Up in Smoke: Open Forum to Examine the Unintended Consequences of Marijuana Laws

Marijuana and other cannabis products are the most widely abused and readily available illicit drugs in Canada. Law enforcement intelligence indicates that marijuana traffickers are increasingly are cultivating cannabis indoors. Such indoor grow operations have become an enormous and lucrative illicit industry, producing a potent form of marijuana that has come to be commonly known as “BC Bud.” The Okanagan cannabis industry is worth an estimated $4 billion annually, making cannabis among the most valuable cash crops.

In the last year Mayors from Vancouver, Vernon, Armstrong, Enderby, Lake Country and other communities, four former BC attorneys general, and a host of police, health officers and academics have challenged provincial and federal governments to reform Canadian laws. John McKay, former high-profile US federal prosecutor who helped jail Canada’s “Prince of Pot,” Marc Emery, joined calls to end prohibition in favour of regulation and taxation. They all argue prohibition has led to large-scale grow-ops, increased organized crime, ongoing gang violence, and larger police budgets.

It is time to tax and strictly regulate marijuana under a public health framework. Such a move would allow the government to address health issues, raise government revenue and eliminate profits going to organized crime. Many Canadians could benefit from judicious access to medical marijuana. Canada’s current legal regime for medical marijuana use critics say is unconstitutional, unnecessarily cumbersome, and dangerous for seriously ill patients. Recent reports have also shown that Health Canada lacks the resources and personnel required to monitor the program to ensure that it is not being abused by criminal elements.

On Thursday, July 12th at 5 pm the ongoing Okanagan Institute Express series at the Bohemian Café, 524 Bernard Avenue, Kelowna presents Up In Smoke: Getting the Lowdown on Pot. Join us to explore how the laws that regulate the growth and sale of marijuana for personal and medicinal use have resulted in unintended consequences.

Sheila Lewis has grown up, lived, worked, and studied in the Okanagan. Sheila was raised in Vernon, BC, where she first began her post-secondary career. She completed her Interdisciplinary Master’s Degree in Human Geography and Anthropology in 2010 at UBC Okanagan in Kelowna. Sheila has held a lifelong passion for addressing class division, racism, discrimination, disability rights, identity rights, and equity rights. She met Rob Callaway while completing her master’s degree, and through her relationship with him came to have a better sense of the negative consequences associated with the prohibition of cannabis at the local, provincial, national, and international levels, as well as the many evidence-based health benefits associated with the use of cannabis.

Rob Callaway, who is Sheila’s life partner, is a dedicated cannabis activist and has an Interdisciplinary Master’s Degree in Psychology and Health from UBC Okanagan. Currently, he is working in Vancouver with other prominent and life-long activists and initiated a collaborative national cannabis research project that includes local community organizations, national non-profit organizations, and academia. Sheila will be sharing both her and Rob’s experiences in relation to prohibition, the use of cannabis for medical purposes, and the various ways activists are pursuing the goal of equity and safety for all Canadians. Two recent booklets by David Malmo-Levine and Rob Callaway are available for download on the Okanagan Institute website.

Rose Sexsmith was born in Lebanon and immigrated to Canada in 1956. She grew up in Calgary, but in 1978 after getting married and having a couple of kids, decided Kelowna was the place she wanted to raise her children. “It felt like coming home” I knew this is where I belong.” In 1993 she and her partners built and opened Rose’s Waterfront Pub which was a hit as soon as it opened – great location, great staff, and great community. In the last number of years Rose has been traveling and discovering other cultures. Recently she visited Amsterdam and their “coffee shops”, an accepted local code for where pot is sold and consumed. These businesses are illegal, but very popular. Rose will share what she learned in conversation with patrons and those in the community on how the social effects of ‘coffee houses’.

Kelly Hayes, 46, is a veteran multimedia journalist who started his career in news radio before moving to the internet. Hayes is currently a videographer with Castanet Media and was the first journalist to introduce video news to the Okanagan Valley. Hayes’ passion is covering world conflict including Afghanistan and Libya. Hayes also has extensive knowledge and experience covering the controversial issue of legalization of marijuana, having done several stories and features on the subject.

Phil Johnson was 13, moving from a Northern Alberta farm to the 50’s metropolis that was Edmonton when he first heard rock and roll radio. As Bill Hailey and the Comets hit the top of the charts with “Rock around the Clock”, Phil knew one thing – he wanted to be on radio. For at least half of his 60 plus years, Phil has been sitting behind a microphone, in some capacity or another – most recently, as the morning News/Talk host at AM-1150.Each day he has the pleasure of waking up the Kelowna market, telling stories of the community, asking the questions, wondering why … and speculating on the answers. One morning this past May he pushed BC Conservative leader, John Cummins, on the growing controversy of legalizing marijuana.


Two recent booklets by David Malmo-Levine and Rob Callaway on the medical use of cannibis are available as PDFs – click images below to download.

Up In Smoke: Getting the Lowdown on Pot takes place at the Bohemian Cafe, 524 Bernard Avenue, Kelowna. This marks the 234th event the Okanagan Institute has held since the Express series got underway in 2007. Express is presented in association with the Okanagan Media Alliance, Okanagan Regional Library and Okanagan College.