these drugs. Colorful intricate art is important to the visual experience.

The first two hits didn’t seem to do a thing, then a third was taken (not a good idea, give it time to kick in). By the time all three kicked in, everything was a roller coaster ride. I was also the funniest person in the world. Eyes watering. Dancing as if floating. Everything was warm and life made sense. Several hours in I did not have the same zest. Hiding within myself I needed to go into the cocoon and go the fuck to sleep.

Often the worst part of an acid trip is the fact that it can take 12 hours or more to come down. You feel like it’s going to last forever, and that’s super duper scary. When doing these drugs you definitely want to plan at least 48 hours for the high and the come down. Don’t plan on working the next day or going to dinner at your parents house. Interacting with anyone at all will seem difficult actually. Also, your serotonin levels will be depleted so don’t expect to be jovial.


The term “Psychedelics” refers to drugs that alter cognitive perception and cause dreamlike hallucinations. Tests have been done that prove these drugs can help with stress, PTSD, OCD, and dealing with the end of terminal illness. The most commonly used drugs in this category (besides marijuana) are LSD (acid) , psilocybin mushrooms (magic shrooms), and DMT (the spirit molecule). MDMA (Molly or Ecstasy) and the dissociative drug Ketamine are also very popular recreational drugs in this setting. Cocaine, marijuana, hash oil dabs (pure THC) and good old fashioned alcohol are often thrown into the mix to try and maintain a state of control over the “trip”.

Dabs are intense, you need to use a blow torch to do them. The first time I ever did one was in my friend’s van and I definitely felt like a badass. Molly/Ecstasy is scary because most of the time it is cut with dangerous chemicals or you are actually buying bath salts. Candy flipping is when you combine ecstasy with LSD. Hippie flipping is combining ecstasy with mushrooms. DMT is the strongest of these drugs – it contains chemicals naturally released when you are dying.

Music festivals need to realize that they can’t stop people from experimenting with recreational drugs. Harm reduction and education is so important. The Lightning Bottle Music Festival in California is offering resources to help minimize the potential fall out. They are partnering with DanceSafe and the Zendo Project to provide a judgement free space to address drug dangers before they happen. They educate people about things like heat stroke, dehydration, and the signs of overdose. They also provide condoms, earplugs, water, and an extended line of communication about safe trips. The Zendo Project advocates drug policy reform and mental health services for people on psychedelic drugs. If someone is upset or confused during their trip they can turn to a trained drug therapist for help.

Major festivals have been under a watchful eye due to the amount of tragic drug overdoses and deaths. The fact is that most of the cheap synthetic substances being pushed are not what they are supposed to be, often mixed with things like rat poison. Colorful pills and powder filled baggies traded off in porta-potties between strangers are dangerous. The Electric Zoo festival requires their audience to watch an anti-drug PSA and also has medical students on hand to help with situations.

With anything you put in your body it is important to do the research and be smart about your choices. Some people see the psychedelic experience as a birthright, that you must expand your mind to see the world completely. Nobody can police your brain.

Recently, the federal government announced that they were going to ‘privatize’ the medical marijuana industry and they touted their decision as though it were both saving the government money and creating a vibrant new industry. Indeed, it is an industry valued at around a billion dollars annually, but the customer base is nonetheless limited to those who have a prescription. It goes without saying, if the 40 000 or so medical marijuana users in Canada can generate a billion dollar a year industry, imagine how much money could be made if the drug was completely legalized?

I recently spoke with Adam Greenblatt, executive director of the Medical Cannabis Access Society (MCAS), a Montreal-based private dispensary for medical marijuana and related by-products. I asked him for his thoughts concerning the new medical marijuana laws proposed by the Harper administration.

Among the positive aspects, there is the possibility for higher quality control as the new officially-sanctioned growers will have to submit their products for lab testing, but the flip-side is that anyone currently growing their own grass for medical purposes will lose that right. While I can appreciate how this will remove bad grass from the market, I’m not crazy about more restrictions on what I’m allowed to grow in my garden. There’s also the potential for greater variety and a standardization of potency, all of which will likely prove better for the consumer anyways.

As to how it’s to be produced, Mr. Greenblatt described the new system as though the government were handling nuclear waste. All prospective growers will be required to have significant start-up capital, security clearances, clean records and a large facility to grow it in (as there is to be no outdoor cultivation). 24 hour security systems will need to be in place, licenses will be good for one year and there will be regular inspections too.

As you might imagine, this limits who has a chance to get into the business. Not very good for free market capitalism…

Adam Greenblatt during a demonstration (image cannabisculture.com)
MCAS Executive Director Adam Greenblatt during a demonstration (image cannabisculture.com)

As it pertains to the MCAS, Mr. Greenblatt mentioned aspects of the new law which he found problematic, namely that there’s to be no by-products, no cookies or capsules; the only kind of medical marijuana new federal laws authorize is the smokable kind, and a fat lot of good that will do for someone who needs marijuana because they’re dying of lung cancer.

He mentioned his youngest client, a five year old boy who suffers from severe epilepsy and needs a special extract of marijuana which would be illegal under new Tory legislation. Apparently the Feds think the kid should smoke it…

Moreover, and further adding to the stigmatization of marijuana users, there are to be no storefront dispensaries, all will be provided via mail order. Again, not the most practical way to stimulate an apparently billion-dollar-a-year industry. Prices, though they could be much lower, are not in fact expected to drop, but remain where they are, far more expensive than they ought to be.

