The fight for the normalization and legalization of cannabis has been decades in the making and there have been many activists who helped pave the way so that we can simply Google, “cannabis dispensary near me” and be able to walk into that shop or visit that online dispensary without looking over our shoulder. If it weren’t for these brave activists who put their livelihoods on the line, there would be no such thing as same day weed delivery, curbside pickup and or mail order marijuana in Canada. Simply put, we wouldn’t be able to buy cannabis the way we can today – Chronic Haze wouldn’t be around. There have been countless unsung heroes who have risked their freedom; activists that went to prison and those activists who are helping them to get out. In this article, we’d like to introduce you to five Canadian cannabis activists that have helped and inspired thousands of people across the nation.
Abi Roach, “Cannabis Hero”
Abi Roach spent over 20 years fighting for medical access to cannabis and for patients to have a safe place to medicate. Roach had faith that the government would eventually come around to legalization, so much so that she opened Toronto’s first cannabis consumption lounge HotBox Café back in 2003. The stigma was so strong against cannabis that people wouldn’t walk through her doors because they were afraid, they’d get in trouble with the police. She knew that if she was able to show people that consuming cannabis could be just as chill as going for drinks on a patio with friends, destigmatization would not be far behind. HotBox Café, along with the help of similar cannabis stores, played a big role is breaking down the stigma and for paving the way towards normalization.
Roach has been honoured as a “cannabis hero” by Cannabis Amnesty, alongside 14 others who made a significant impact in the cannabis community. “She’s essentially one of the people we have to thank as one of the driving forces being legalization” – Reena Rampersad, Cannabis Amnesty volunteer coordinator.
She now works as a civil servant where she gets to break down the challenges to make cannabis more inclusive.
Annamaria Enenajor, “Cannabis Amnesty”
Director of the advocacy group mentioned above, Cannabis Amnesty, and a partner at the firm Ruby Shiller Enenajor DiGiuseppe, Annamaria Enenajor studied law at McGill University before heading to a large firm in New York. Her reputation gained momentum as she took on pro bono cases and took on a class-action lawsuit against abusive guards at Rikers Island prison once she realized the horrors of the Western criminal justice system. Through her work, she eventually came to see the ugly underbelly of racial inequalities around cannabis.
“She is what a lawyer should be,” said Richard Wagner who is a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, someone “willing to speak out on behalf of others who have no voice.”
Bluntly put, there are too many people in prison who should not be in prison. Long before legalization, if you buy marijuana in Canada, you would be risking a possession charge which could easily give you a one-way ticket to jail. The statistics for individuals charged with possession is heavily slanted towards POC and it is not exclusive to Toronto – these stats run the board across the country. Enenajor didn’t believe that the federal Cannabis Act would commit to addressing this issue, so she rallied up fellow academics, entrepreneurs, and activists, and launched Cannabis Amnesty. Cannabis Amnesty believes that Canada has an opportunity to become a world leader by implementing a cannabis policy driven by compassion and evidence, not stigma and fear.
Greg Williams, “The Marijuana Man”
Known for his legendary phrase “Peace and pot”, Greg Williams is being remembered and celebrated as a man who helped Canada get to where we are today when it comes to cannabis consumption. Long before the convenience of same day delivery, gaining access to education around growing weed was very difficult, especially considering it was still illegal back then. He was one of the first – if not the first – to run a marijuana mail order service. Williams was way ahead of the times as he literally distributed millions of marijuana seeds across Canada and the United States through Emery Direct Marijuana Seed Bank, and then some. Unfortunately, this is what led to his arrest back in 2005 where he was looking at a life sentence in US prison. Fortunately, he was spared with probation.
Williams is also the creator behind the first-ever marijuana growing online video series So You Wanna Grow Pot which launched in 2002 and was later renamed to The Marijuana Man Grow Show. He taught thousands of viewers how to grow marijuana effectively and efficiently and even had hand-written instructions included with every mail order pot seed purchase.
Before the legalization of pot, Williams provided a framework of how the roll out of how legalization should take place and launched the popular Cannabis Culture Dispensary in Vancouver in 2016. Despite his best intentions to try and represent the best of what cannabis access should he, his hand was forced by legalities. Williams had put his livelihood at risk to change the stigma and change laws so that we can reap what he literally sowed with his seeds.
Williams passed early in 2021 due to health reasons.
Michelle Rainey, “Medicinal Michelle”
After a banking career that lasted over a decade, Michelle joined the Marijuana movement when she crossed paths with Marc Emery’s. She was seen as a leader and “an engine for great change in the world.” In 2000, she had formed the British Columbia Marijuana Party and passionately advocated for the legalization of cannabis in Canada as well as globally. She produced her own YouTube show called Michelle’s Medicinal Marijuana, and distributed cannabis education packages to those who needed it.
Michelle helped patients fill out pages upon pages of forms that Health Canada requires for each medical cannabis user to complete, just so they can buy medical marijuana in Canada. She was a medical cannabis user herself and was one of the first 3000 Canadians to hold a license to possess and produce marijuana for medical purposes. Rainey was arrested by the United States DEA in 2005 alongside Williams and Marc Emery for conspiracy to manufacture marijuana in the US. Even under extradition orders, Rainey fought for the rights of medicinal marijuana users all over Canada and the world. Williams, Emery, and Rainey were known to the U.S. Government as “the BC3” because of their efforts to mass distribute marijuana seeds, and for raising millions of dollars to finance the movement in North America before anyone.
“An inspirational Canadian cannabis patient advocate and activist who inspired and continues to inspire hundreds of thousands of people to this day”, reads her memorial on her website. Rainey sadly succumbed to her fight against cancer in 2010.
Jodie Emery, “Princess of Pot”
A champion among champions, Jodie Emery has been part of the marijuana movement since its early days. She has worn many hats including being an advocate for medicinal marijuana, a cannabis entrepreneur, a politician (you read that right), and a magazine editor. Her name has been part of headlines for years, as her efforts for the fight for legalization to consume and buy marijuana in Canada has put her in the spotlight more than once.
Emery spoke regularly at events like “420”, “Cannabis Day” and Global Marijuana March rallies in both Vancouver and Toronto. She also was a producer of a weekly video broadcast called The Jodie Emery Show which aired from 2010 to 2014. She has made appearances in films like the Trailer Park Boys film Don’t Legalize It and documentaries such as Evergreen: the Road to Legalization and Prince of Pot: The US vs Marc Emery. She has written for the National Post, Huffington Post, and the Guardian UK. Her activism has led to multiple appearances on local and national television and radio. Lastly, Emery even ran as a candidate for the Green Party of British Columbia but was not successful in securing a seat.
Needless to say, Emery has become well known in the cannabis industry thanks to her activism with cannabis. In an interview with Leafly in 2019, Emery says Canada still has a long way to go with legalization.
“Legalization has been a massive failure in terms of human rights, civil liberties, and freedom. Nothing that was supposed t be legalized has been legalized. We didn’t spend decades pushing for legalization just to see governments and corporations monopolize the market and make harsher laws.” – Emery
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