Read the rest of the articles in the The History of Cannabis in Canada series.
Psychedelic Culture Blossoms
Despite draconian laws, cannabis use dramatically increased in Canada during the 1960s. The popularity of beatnik literature and folk music on college campuses helped “beat” culture to flourish, evolving into a larger movement the media first called “fringies” and then “hippies.”
The sudden popularity of a new substance called LSD altered the consciousness of a wider counter culture, urged by psychedelic advocate Timothy Leary to “tune in, turn on and drop out” of conventional society.
The first generation to grow up in fear of the nuclear bomb also became a generation which questioned the establishment. Marijuana was widely used by the hippies, who helped to inspire new social movements such as anti-war demonstrations, political activism, feminism and environmentalism.
Folk-rock singer Bob Dylan introduced the Beatles to pot in 1964, and their extremely popular record Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) and subsequent Magical Mystery Tour did much to popularize drug experimentation. Many of the legendary rock bands of the late ’60s were inspired by grass and psychedelics, including Canadian artists like Robbie Robertson, the Guess Who and Steppenwolf, and US bands like The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and The Doors.
This was a period of dramatic expansion for cannabis culture. The number of Canadian pot smokers doubled between the years 1960 and 1965, then doubled twice more between 1966 and 1970. In 1966, one post secondary student in 25 was a marijuana smoker and that total leaped to almost one in three by 1970.
The Summer of Love
1967 was the “Summer of Love” when thousands of hippies and young runaways descended into the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. The new psychedelic rock music called “the San Francisco Sound” spread the message to “feed your head.”
The “heads” gathered together, first at “love-ins” held in city parks, then at large rock festivals held at remote rural locations where thousands of people could listen to the new acid rock bands and smoke pot openly without the presence of police.
All across North America, a new feature was being added to apartments and college dormatories: the “head room.”
With day-glo psychedelic posters, lava-lamps and covered windows, the head room was a sanctuary were marijuana users could shut themselves away from police and be with others of their own kind.
Songs with lyrics about marijuana played constantly on popular music stations. Some references were explicit, while others were hidden between the lines to bypass censors.
In an era when poets strove for metaphors to avoid persecution, “Flower Power” became a way of saying the unsayable about marijuana: its spirit was an essential driving force behind the cultural revolution.
Draft Dodgers and Communes
From 1965 to 1973, the United States entered full-scale into the hideous Vietnam War. Peace-loving Americans flowed northward, fleeing conscription. Canada became saturated with American poets, peace activists and pot growers.
These illegal refugees were unable to hold legal employment, and so many turned to growing cannabis. Many settled in British Columbia, bringing with them innovative indoor growing techniques. While beat poets puffed pot in crowded Toronto nightclubs, back-to-the-land hippies lay naked on the sand and huffed herb in places like Vancouver’s nudist Wreck Beach.
Communes were most prolific on the West Coast, but the most famous of all was Southern Ontario’s Church of the Universe, founded in 1969. Church members professed marijuana to be the sacred Tree of Life.