A friend of mine once told me of an underground bud so dank that just one bong rip caused him to green out. And he was the type of guy who smoked an eighth a day. While the greatest cannabis plants in the world are reserved for private collections and connoisseurs, some of BC’s legendary bud is surfacing in the best dispensaries around Metro Vancouver. Where is this bud coming from, and what sets BC apart as the mecca of Mary Jane? This article will explore a brief history of the herb, from psychedelic counter-culture to high-tech grow-ops, Marc Emery, Dispensaries, and finally legalization.
In the mid 1960s, the US youth counter-culture exploded: the baby-boomers were reaching adulthood. They comprised America’s new artists, scientists, and ideologues. Never before had a generation been so capable of articulating free-thought and broadcasting it throughout a contry. Two wars were declared on Americans: the war in Vietnam, and the war on drugs. One took away the citizens’ power to live in peace, the other to consume in peace. But the new culture of youth had a voice. With Tim Leary leading the East Coast from Harvard, calling for the young educated class to “turn on, tune in, and drop out,” and Terrence McKenna from the West at Berkeley, telling everyone to question all reality, especially authority, students from all over the country were realizing that they didn’t need to live in Tyranny. Some students openly rebelled: protesting, making art, smoking cannabis, and living life under the constant threat of jail or conscription. Others decided to pack up and move out of the country. Many young students and families, especially from the West coast–California, Oregon, Washington–flocked to the lower mainland of BC, where they could dodge the draft and quietly live out their passions in peace.
The trouble was, none of them could get legal jobs. This posed a problem. If they didn’t make money somehow, they couldn’t afford to live here. The solution? Grow weed. The climate of lower BC, from the Gulf Islands to the Kootenays, is perfect for outdoor growing. Sunny hilltops, lots of privacy, and cheap hydro: a horticulturalist’s dream. And not only that, but this educated class knew that they had the duty to resist and disobey unjust laws. They could feed a family and change the world simultaneously.
So people began growing huge outdoor crops, exporting as much as 95% of it to the US on the black market. And since the growers depended on these crops for their livelyhood, they invested their revenue into making their grow operations that much better. Before long, people were growing in Greenhouses in the winter, raised beds in the summer, and even in their homes. This seriousness with which people approached growing set them apart from small-time grows. And even if you did get caught, Canada’s laws were much more lax than America’s. The most you would get, if you could afford a lawyer and got a fair trial, was a fine of a few thousand dollars. Hardly a risk for a stable, profitable job you can do from home, all while living in the paradise that is BC.
The Move Underground
By the 1980s, the counterculture had died out and cannabis went underground. Consumerism had won the battle over hippie-culture. But this didn’t stop BC’s cannabis horticulture community from evolving. In 1980, the metal halide lightbulb was invented, which produced four times as much light per watt as the traditional incandescent bulb. Growers took advantage of this, and grow-ops went indoors. This was the age of hydroponics. Growers started maximizing the efficiency of their crops, growing huge yields in under four months, experimenting with different nutritional techniques, and breeding hyper-genetic, high-THC strains.
From Johnny Green on theweedblog.com:
“Every so often, I daydream about smoking Canadian marijuana. I remember back in the day, a lot of the super nugs on the West Coast originated in Canada. Some in California might try to argue that they have never let Canadian weed infiltrate their state, due to the awesome weed that is grown in Northern California. I am going to have to ask those people to put their pride aside. All of the BC nugs were grown indoors, and although they weren’t uniform ‘super’ across the board, EVERY nug I saw from Canada was superior to the outdoor I see coming up from California now.”
From Marc Emery in a 2004 interview with John Mackie of The Vancouver Sun."
“Once we were growing indoor hydroponic, all of a sudden pot went from $20 an ounce in 1973 to $200 an ounce in 1983. It was all because it went indoors. It required power, expertise and a lot of care.
People say the pot from the ’60s wasn’t as powerful, but actually it was. But it wasn’t grown very well. It was grown with Old World techniques, the way marijuana was grown 100 years ago: you throw seeds out, it grows, it pollinates, they cross-breed and you get a whole bunch of seedy, stemmy pot growing tall.
