In an exclusive interview with the Puff Puff Post, long-time marijuana activist Dana Larsen says civil rights are being forgotten with the push towards cannabis legalization. Larsen states that there is an excessive focus on the economic gains from the new industry.
Ahead of the legalization, which will make Canada the first developed nation to permit recreational marijuana this summer and the second after Uruguay, news of mergers, acquisitions, and the ebbs and the flows of market shares pertaining to the country’s top cannabis companies – Aphria, Canopy or Aurora – overwhelm discussions.
For Dana Larsen, the director of Sensible B.C., considered to be Canada’s largest advocacy group for marijuana, the legalization talks are void of the much-needed attention on civil rights, a top priority for him.
“It bothers me that so much of the focus right now is about money and stocks, and who is going to cash in, while Canadians are being arrested every day for possession of cannabis, or growing few plants in their homes,” he lamented.
Larsen echoed what other activists have lambasted: the Canadian government’s continuous arrests of people over cannabis and shutting down of some dispensaries. For these activists, the ratiocinative doesn’t make sense. Why arrest people if it will be legal soon?
“Civil Disobedience” Campaign
Despite the imminent legalization, Larsen is currently finalizing his “civil disobedience” campaign for the third consecutive year. Larsen started in 2016 distributing marijuana seeds. In 2016, he gave people three million seeds, and in 2017, he managed to send five million seeds across Canada. This year, however, it will be a “couple of millions.”
He said campaigns like these “normalize” what it is illegal.
“By giving seeds and encouraging people to plant cannabis openly and in public places, it is overgrowing the government, a phrase we’ve been using for decades now to overgrow Canada,” he explained, emphasizing: “I want normalized cannabis growing.”
He said marijuana paraphernalia such as bongs are illegal in Canada, but onlookers can find these gadgets in cannabis shops without fear as the sentiment has been “normalized.”
“I want the same [normalized] perspective, to see a cannabis plant growing in public,” he added.
In 2016, he was charged for trafficking cannabis seeds, but the case was dropped and he was never convicted.
Canada’s First Nations
Larsen, who was one of the founding members of the Marijuana Party in 2000, said Canada’s current laws are affecting “marginalized groups” such as the country’s indigenous people.
“People who are still suffering from this are the poor, young, and indigenous Canadians,” he said.
Larsen further lent his support to Indigenous Canadians.
“Even though the police do not keep racial breakdown statistics of the people they arrest, but if you look geographically, the further north you go in Canada, the cannabis arrests for possession and small-scale trafficking skyrocket,” he said. “Also the further north you go, the more indigenous population there is is.”
The activist said this is “not a coincidence.”
“I think it is clear that our laws and policing target indigenous people far more than other Canadians,” he said. Larsen said the prohibitions of marijuana have always targeted the “most poor, vulnerable groups, which unfortunately includes a lot of first nations populations.”
Bill Blair, ex-chief of the Toronto Police Service, who is currently leading the force tasked with creating the plan for weed legalization, admitted that possession laws are primarily enforced against minority and first nation Canadians.
He further described the disproportional enforcement of cannabis laws as “one of the great injustices in this country.”
Prohibition and High Prices
Despite rejoicing over the fact that Canada is en route to legalize weed, the activist is critical of the imminent corporate and government control over prices.
His definitions are different, too. For Larsen, it is not the “black market,” but the “free market,” where prices should take its natural form, which is $1 a gram.
“There are a lot of factors that have to happen for prices to drop significantly,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter if a person buys cannabis legally in a shop if it still costs about $5 to $10 a gram.”
The government of Canada recently launched a survey which showed that the average price for weed in Canada is about $6.79. The cheapest is in Quebec at $5.89 and the most expensive is in the Northwest Territories at $11.89.
Larsen said high prices mean people will always have the incentive to grow their cannabis in their basements to make profits.
“That’s gotta be the future until the price drops to a point where it is not worth it to grow it at home and sell it,” he said, reiterating that marijuana should be treated like any other crop.
When asked how farmers will make profits if prices of marijuana drop so low, Larsen said,
“Canada has hemp farmers right now, and they are growing hemp for seeds, and they produce a lot of resin at the same time,” he said.
Resins are the oily extracts from that can be taken from hemp and marijuana plants. Usually, it has low amounts THC – the psychoactive component.
“They throw that resin away as a waste product,” he said, adding that even if prices drop to $1 a gram, selling cannabis resin at a large scale will double or quadruple their profits.
Severity of Cannabis Laws
The activist also criticized the severity of the future laws governing cannabis.
“A parent can share wine with a minor; many families give their children wine for dinner at a pretty young age, and that’s normal and that’s culture but if that parent was to give their child cannabis, in any quantity for a minor, that parent faces jail time,” he said.
“That’s to me should be treated the same.”
He said punishment for cannabis is at worst 14 years in prison, that “makes no sense at all.”
Nevertheless, there is a big change coming to Canada.
“The biggest change for most people is that possession, arrests are going to drop to almost zero, and that’s a very big number,” he said.
“For most Canadians, going to a local store and buying cannabis, even IF it is corporate controlled will be too expensive, I am not a big fan of it, but still that’s a huge, huge change.”