Article by Cy Williams & Phil Wong, High Canada
High! Canada Magazine had the opportunity to sit down with the Canada’s leading lady of cannabis. Jodie Emery – originally known as Jodie Giesz-Ramsay is now known internationally as a staunch supporter and active advocate of cannabis. One of Canada’s most passionate civil and cannabis rights activists. She is an entrepreneur and a politician.
So what was your first experience with marijuana, take us back?
My first experience with marijuana was really interesting because prior to that I had been against marijuana, drugs and drinking basically anything teenagers did I was opposed to. I was an authoritarian teachers pet. I loved a man in uniform so quite a radical change. What happened was my best friend started smoking marijuana and I gave them a really hard time about it. I realized that they were still really smart and they read Cannabis Culture magazine and POT TV and they were not the delinquents that people would say you’d be if you were a pot consumer.
I decided to try beer and marijuana on the same night when my parents went away and my friends came over. I took a shot glass or two of beer, it was so awful I didn’t want to drink it and then when they said they wanted to smoke marijuana and hotbox the bathroom I said well I will come watch. They made a gravity bong with a bucket of water and a pop bottle, we are going back to the old days here, and they started smoking it. I decided okay ine I’ll take a hit and we had a little ghetto blaster playing music. I was feeling really good and I realized I had been lied to about marijuana. So I went down a path of exploring cannabis cultural forums, Pot TV and it really was quite a massive shift of what I have been all about.
When did you ind your passion and did you ever think you would become a cannabis advocate out of it?
When I was younger I didn’t know where my passions would take me. I was into art, music, photography and more creative activities, even politics and writing. When I moved to Vancouver I didn’t know what to do. I thought about being a light attendant or broadcast journalism. I did go to a couple classes at BCIT for broadcast journalism. At the same time I was hanging out with cannabis culture magazine and the BC marijuana headquarters because I had been in touch with Mark Emery, Michelle Rainey, Greg Williams, Dana Larsen, Chris Bennett, all these fantastic activists of the early days so I was inspired being around them.
My passion really started building up when I realized I didn’t want to go to post secondary education and learn that way. I wanted to learn by living I wanted to be in the action and I really got excited about it when I realized how wonderful cannabis is in itself. I started getting very passionate when I started to realize the injustice from probation.
My passion became focused on undoing the harms of criminalization. How people are arrested and jailed and lose their children, jobs and homes, travel rights. People are destroyed by these cannabis laws. I’ve always been passionate about the environment and people but for cannabis itself it can change our world and help so many people.
Our governments continue to hurt people over it, so I have just been unable to get over that anger about this injustice and trying to turn that anger into a passion that drives me to fight with compassion for people.
Do you have any future political aspirations from here?
I am often asked about my political plans for the future and if I would even consider running for office in Ontario in the up coming election but it’s a very exhausting thing to do. It requires enormous commitment. I did work very hard while Mark was in prison to run for office and I did well considering I could only campaign every once in a while between prison visit and running my business.
Political engagement is very important it really is essential, that’s why I have engaged in so many political parties. I don’t think it’s something I could really do at this point because more and more I ind the political divisions and partisanship is working against our common goal of ending prohibition. Some see me as a socialist left leaning NDP supporter and I am when they support decriminalization and wonderful things like that. I am also even more conservative in some ways and people see me as a libertarian. To some I am right wing perhaps. I think that ending prohibition is a non partisan position so every party needs to embrace it for their own different reasons wither it’s personal liberty, business opportunity, social justice everyone can support ending prohibition so for me to join a party and run for it requires promoting an entire agenda and political platform that perhaps I’m not really in favour of in order to further my own agenda of cannabis legalization.
I already did that when I joined the liberals. I joined them after a long month of consideration after being invited. I joined them, I ran, I supported them, I got them money, votes I helped them win and promoted legalization and then I felt we were betrayed. Even after they rejected my candidacy I still promoted them because legalization is so important and so incredible for a federal party to endorse legalization but the messaging started to change after they put a former narc Bill Blair in charge. I got very discouraged and had to renounce my liberal membership. I don’t know who I’d run for if I ran again and I think it’s more important I press every political party to adopt a freedom and liberty message when it comes to cannabis.