Well, the modern-day indoor grower doesn’t let it have seeds, so it’s three times the yield. It’s all smokable, where in the old days a lot of it was seeds and stems and had to be thrown away.”
Marc Emery and Dispensaries
In 1994, Marc Emery moved to Vancouver and opened Hemp BC, where he openly started selling cannabis seeds and paraphernalia, all against the provincial and federal law. But the municipal police tolerated it. Over the next three years, the store had added a grow shop where custom cannabis-growing equipment was invented and manufactured.
He opened the Cannabis Cafe, where guests could freely smoke cannabis, order cannabis-infused meals, and vaporize cannabis from custom machines built into every table. Marc was making 3 million dollars a year, spending most of his revenue on political activism.
By 1997 Marc was named the “Prince of Pot” by CNN, and the name stuck. But the media attention sparked a series of raids on his growing business. Within the year, Emery was banned from the 300 block of West Hastings, and convicted for selling marijuana seeds. He paid his fines and switched to a mail-order only business, continuing to produce his magazine, Cannabis Culture, and his new cannabis video channel, Pot-TV.
By 2003, Emery dreamt of opening a dispensary. It would be a store “like Starbucks,” meant to sell B.C. bud to all types of people.
“You’ll have 20, 25 varieties,” he said. “If they’re smoking it there, fine, if they’re buying it to take away, you vacuum seal it and off they go. If I don’t do it, someone else is going to do it real soon anyway.”
While Emery’s vision had been the correct one, he would not be the one destined to open the dispensaries. Canadian authorities were tolerant of Emery for a time, but in 2005 they were forced by the American DEA to raid his bookstore and arrest him. He was later charged with “Conspiracy to Distribute Marijuana,” “Conspiracy to Distribute Marijuana Seeds,” and “Conspiracy to Engage in Money Laundering”. Over the next 10 years, Emery fought legal battles and was sentenced to prison for 5 years, until his release on July 9, 2014.
During Emery’s incarceration, the cannabis black market exploded. In the peak of 2015, there were over 120 unregulated dispensaries. The city started issuing fines, but since nobody was paying them, they were forced to call a truce and implement a by-law which allowed co-operative dispensaries to obtain business licences in exchange for following criteria like operating at least 300 meters from schools, selling only to adults (19+), and paying $30,000 a year in licencing fees.
Today there are only 67 operating illegally while the rest have either obtained licences or been shut down. The introduction of cannabis-specific business licences was a huge win for weed in BC. It showed that the municipal government was willing to work peacefully with the overwhelming resistance of its own citizens against unjust federal and provincial law.
Public Opinion and Legalization
But that doesn’t mean that everyone is interested in full-on legalization. Of the many people I’ve talked to, most of the long-established growers of BC Bud are against legalization. They claim that the Liberal government’s agenda is not to admit they were wrong–that cannabis is a medicine and good for citizens of all types–but that they want to monopolize the market, thereby “winning” the war by beating the devils at their own game; if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
This appears to be the case in Ontario, where the government plans to shut down all non-sanctioned pot shops and start selling “government-approved” cannabis in liquor stores. While they claim that this measure is to ensure that cannabis is produced to the highest standard possible and kept out of the hands of children, their real motive is to monopolize a 2-billion dollar industry. The existence of government-regulated liquor stores doesn’t stop youth from consuming alcohol, and it won’t stop them from using cannabis. What it will do, however, is destroy the profitability of small and/or underground business: the very business that kept cannabis alive and evolving all of these years.
While this is general opinion in Ontario–the general feeling being outrage–private growers are nevertheless optimistic in BC. BC has a long history of stimulating and supporting small businesses, and the rich history and development of BC Bud here–not to mention the astronomically higher number of growers and producers per capita–ensures that the government will somehow have to include them or face serious backlash.
With legalization months away, it is clear that BC will be a safe-haven for cannabis consumers for the time being. Not only that, but it will allow cannabis production companies to improve their products and expand their businesses without fear. We may just see another boom in the science and culture of weed smoking here in BC: strains bred not only for THC, but for medicine. Maybe in a few years, we can unlock the full potential of the cannabinoid spectrum. We could isolate compounds such as CBN–the cannabinoid which helps you sleep–and replace pharmaceutical sleeping pills.
With BC’s great cannabis community, the future looks optimistic