Lisa Campbell has been the Outreach Director for Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy since 2013. As the former Trip! Project Coordinator and having worked as the manager of a needle exchange, Lisa has worked with a diversity of young people who use drugs and continues to advocate for drug policy reform across the globe. She has a plethora of experience in drug policy reform, having served as the Senior North American Representative for Youth RISE’s International Working Group and continues to work tirelessly to end the war on drugs.
Lisa’s work in drug policy reform has brought her around the world as an advocate for young people who use drugs including Lebanon, Portugal, Mexico, UK and the US. She has been featured in both local and international media, including National Geographic, BBC, VICE and the National Post. Most recently she has joined the Pot TV Network as the co-host of TMZ with Matt Mernagh at Vapor Central. On top of her work advocating for youth harm reduction services, Lisa has become one of the top cannabis activists in Canada and is leading the charge towards legalization.
Lisa recently started a cannabis industry lobby group called Women Grow in Toronto, and has just released a drug policy election report card for the Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy (aka CSSDP), which will also be distributed through the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition.
As an arthritis-suffferer I wonder about available alternatives to the powerful meds that are sometimes worse than the disease they’re meant to cure. I wish I had the option of legal cannabis. As the election comes closer, on the occasion of the CSSDP drug policy election report card, I wanted to interview Lisa Campbell. I asked her fifteen questions: five about herself and ten more about the issues.
1) Are you more like your father or your mother?
I think I’m equally influenced by both my parents, who I like to tease about both being legal drug dealers. My mom is very creative and had a long career as a modern dancer, before she trained to be a psychiatrist. I think I get a lot of my creativity and knack for public health and research from her. My father is a successful businessman who imports wine from around the world. Due to these restrictive laws against alcohol sales my dad found himself in a 5 year court battle with the LCBO, and the business had to close temporarily as a punishment by the government. My father’s fight against prohibition inspires me, especially as he’s in an industry that was once completely illegal and still suffers from over regulation. As well, my great grandmother was a bootlegger, and my bubby grew up selling bathtub moonshine as a young girl in inner city Detroit. It’s huge that we’ve taken a once underground illegal industry, legalized it and taken it out of the hands of organized crime. We can do exactly the same thing with cannabis in Canada! We need some policy to regulate based on research and principals of public health.
2) What is the best thing about being an activist?
Being around people who are passionate about what they do! I love the youth volunteers who I get to work with at Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy who are so dedicated to ending prohibition in our lifetime. As well, it’s been so cool to start Women Grow in Toronto as I get to meet so many cool women entrepreneurs with products that are helping people heal.
3) Who do you like to listen to or watch?
I’ve really been into Narcos on Netflix lately, but just because it’s pure DEA propaganda. Similarly I can’t get enough of shows like Weeds or Orange as the New Black that show the ridiculousness of the war on drugs while also incorporating a gender perspective. Jenji Kohan is my heroine! As well, Broad City is doing a lot for cannabis reform in terms of normalization. I also listen to a lot of electronic music and you can follow me on Soundcloud (https://soundcloud.com/qnp/sets)!
4) What ability or skill do you wish you had, that you don’t have?
I wish I had a better memory!
5) When you’re just relaxing and not working what is your favourite thing to do?
I really enjoy cannabis and it is a full time hobby. It’s finally starting to become a job, which is exciting.
Ten more about lobbying for marijuana reform in the federal election.
1) “Women Grow in Toronto” is a cannabis industry lobby group. Talk to me about the hazards of being an activist, and what you are seeking.
Women Grow was started a year ago in Colorado and has grown to be a global movement highlighting the voices of women leaders in the emerging legal cannabis industry. Unlike other established industries with strong gender divides (like tech), if we promote equity from the beginning we can create an inclusive cannabis industry. Women were the founders of the cannabis industry in Canada, with Hillary Black cofounding the BC Compassion Club Society, the first cannabis dispensary back in 1997. Many of the original activists pushing for legalization have been left out of this new cannabis industry, with corporations stepping in mostly run by white guys (no offense). Women Grow is about honouring our roots and promoting more women getting involved as leaders in the cannabis industry, despite the barriers.