What do you think you would be doing if you weren’t a cannabis advocate?
Sometimes I wonder what I would do if I was not a marijuana activist. If everything went my way and my dreams came true what would I do? Perhaps on one hand I’d love to explore my more creative side and do photography and art because it’s something that really made me happy long ago when I had the time. I think I would even use that for political reasons I would make proiles of people who are victims of prohibition as a portrait series, or I would paint pictures of landscapes I saw during my prison visit journeys and tie in some sort of message with that.
The other side of me thinks I’d just like to be a business woman and operate legally not having to worry about criminalization and I could grow a giant business that inances climate change reversal through hemp houses. Using hemp to heal our planet and cannabis to heal ourselves. Everything I think of ties back to cannabis in some way. I’m not sure I have any other plans; maybe it’s almost good that the government is giving me a job to do. Although I remember two years ago or so when the liberals were coming in and Harper was going out and we all saw that things were improving I said in the few media interviews that I would still get that I didn’t have much of a job anymore. There was no reefer madness, no one was spreading propaganda so I didn’t need to march in the streets, and I didn’t need to do interviews and debates. There was nothing left to say, and then as I mentioned people were put into play who weren’t exactly positive towards our culture so I am back to the work of being very busy, being upset that our government continues to hurt harmless people with their punitive laws.
What are three things you would want all Canadians to know?
Cannabis is not harmful to health it’s helpful for health. Cannabis heals people, it’s a medicine not only for those who are sick but it improves the health of those who can use it responsibly otherwise. So this idea that cannabis is harmful and we need protect people from it really upsets me because we know there are numerous harmful products killing people every single day. We have all these products killing people but for some reason government and law enforcement cant get over promoting cannabis as a threat to society. They can’t stop lying about it. People need to know cannabis is not harmful to health. Maybe for the fraction of people who have pre disposition to certain mental health issues maybe they shouldn’t use it but to encourage the criminalization of millions of peaceful people because some people can’t use it that’s insanity.
1. Cannabis is not harmful. Cannabis saves lives.
2. Personal choice and freedom should always be protected, that even if cannabis was dangerous and caused the devastation alcohol causes and tobacco causes you would still have to have the free choice to use it and consume it if you want to do so. As long as you’re not harming others then the law it shouldn’t harm you.
3. The third note would be reminding people that governments create crime. Crime would not exist otherwise. When it comes to murder, rape, assault, theft, fraud, these are crimes of victims and perpetrators. Someone has used force to violate the rights of another person or to take their life or harm them. Cannabis and drug laws over all the laws of prohibitions of drugs and even the sex trade and other prohibitions of human activities consensual behaviours those laws are created by governments to create criminals. So when people say the law is the law stop opening dispensaries the law is the law. Well the law justiied a lot of horriic human rights abuses in mankind’s history. The law against cannabis creates criminals. Cannabis itself does not; cannabis has no victims but there are millions and millions of victims of cannabis laws and the harms that prohibition has caused.
What do you think will happen come July 2018?
July 1 2018, its somewhat a funny date because for well over 15 years we have been celebrating Canada day as cannabis day in Vancouver and in other places where we celebrate our cannabis culture and protest prohibition. So the government is not only trying to steal our industry they’re stealing our day. It would probably be worse if they tried it on 4/20 I’d be a little more upset about that but the governments date is arbitrary. st It’s actually not chosen out of no where it’s because January 1 st and July 1 is when legislation comes into effect.
It just turns out that it’s going to be July and I think that we are going to see some fascinating crazy developments. For one licensed producers of medical marijuana right now are only existing because patients, dispensaries and growers have been arrested, gone to court and had the court order the government to provide access. Licensed Producers right now are only allowed to serve patients to protect their charter rights. Well a lot of those licenced producers especially the bigger ones have made no secret of their plan to go recreational when its legal and to lobby the government to raidand arrest other people so they can get their market share. A lot of those bad licenced producers are proiting right now off the backs of patients whom they intend to abandon the day legalization rolls around.
