American Draft Dodgers Helped Establish Cannabis Culture in Canada

The Vietnam War drove thousands of American draft dodgers into Canada — cannabis culture thrived as a result.

Vietnam Draft Dodgers are widely regarded as “one of the greatest contributing groups of immigrants to Canadian Society.” The group made up of musicians, intellectuals, and peacemakers, also helped build the foundation of cannabis culture in Canada.

According to Canadian Immigration Statistics, between 20,000 and 30,000 draft eligible American men came to Canada as immigrants during the Vietnam War. However, they were not required to declare their draft status. As a result, this number is largely estimated and some even place the number between 60,000 and 100,000.

CBC Archives: Anti-Vietnam War Movement Rises in Canada and U.S.

Famous draft dodgers include Bill King, CBC Radio’s Andy Barrie, children’s performer Eric Nagler, and politician Corky Evans.

Despite harsh laws, cannabis use increased dramatically in Canada during the 1960’s. What came to be called hippie or fringe culture, permeated into literature, folk music, and art. From 1965 to 1973, the American government had entered into a full-scale war with Vietnam, sending a flood of American draft dodgers north of the border. As a result, Canada opened its gates to American poets, peace activists, and pot growers.

cannabis culture
Hippie commune circle during the 1970s Via ATI

The rugged coastline of British Columbia was arguably the most impacted by the sudden influx of immigrants. Nature lovers gravitated to the tiny mountain villages, lakes, and forests. Some of them brought their love of cannabis with them. Separated from most of the civilization by deep bays and mountains, they started cultivating pot gardens. The coast of Vancouver became a pot lover’s paradise and an almost overnight, an industry was born.

Mike Hames, a Canadian carpenter from Nelson B.C. remembers the area abundant with draft dodgers and hippie communes during the 1970s. Many of the draft dodgers were unable to hold legal employment in Canada, thus they utilized their innovating indoor growing techniques to generate an income. Hames says Nelson was known for having,

“the best weed in the world.”

Draft Dodger Inspires Canadian Cannabis Culture Comedy

In fact, draft dodgers even played a part in forming Canada’s most iconic cannabis culture comedians. During the 1960s, Tommy Chong was playing guitar in a blues band opening a night-club in Vancouver. At that show, he met Cheech Marin, an American dodging the draft. Together, they created Cheech and Chong and experienced wild success in the 1970s. Drawing from inspiration, Chong plays a stoner American draft dodger.

cannabis culture
Tommy Chong, pictured on the right, sits with co-star Cheech Marin. Via WebProNews

Cannabis culture in Canada began before draft dodgers crossed the border, but it gained traction with the addition of thousands of like-minded individuals. These were individuals who were not afraid to challenge the status quo and make Canada a better place to live. Rebels, outcasts, and trailblazers, American draft dodgers certainly left their mark on the Canadian cannabis industry. Many of them, are in Canada to this day, still making a difference.