Wednesday, October 17—the long awaited day that Marijuana became legal in Canada, I went looking for Ernie Yacub. If anyone in the Comox Valley would have a long list of reasons to be celebrating legal weed day in Canada, it had to be Ernie. For over twenty years, Ernie has been the Comox Valley’s most outstanding guiding force behind and voice for the legalization of marijuana.
In 2013 Ernie was instrumental in getting the Comox Valley onto the electoral map as one of the BC communities that signed up enough signatures to pass the Sensible BC ‘ballot initiative’ on marijuana reform. While the initiative didn’t pass in enough BC ridings to require a referendum at that time, the initiative clearly had an impact on Justin Trudeau’s election promise to legalize marijuana in Canada.
In 2011 Comox Valley RCMP arrested Ernie at the North Island Compassion Club headquarters in Courtenay and charged him and Bill Myers with possession for the purposes of trafficking for their involvement in providing marijuana to Comox Valley residents who depended on marijuana for relief of physical ailments such as Multiple Sclerosis and chronic pain.
Ernie intended to argue in court that laws governing the distribution of medical marijuana were in conflict with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms but entered a guilty plea due to the prohibitive costs of a the Charter Challenge and the strong possibility that a win in court might not lead to much change for people who need medical marijuana.
Recognizing Ernie’s commitment to the wellbeing of others and the piles of character references the judge sentenced Ernie to six months probation and a two month curfew. Ernie continued to serve as director of the North Island Compassion Club providing medical marijuana to its more than 230 members in need of marijuana for the maintenance of their health.
So sitting in my sunroom on a beautiful October 17 afternoon, the warm sun seeming to be beaming down its own grateful pronouncement on the momentous changes to marijuana laws that were becoming Canadian law that very day, I asked Ernie, expectantly, “So how does it feel to see such significant changes to cannabis legislation in our lifetimes?” I was expecting something bordering on jubilation, but what I got was somber bordering on dispiriting. “I don’t see much to celebrate,” grumbled Ernie disheartedly.
“But Ernie,” I replied with dismay and shock. “Ernie, This is what you have worked for for so many years. You have focused your life on changing cannabis laws. The whole community looks up to you for the work you did getting us to this day—this very day!”
“Take off the rose coloured glasses, Norm, Ernie grumbled. “This isn’t about making the benefits of cannabis available to all Canadians. It’s the typical Liberal feed a few scraps to the hungry and pile the corporate plate with steaks. Who is benefiting from this—corporations that hope to make a lot of money, but ordinary people will hardly benefit from the cannabis that will be beyond their means.”
“What?” I asked incredulously. “People can now grow their own (well four plants) if they can’t afford cannabis at the pot shop,” I added to back up the What.
“Well,” Ernie began, “They can grow 4 plants. They can’t share the plants and they need to be able to hide the plants from sight. While you have a nice city lot, how many people who really need cannabis rent or own at best an apartment/condo? You won’t be able to buy a small bag of cannabis at your Farmer’s Market or from your neighbor. This whole thing has been written with corporate interests in mind.” It’s interesting that in the American states that have legalized marijuana the black market has not died out. By the time taxes and corporate profits are attached to growers costs the price is at or above black market prices.”
Yikes, I just wasn’t prepared. “Well, you must admit that taking the stigma out of marijuana use is a big step forward—AND—the pardoning of those who the law had attempted to marginalize over a simple toke on a joint—that was a good thing” I was treading the verbal waters trying to figure out what I really wanted to say.
“Well, yes, pardoning those convicted of simple possession is a step in the right direction, but where is the apology? Where is the amnesty?” Ernie asked becoming a bit miffed. “Where is the pardon for those who defied the law to provide vital medicine for those whose lives suffered unnecessarily without the cannabis?” “My gosh, marijuana wasn’t bad for you yesterday and suddenly good for everyone with the stroke of a government pen.”
I’ll be honest I went to Ernie looking for some good news, some optimism, some ray of sunshine that might balance what seems like bleaker than bleak news of the world these days. I didn’t get it from Ernie. I got a few concessions around how at least now we can begin to look at the health benefits of cannabis and the social benefits of not locking up our youth because they happen to be standing in a circle where a joint was being passed around.
But I was looking for some catharsis, some relief from the dismal world news of wars and bombing and the ever escalating damage caused by a warming atmosphere that politicians are less likely to care about than the injustices of cannabis prohibition. So, turning from the news, I went to my local grocer. “How are sales of chips and chocolate doing today?” I asked. He smiled. He knew why I was asking such a question on October 17. “I think we’re seeing a bit of a rush this afternoon,” he smiled. I don’t know if he was happy with the sales data or if, perhaps, he was already experiencing the benefits of our newly proclaimed legislation!