I am concerned for the patients on July 1 who are going to see their medicine, which is already in limited supply that they can’t even, access readily. They’re going to see their supply go to recreational to people who can afford it easily more than they can. That is probably a violation of charter rights at least that’s what I am going to say because I don’t think it’s right for all the patients to be abandoned even if they have a few licenced producers dedicated to patient supply its not enough. Right now the licenced producers even if they quadrupled them is not enough for the medical demand let alone recreational. The recreational market is already being served by the existing industry that already is in place. It is maddening to see the government trying to create the supply that already exists and to use the law to try and punish those don’t it their guidelines.
July 1 is going to be interesting for patients we are going to see provinces forced to open stores with no product on the shelves or limited supply. Were going to see law enforcement staring up their crackdown I’m sure to enforce the cannabis act. They’re going to use far harsher punishments than what were seeing right now. From 7 years to 14 years in prison, you don’t see this for other crimes you have to brutally abuse someone to serve 14 years. Cannabis and sharing it with someone if its elicit getting 14 years is just insanity. So we’re going to see people still getting arrested for getting two ounces instead of one or having it in bags getting accused of trafficking, for growing it at home without the proper required licencing or whatever other reasons the elicit industry still exists over the cannabis act. I st think we’ll see a lot of lawyers gearing up for action on July 1 , fighting on behalf of patients, fighting on behalf of dispensaries, the recreational users, the hemp industry all the industries I mean its going to be very interesting to say the least.
From your perspective why is there a shortage of cannabis for the medical use?
The shortage of medical marijuana comes from the governments desire to restrict and limit access and those are the terms that they have been using even when Harper was in charge and now as well. The first medical marijuana access the government provided came from only one supplier and it wasn’t enough.
The Harper government introduced changes that allowed for the growth of the industry. If there are business people out there who can fulill these very strict requirements basically grow it inside a military base/prison then you can meet our stamp of approval and sell it to patients. So a few big names got in early and there are more licenced producers being authorised now but they admit they can’t keep up with the demand of the patients. Under prohibition a lot of people found their marijuana it was an industry that already exists.
The dispensaries opening up, the growers, the patients it all existed already so regardless of what the government law said, patients needs were being met in some way but not fully. There were problems with the designated growers system. Sometimes a crop would fail and the patient wouldn’t get their medicine or sometimes their licence would change and there’s all sorts of hiccups and problems, finding a doctor to authorize you back then was difficult just as it still is now for many people. No program has ever been perfect but the medical marijuana access has always been lacking and that’s why the courts have always sided with cannabis dispensaries typically well up until recently I should say, but we’ve seen a lot of judges even declare that dispensaries are at the heart of access.
There’s an understanding that the access isn’t being provided but unfortunately a lot of medical marijuana companies found their money through shareholders and investors. Once you mix that business with medicine especially in an industry that’s so struggling with oppression, injustice and criminalization that causes all kinds of problems they needed to make money back. In order to make money back they needed to take it away from others and so they called upon the government to shut down their competitors, which is the dispensaries and existing industry.
That’s a shame as there’s no reason why we can’t all be providing access, and distribute it together. Let it meet basic safety tests and we will be okay. If the regulations say that the standards are way too high for most people to meet, you’re going to see only a few be able to do that and proit legally, while everybody else is still criminalized and set to fear for their lives under the legislation that exists.
When you first became an advocate what did your parents think?
I remember when I first smoked pot my parents said to me “we’re not so upset about it being marijuana, its better than alcohol, what we’re worried about is you getting arrested.” I think for many parents that’s their top concern when their kids are getting involved with marijuana. They’re thinking this is going to get them in trouble with the law. Of course a lot of parents are concerned because they have heard decades of messaging about marijuana being dangerous especially for teens.