Women Grow promotes women entrepreneurs in the emerging cannabis industry in Canada through running Signature Networking Events. While much of this industry is 100% legal, we work with all sides of the cannabis community from grey market businesses like bakers or dispensaries, to Health Canada certified Licensed Producers. Women have always been at the forefront of the cannabis industry as podcasters, bakers, dispensary and vapour lounge owners. None of those businesses fit into the federal governments MMPR regulations for cannabis, although many of them have been existence since the 90s. As Women Grow we represent women from all aspects of the cannabis industry and together we are united for full legalization.
2) Talk to me about marijuana for a moment compared to such ubiquitous products as the valium, and Tylenol in medicine cabinets, or the tobacco & alcohol all around us. How safe is it?
Cannabis can be used as an alternative medicine to many pharmaceuticals and is less physically addictive than benzodiazepines and opiates. In some trials cannabis has shown promise in opiate substitution therapy and for this reason there are many cannabis clinics opening specializing in chronic pain. It is also much less harmful than tobacco and alcohol, although I think it’s important to acknowledge that cannabis use is not without risk. Just like we need regulation for tobacco and alcohol, we need the same for cannabis in order to control sale to minors. While we also need controls for cannabis, we need to find a balance to ensure patient access.
3) What are the criteria you’ll have on the report card?
On top of my work with Women Grow I also am the Outreach Director for Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy. CSSDP recently published an Election Drug Policy Report Card evaluating our federal party leaders on cannabis, harm reduction and mandatory minimums. Not surprisingly the Green Party scored the highest in drug policy, with the Liberals and NDP not too far behind. The only thing the Conservatives didn’t fail was cannabis, as they privatized the medical marijuana program, breaking the federal government monopoly on production. Unfortunately the new MMPR introduced by the conservatives took away patients’ right to grow, but did create a billion dollar industry of over 25 licenced cannabis producers. Meanwhile, Health Canada ironically insists marijuana is not a medicine and that dispensaries are illegal. You can see the whole report card here to see how the party leaders did overall: http://cssdp.org/?p=2235
4) Is there a clear choice in the election?
The Liberal Party and NDP have relatively similar platforms on marijuana. The Liberals are pro-legalization but include little details on how to get there, including timelines. The NDP have said that they would decriminalize cannabis immediately and create a commission to study legalization. Considering the Canadian Medical Association Journal just called legalization a best practice in public health policy, we can guess what kind of policy such a commission would craft. While the Greens have the best drug policy, you should ultimately vote for the candidate with the best choice of beating Harper.
5) How many users are currently estimated to use marijuana? And if so, are there any estimates of how much possible tax revenue legal marijuana could bring in to the government?
Here’s some old stats from the University of Ottawa: http://www.med.uottawa.ca/sim/data/Marijuana_e.htm
- Estimated number of marijuana users in Canada: 2.3 million
- Average age of introduction to marijuana: 15 years old
- Number of people aged 12 – 17 who use daily: 225,0005
- 10% of regular users develop dependency
- Annual Canadian consumption: 770,000 kg.
- Annual production: 2.6 million kg.
- Amount of domestic production consumed in Canada: 30%
- Number of grow operations: 215,000
- Number of people employed in grow operations: 500,000
- Price of 1 ounce of top grade product (enough to produce 20-50 joints: $250
- Annual number of arrests for all offences concerning illegal drugs: 90,000
- Number of reported marijuana offences (1999): 35,000
- Number of reported marijuana offences in 2001: 71,600 (70% for possession)
- Annual cost of enforcing marijuana laws (police and courts): $500 million
- Estimated annual costs associated with substance abuse in Canada:
$1.4 billion for illegal drugs; $7.5 billion for alcohol and $9.6 billion for tobacco.
To top off those old statistics, the new emerging cannabis industry includes 25 Health Canada Licensed Producers (and growing). While I don’t think medical marijuana should be taxed, if we were to expand the MMPR program to allow taxed and regulated recreational production we could eliminate black market production entirely and produce millions in tax revenue.
6) Could you talk about the many good things marijuana does?
Cannabis is a great medicine for so many conditions, including epilepsy, arthritis, chronic pain and nausea. There is a lot of research on cannabis, but very few clinical trials due to its legal status. This makes it hard for governments to regulate it as a medicine and puts physicians in a tough bind. Now that we have licenced producers in Canada, many are starting clinical trials to produce evidence.