The Tories have, rather inexplicably, cut $4 million from medical marijuana research, apparently in an effort to incentivize private sector R&D (which I personally see as just another encumbrance to the proper development of this new industry, but I digress). This research should be public, for it is in the public’s interest to know precisely what marijuana is. But again, the Fed will look pretty stupid if it maintains the prohibition on the general consumption of marijuana all the while funding medical marijuana research which proves it’s utterly harmless and immensely beneficial.

I asked Mr. Greenblatt how this directly impacts the efforts of the MCAS, and he responded that, as it is today, he remains in something of a legal grey zone. He’s taken immense precautions to cover himself (such as only supplying people with prescriptions) and has developed a modest clientele genuinely appreciative of his efforts.

I asked him who these people were and his answer surprised me: there were soldiers with incurable, though manageable PTSD, people dying of cancer, suffering from multiple sclerosis, AIDS and HIV, depression, epilepsy, anxiety, chronic back pain. The list went on and on.

It began adding up in my head, the potentially immense number of people who can benefit from marijuana’s myriad medicinal properties. Mr. Greenblatt was emphatic: “make no mistake, this is the future of medicine.”

He brought up another point I’ll close on. Oxycontin kills someone every twenty minutes, and it’s covered by the RAMQ. Marijuana has never killed anyone, and possession of it can land you in jail and ruin your future.

How in hell is that fair?

Canada’s continued prohibition of marijuana represents perhaps the most glaring example of our government’s near total lack of critical thinking. While legalization efforts are catching across the globe, and perhaps more importantly are proving more effective deterrents against organized crime, we continue to endorse the prohibition of marijuana seemingly without ever having asked why it is illegal in the first place.

The near constant insinuation by the Federal Tories that the legalization of marijuana, as proposed by Justin Trudeau, is intended to put drugs in the hands of children is vulgar, reprehensible and completely unfounded. But in country governed by the politics of fear it should come as no surprise.

The Tories have their backs against the wall, having appealed so much to the most fundamentalist, evangelically conservative elements of our society they couldn’t support a sensible reform of our antiquated drug laws even if it was their own idea. And so like mules they stubbornly refuse to acknowledge reality.

Marijuana is misclassified.

Marijuana may be a drug, but it is quite unlike any other drug out there. It is not habit forming, it can be used regularly and recreationally without serious physical or mental side-effects and has myriad therapeutic effects, the extent of which we have no idea simply because we’ve idiotically refused to fully examine its medicinal qualities.

Cannabis is a plant that has a million uses and can be grown throughout the world. A plant so useful, so universal, so ubiquitous is illegal to possess, cultivate or use in this, what was once a progressive, forward-thinking nation.

marijuana-girlI can imagine the only reason marijuana continues to be illegal is because, as ubiquitous as it is, it could be cultivated by just about everyone. For that reason, people in this country may no longer need to buy a wide variety of government-subsidized medication, may refrain from gambling in government-owned casinos or buying highly-taxed government-regulated drugs such as alcohol and tobacco.

The only reason marijuana is illegal in the first place is because of racism and racist ideas that were prevalent in Canada about a hundred years ago. Anti-Asian sentiment was widespread back then and a common myth was that Asian men lusted after white women and were using drugs (at first opium, then heroin, cocaine and then marijuana) to turn newly socially and politically liberated Canadian women into sex slaves.

It’s an unfortunate reality of our political experience that progressive early feminism had to ride the coattails of socially conservative temperance movements which promoted these ideas in the yellow press. It was these temperance movements which advocated against drugs for the aforementioned reasons inasmuch as alcohol because of widespread alcoholism (a malady more associated with men at the time). Reform wound up cutting two ways, empowering women with the vote and then getting those votes to empower social conservatism.

Today our socially conservative federal government continues to uphold draconian drug laws and is pushing for stiffer sentences, despite mounting evidence marijuana’s illegality is completely and thoroughly baseless. The argument it is a ‘gateway drug,’ whatever that means, is ludicrous and absurd. You may as well say spaghetti is the gateway to pasta, or that pasta is a gateway to enjoying Italian food. Maybe remote controls are the gateways to television addiction, maybe hockey’s a gateway to high dental costs…

Where does it end?

What’s even more enigmatic is that the Tories haven’t recognized three key points:

1. Marijuana arrests are racially-skewed to begin with and clog up our judicial system and prisons. Legalization removes the institutionalized racism and clears out a lot of prison beds and courtrooms. All of this saves money and increases the respectability of our federal judicial system.

2. Legalizing marijuana takes money out of the hands of organized crime and puts it back in the hands of the government through taxation. Marijuana is in constant high demand and users are used to paying an admittedly exorbitant price for the product. Legalizing marijuana could return more money to the federal government in taxation than alcohol and tobacco combined. The loss of this revenue would be crippling for organized crime across Canada.

3. The prohibition of Cannabis and marijuana is quite simply anti-capitalist. Legalization would provide numerous new small business opportunities as they pertain to the cultivation of cannabis and the production and sale of marijuana and marijuana by-products for a potentially massive number of consumers. The government monopoly on sin would be broken.

I can imagine farmers might develop cannabis as a kind of back-up cash crop, an insurance against bad harvests, and this in turn could have the effect of reviving Canadian agricultural independence more broadly.

But of course, it is precisely for all these reasons that our corporate-owned federal government refuses to look at marijuana prohibition critically and precisely why they equate drug law reform with reckless child abuse.

* Look for Taylor Noakes’ interview with Adam Greenblatt on the privatization of medical marijuana in Canada in a few days on FTB