The Kootenay chapter of Women Grow, a cannabis advocacy organization already established in Vancouver and Toronto, hosted a well-attended educational evening at the Hume Hotel last week, aiming to “connect, educate, inspire and empower the next generation of cannabis industry leaders.”
“The war on drugs is ridiculous,” keynote speaker Jim Leslie of the Kootenays Medicine Tree dispensary in Nelson told the crowd, which consisted of approximately 150 people. A ten-year veteran of Canada Border Services, he was on the frontlines of drug enforcement and was disillusioned by his time there.
He spent approximately 40 minutes going through his personal history with the controversial plant, while detailing the development of his dispensaries, first in Grand Forks and now in Nelson.
“To be clear: I started as a cannabis person and I never surrendered it. I went undercover for ten years,” said Leslie, who graduated with a criminology degree. He eventually joined the organization LEAP — Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.
“The commonality among all chapters of LEAP is that we want to see all drugs regulated, all of them — that’s the only way ahead. The war on drugs in an uphill battle, so regulation is the only answer.”
Leslie took some time to tip his hat to various cannabis activists who came before him, including “Prince of Pot” Marc Emery and Philip McMillan, founder of the Nelson Compassion Club, who received an enthusiastic round of applause.
“Phil is an amazing man. He’s where I got my medicine when I moved to the area, and he’s a learned, compassionate, caring man who’s stuck to his principles. He was the only dispensary in this town for years and years.”
Leslie also mentioned the crew of Holy Smoke, a local dispensary that has since gone out of business, calling them “heroes of mine.”
The evening included talks by industry leaders Brynn Jones, Darrin Fidler and Jennifer Peel. Jones spoke at length about his “adventure” into the world of hemp working for J/W Mariceuticals and Okanagan Green Hemp products.
“We need to be a shining beacon for change,” he said. “I stand in front of you as an activist, an entrepreneur and a father. Only events like this will make our voices heard.”
He noted that hemp can be used to make everything from paper, batteries and clothing.
“Gandhi was clothed by hemp,” he said.
Leslie acknowledged the purpose of the evening by praising the myriad of women who have been leaders in the cannabis industry, including his employees Kaleigh Herald and Tanya Shelestynski.
“I feel like I’ve been surrounded by a group of wonderful women who’ve guided us through this entire experience,” he said, theorizing that since the industry is based on “caring and nurturing” it’s a perfect fit for women interested in health care.
Leslie’s own passion is treating children, including toddler Kyla Williams from Summerland. After administering CBD oil, the youngster stopped having seizures, he said. He believes it was her example, and the fact her grandfather is a decorated RCMP officer, that turned public opinion in his favour in Grand Forks.
Distributed at the meeting was a memorandum from director of corporate services Frances Long addressed to Nelson Mayor Deb Kozak — who was invited to the event but didn’t attend. Though the city will continue to anticipate legalization, “until the time that those regulations come into full force, members of the Nelson Police Department will continue to view marijuana storefronts as illegal.”
That being said, five dispensaries are currently operating in downtown Nelson, with a sixth scheduled to open soon. The memo noted a recent bust in Nanaimo occurred where it was alleged that dispensaries were selling outside their stores and to youth, and warned the same thing could happen here.
“Nelson Police Department will investigate such allegations and will enforce when appropriate,” it read.
Leslie had strong words about the recent busts.
“Is this really the time to bust them? Now? After nine years under [Stephen] Harper? I dare say that’s stupid.”
Nelson-Creston MLA Michelle Mungall was in attendance, and said she considered it part of her due diligence in preparing for the arrival of marijuana legalization.
“This could be a massive economic opportunity for our region in the next couple of years if Prime Minister Trudeau follows through with his promise to legalize,” she said.
“We need to be learning about this now. How are we going to roll out a legalized marijuana system? We need to do it in partnership with people already in the industry.”
Mungall said formerly the government’s attitude towards cannabis has been “government knows best.”
“What I think is very interesting is that the stats coming out of the States show that close to 50 per cent of business owners and CEOs in this industry are women, and that’s one of the highest ratios anywhere. I think it’s because it’s a newer industry and doesn’t have that history of making women break through glass ceilings to access positions of leadership.”
She said “this is all very new.”
“Time will tell us what the opportunities are, and if women are able to capitalize on them, that’s great. I hope to see gender equity in all industries.”
Mungall noted that one suggestion is to use the current liquor distribution infrastructure to dispense marijuana.
“Is that a possibility? Is that right the right way to go? These are questions we need to be researching, and need to be researching now. I don’t know if [Premier] Christy Clark has jumped on that opportunity.”
She said both the provincial and federal governments, as well as the general populace, need to be prepared for a huge change when legalization hits.
“We need to be learning about legalization and preparing for its arrival right now,” she said.