Medical cannabis became a movement around the time of the HIV crisis, and to this day medical marijuana dispensaries work closely to help patients coping with the symptoms of HIV and AIDS. I find learned about dispensaries at the World AIDS Conference in Toronto where I met the folks from Cannabis As Living Medicine (CALM) in the harm reduction area. Cannabis is harm reduction as it reduces dependency on pharmaceutical medicine and can be used as complimentary medicine for a variety of conditions.
Personally I enjoy using cannabis for so many reasons. Sometimes I use it as medication for pain or nausea or cramps, other times just for fun! I also have anxiety, so I find that cannabis in low doses can be effective at preventing panic attacks. Ultimately cannabis does not work for everyone, but it helps a lot of patients!
7) What are the current prospects for getting marijuana legalized? Are there any obstacles other than getting the right party elected?
I think that cannabis will be legalized but we need to do it in conjunction with international bodies like the United Nations. In April 2016 the United Nations General Assembly is holding a meeting on drugs during 420. If we can vote in a new government it could mean a progressive voice for legalization at the international table. If Canada and the United States can come out prolegalization at the UN in 2016 then there is hope for a commission which would move towards a flexible interpretation of the drug conventions for cannabis. This commission could also suggest that cannabis be removed as a schedule substance, which might mean that a new convention would be created similar to Tobacco. This would take cannabis out of the control of the International Narcotics Control Board and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and it would become a global commodity similar to alcohol. Ultimately I think global free trade law ironically will be what spearheads legalization, as the new cannabis lobby will take full advantage to get their products to market post legalization.
8) Rona Ambrose attacked the Supreme Court for declaring that medical marijuana could include brownies (with a second side shot at Justin Trudeau for good measure). Please talk about the alternatives to smoking, thinking less of home-baked items than the commercially available products.
The Supreme Court of Canada declared that all medical cannabis patients have the right to cannabis in all of its various forms, including cookies and brownies. There are many ways to extract and consume cannabis, as THC is fat and alcohol soluble. You can extract it in oils like butter or olive oil to use in cooking, or you could use alcohol to create a tincture. There are a few other solvents you can use to create things like Rick Simpson Oil, BHO, CO2 and other cannabis oils but I wouldn’t suggest trying them at home. RSO is available for $25 a syringe and is very popular with cancer and epilepsy patients as you just take a small dose once or twice a day. While oils are starting to become available through Licensed Producers, many patients rely on compassion clubs to find their medicine. The City of Vancouver has banned the sale of food at dispensaries, so now you can just buy oil or butter. Toronto dispensaries sell edibles still, but be careful to read the strength and mind your dose!
9) In an election where we talk about the economy, immigrants dying while escaping foreign tyranny, deployments of our military, and the behaviour of our Prime Minister in suppressing democracy, how important is cannabis as an election issue?
Over 60,000 Canadians are charged with cannabis offenses annually, with ¼ of Ontario students having tried the drug. That’s one and four families that are affected by cannabis prohibition! If you were to take ¼ of families of MPs and put them in jail then it would be a political issue, but most people with power in Canada aren’t affected. It’s poor people, people of colour, the homeless, etc. who are charged for cannabis. Most rich people have the privilege to smoke pot in their back yard and ignore the war on drugs, while youth of colour are incarcerated. To top this off native communities are disproportionately represented in our prison system, many for non-violent drug crimes. Cannabis is an election issue because it is a social justice issue!
10) Do you have any influences teachers or mentors you admire in your activism?
I grew up in the cannabis culture, reading Cannabis Culture Magazine, attending Freedom Festival in my teens and 420 rallies through my 20s. I used to idolize people like Marc Emery but now that I’m a grown up these people are also my peers. My biggest mentors in the movement are folks like Dana Larsen from Sensible BC and Matt Mernagh from 420 Toronto. These are guys that understand social justice and support grassroots cannabis activists from all stripes. They’re politically engaged, media savy and they fight to win!
Now that I’m older and more involved in the movement from a leadership perspective I realize that there are so many women warriors who have been fighting from the beginning. Women like Hillary Black and Rielle Capler from the early days of the BC Compassion Club Society, Abi Roach from Hot Box Café, Erin Goodwin from Vapor Central and activist Tracy Curley. Jamie Shaw and Shega A’Mula from Women Grow Vancouver / CAMCD also rock my world!
The Canadian Federal election is October 19th, when there is a clear choice as far as drug policy choices. The Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy report card offers a perspective.