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First-ever Ottawa Cannabis Convention held at the Ottawa Public Library

Andrew Ikeman | Fulcrum Staff

“Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em!”

These words, delivered by Ted Smith, executive director of the British Columbia based International Hempology 101 Society and well-known legalization activist, ended the first-ever Ottawa Cannabis Convention, held at the main branch of the Ottawa Public Library on Nov. 25. The speakers included Smith; University of Ottawa criminology professor Eugene Oscapella; Adam Greenblatt, executive director of the Medical Cannabis Access Society of Montreal; and Russell Barth, a local activist.

Smith, who organized and spoke at the conference, talked about how he began his career with medical marijuana when he witnessed how marijuana helped people with AIDS in the mid-1990s.

“Back in ’95, the sort of AIDS epidemic was in full swing; certainly in Victoria, there were a lot of people with AIDS who would literally be given a death sentence within months of being diagnosed with it,” said Smith. “I met a woman who made cookies and brownies and salves out of cannabis. I had never seen a salve before—that blew me away.”

Smith noticed that the marijuana was  assisting those he met to live better lives.

“I started meeting people who … smoked pot, but it seemed to be that for people with AIDS, if they smoked cannabis they’d stay alive—they wouldn’t die, it would keep them going—but if they ate it, they’d put weight back on, they’d go back to work again,” said Smith. “They’d become almost [healthy] again if they could include it in their diet. And I got to meet some of these people, and that just blew me away, and that’s when I decided to do something in Victoria.”

Smith began a small-scale buyers’ club, with only a pager and a pamphlet, selling medical marijuana out of a van. The business worked to assist the sick in getting access to medical marijuana. Smith also started a marijuana education club at the University of Victoria, with weekly “420” celebrations taking place on campus.

The first speaker at the convention was Oscapella, who talked about the new mandatory minimum-sentencing guidelines that were recently introduced in Canada. He said the recent votes in Colorado and Washington State in support of the legalization of marijuana would put pressure on the Canadian government to enact its own legalization laws.

“Historically, one of the big excuses that the federal government has used in Canada against moving away from using the criminal law [for marijuana] is that, ‘Look, the United States won’t let us do it,’” said Oscapella. “Now we have got two states in the United States where they had voter referendums: they have said that we are going to legalize, we are going to regulate it. It’s going to be a model similar to the one we have with the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, for example, where you can go out [and] buy some, you can possess a certain amount of it.”

Oscapella said that the current Conservative government may not be willing to see change to the marijuana laws.

“Now this Conservative government doesn’t want change—that’s very clear,” said Oscapella. “A future government that may accept change will be able to say, ‘Look, there’s a clear movement even in the United States, so please don’t tell us what to do here in Canada.’”

Greenblatt, whose interest in the field of medical marijuana began because of his father’s need for assistance in combating multiple sclerosis, spoke about his experiences as a medical-marijuana dispenser, and said the fact that medical marijuana is a private, free-market industry makes the potential legalization of all marijuana likely.

“If the Harper government is prepared to commercialize the supply of marijuana for one million people in Canada, we are so close to legalization,” said Greenblatt. “The legalization of marijuana, we are on the cusp of it … Now it’s less about if it’s going to happen: it’s going to happen.”

Barth, a local activist, suffers from fibromyalgia and his wife suffers from epilepsy. Both began using medical marijuana to assist with their medical conditions. Prior to using medical marijuana, Bartha was confined to a wheelchair and in constant pain, but can now walk and experiences reduced pain thanks to the drug.

“So I was in a wheelchair … I could literally only walk about 100 feet,” said Barth. “I had back spasms that were killing me all the time, I was only using pot sporadically—because I didn’t know much about it. Then I read The Emperor Wears No Clothes by Jack Herer, and I got to know all about the history of hemp, and of marijuana and how we all got bamboozled, and I have not stopped being angry since. That book has infuriated me; my whole life didn’t have to be like this. So that got me started in activism.”
Barth went on to write the first-ever children’s book about medical marijuana with his wife Christine, entitled Mommy’s Funny Medicine, which came out in 2007.

According to Smith, the goal of the convention was to start a branch of the Hempology 101 Society at the U of O and Carleton University, and to promote his cause in the nation’s capital.

“This is the planting of the seed,” said Smith about the convention. “I’m hoping that by the time I get back to B.C. I’ll have some more definite leads toward some students who are willing to kind of pick it up and get the club established, but I haven’t had a student jump up yet and say, ‘I’m going to do it,’ but I’m certain it will happen.”

Smith said he plans to host the same type of event next year, but hopes there will be two of them in Ottawa, one at the U of O and one at Carleton. The event was the third stop of Smith’s Eastern Canada Cannabis Conventions tour, with stops at Dalhousie University and Mount Allison University, on Nov. 18 and 20 respectfully, and one more stop planned for the Toronto Public Library this week.