We’ve seen so much of that lately with the government endlessly promoting that its dangerous until the age of 25 but send your kids to football where they smash their heads in and get concussions but in the meantime cannabis is dangerous for teenagers even though cannabis oil is solving medical issues and saving lives of babies, teens and kids but marijuana is bad. Parents hear this time and time again and my parents never bought into that or promoted that but they did worry about the criminal penalties related to it.
If you were a parent what would you tell your child about the prohibition, how would you address the issue?
If I were a parent, my concern wouldn’t be with marijuana and my kids it would be about pharmaceutical drugs, unhealthy food, candy all the additives, sports which can be harmful and dangerous and actual harmful substances that young people encounter. Drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes so I would give my child honest drug information. Id say listen you’re going to encounter these drugs of all sorts and you get to make a choice of whether you want to use it or not, but if you are going to decide to use any substances please feel free to talk to me about it if you ever have any questions or any problems feel free to ask for help and let me know if you need any guidance or have any questions we can look into it together. If you are going to use any drugs please consider cannabis as the safer choice because other drugs like alcohol will impair your judgment and cause harm but cannabis won’t be as dangerous if you choose to use any drugs.
So please consider that and know out of all the substances young people and teenagers will use marijuana is the safest of them all and that if you struggle with depression or anxiety or any health issues we can talk about whether cannabis is helping or worsening that but be honest and open with me and use the safer choice if you’re going to use anything at all.
That’s what I would say to my kid and I have encountered many parents over the years who have concerns about their teenagers and don’t know what to do about them using marijuana. Its true that young people will often experiment with a lot of different drugs and that if they start with marijuana they might move onto other things. That is not because pot is a gateway to other drugs its because young people experiment and that’s natural thing of all humans to do not just kids and teens, all adults like to experiment and explore but we have to make sure young people aren’t criminalized for their choices whether they are harmful or not. The biggest harm from cannabis for young people and teenagers comes from being arrested or even just encountering a police officer.
I remember there was a story of a young girl who wanted to go to United States with her church group to feed the homeless and she got stopped and denied because she can’t travel, a police officer suspected one time that she might be smoking pot with her teenager friends in the park even though he found no proof but he made a note of it and that’s on her record and prevents her from doing good. So young people are being harmed and held back by laws and punishments for pot when cannabis itself wouldn’t impede their ability to contribute to society.
The laws hurt young people far more than cannabis ever has or ever will. A lot of adults and teens use marijuana as an alternative to alcohol and anti-depressants, like myself and other drugs that they have been put on by doctors that they don’t want to use anymore.
Lastly Jodie, who is more outspoken, you or Mark?
I am a very outspoken person when it comes to being passionate and tireless and trying to be heard. Mark Emery, my husband has always been known for making more outrageous statements and that’s not meant as an insult or negative point. When Mark Emery started back in the early 90’s, marijuana was completely illegal there were no good news stories, patients didn’t have access there were all sorts of problems and he found that there was a law banning marijuana literature. It still exists, section 462.2 of the criminal code but Mark was against censorship and against government oppressions so when he found out that pot books for some reason were illegal he really took up that cause and he began getting into marijuana. He always had a very outrageous, bold way about him. He says things in an extreme way without regard for how you might feel about it he just wants to speak truth. It’s all truth. He speaks truth to power, that’s what attracted me to him so much I was like this man sounds like his truth is ringing through the clouds of nonsense, you know it was always just honest even if it was hard to take. Many times the truth is hard to take. So Mark spent many early years having to be outrageous in order to be heard. That’s why he wore suits, he was a businessperson he was always successful with business and using money to finance activism and political matters. He presented in that way but also was never afraid to say it how it is and it doesn’t matter what you think. Where as my approach is more like who am I talking to, what’s their position and how can I appeal to their concerns and how to remedy that. I’ve always considered myself more of a diplomatic person so I try not to be as outrageous but some of the things I say may sound a little outrageous because outrageous legislation calls for outrageous response.
Thank you Jodie – it was a pleasure speaking with you!