Do you remember where you were when someone told you weed legalization would start in spring 2017?
Well, earlier this month the health minister decided to throw cold water on your vaping-in-Parliament idea, saying the government no longer has a "specific timeline" on when weed will actually be legal. Trudeau will still be introducing new weed laws in the spring, which will at earliest be passed next winter or early 2018. Even then, it could take until after the next election to get the the regulatory process up and running, according to Minister Jane Philpott. In the meantime, recreational pot shops will keep opening and pot arrests will continue.
Apparently none of this news is going to stop Vancouver pot activist Dana Larsen from mailing free marijuana seeds to anyone in Canada who wants some. He says he already mailed out two million weed seeds in 2016, and wants to up that to five million in 2017, in an effort to normalize growing at home.
Larsen did run into some legal trouble at an Alberta stop of a cross-Canada tour last summer, but is out on bail and likely won't be going to trial for trafficking until next year. He's not too concerned about getting sent back to jail, either. "Regardless of how this goes for me, we'll still be continuing the seed giveaway," he told VICE.
With so much weed news ahead of us, we caught up with Larsen to find out where he sees battles being fought and won in 2017.
VICE: Last time we spoke you were just starting to give away seeds in early 2016. In your view, has Canada's weed landscape changed since then?
Dana Larsen: Federally, nothing's changed. We had the commission give some good recommendations, but we're still living under Stephen Harper's mandatory minimums. Trudeau's been adamant that they're not going to stop arrests, and the law is the law and the law must be enforced. I see a lot of people arrested for possession and minor offences over the next couple years, so that's disappointing. We want them to act faster, especially to stop arrests, even just for possession or cultivation of two plants. Just some easing up off prohibition.
What is changing is not the federal law, but the municipalities and dispensaries. Dispensaries are proliferating. Although there have been raids in some cities, the raids don't win, for the most part. After Project Claudia in Toronto, some of the shops shut down, but a lot stayed open, and more have opened since then. There are more raids than ever before under Trudeau, but that's because there are so many more open. It's like we're coming up over the hill, and some of us are getting picked off as we move forward, but we're still advancing.
It seems like even with fines and raids factored in, it's still in dispensaries' financial interest to stay open. Everyone's trying to get in on the market before it's official.
We do alright, like any other business. It's not just pure cash. In Vancouver there's 100 other places we're competing with. Our dispensaries only mark up 30 percent, which is a lower markup than grocery stores for the kind of products they sell. We've always tried to put our profits where our ideology is, by funding court cases and legal challenges, and helping our vulnerable members. There is a bit of a gold rush mentality right now, but we try to work with other shops and encourage them to give back to communities and back to the cause because it isn't just about money.
So what do you see happening in 2017?
I see more dispensaries opening, I see Canadians getting frustrated. People who aren't in the pot movement are thinking something's going to happen in the spring. The spring will come and go. They'll be even more frustrated when the law actually does get passed in the fall, but the arrests keep happening. Some people tell us to just wait, to just give them a few months to get it together. By the time we get to next fall, and the legislation is passed, but they're saying it's going to be two more years—I think people will turn against that. People who just want it to be legal will be wondering what's going on. They won't be patient anymore.
Do you see any major turning points or good news on the horizon?
I see more cities moving to regulate dispensaries. If Toronto announced it was going to follow same model as Vancouver on dispensaries—if the city gives up on raids and starts licensing dispensaries as businesses, that will be the end. Then every other city will go along with it. But I don't really expect that to happen in 2017, maybe in 2018. I'm not sure when Toronto's next elections are, but if it doesn't come up before the next elections, dispensaries could be a big issue.
What about global factors—can Trump fuck this up for Canada?
I don't know, with Trump being so unpredictable. The people he's appointing are pretty anti-marijuana. It's like in the late seventies when Pierre Trudeau was promising some kind of legalization or decriminalization, then Ronald Reagan was elected. Once Reagan was in, Canada's opportunity to change the law was lost, and so I worry that maybe we should have acted faster. If cannabis comes under pressure from Trump—it seems unlikely with all the states that have legalized—but that could still have some influence on Canada.
I really believe if Hillary Clinton made a bigger deal about pathway to legalization, she could have won… I think that in Florida Democrats lost by a close margin, yet they had medical marijuana on the ballot that passed and got way more than either candidate did. In Canada we saw Trudeau get elected not only because of marijuana, but that was the only policy of his Canadians could name for a long time.
I guess weed legalization has been politically mainstream for a while now.
Yes, and growing weed at home is one of the final things that we want. We want to be able to buy it in shops, we want to have all the other vapor lounges and everything, but the one thing we haven't really had is weed growing everywhere. If we get enough Canadians growing in their front yards, and it becomes just a normal thing, whether the law changes or not, that's legalization.
Interview has been edited for clarity and style.
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