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Grand Forks

From Russia with Love? A B.C. Bud Retrospective by Grand Forks Mayor Brian Taylor

In the spring of 1993, I moved from Kelowna, B.C., to Grand Forks, and was both shocked and pleasantly surprised to discover the Doukhobors, who had arrived from Russia at the turn of the century, had a culture that included a rich history of cannabis. Doukhobors in Grand Forks had carefully stored the hemp and flax garments from earlier times, in trunks and closets, cased in plastic and saved as artifacts. 

I had started my cannabis journey in the ’80s, questioning marijuana laws and eventually started the group CALM, the Canadian Association for the Legalization of Marijuana. Naturally, we made Willie Nelson the first member.

Grand Forks: The Promised Land

After reading Jack Herer’s influential book The Emperor Wears No Clothes, I had decided that the economics of hemp would surely open the eyes of the world and my arrival in Grand Forks was not by chance, but my destiny.

I and a growing group of pilgrims began to dig deeper into the history of hemp in the Boundary region. We were approached by elderly members of the Doukhobor community with stories of how hemp was brought from Russia and grown in the valley for seed, eaten raw or roasted, and added to soups. Hemp was used as a windbreak and woven into garments or woven into floor mats.

Grand Forks sign

I had clearly arrived in the promised land.

A Campfire With Jack Herer

Later in the fall of ’93, the world-famous author himself Jack Herer was the guest speaker at the Salmo Hemp Fest. Our group from Grand Forks arrived with an old hemp trappers’ tent and a new flag made by some of the dedicated old guard Babas, the matriarchs from the Gilpin Doukhobor community. 

As the first day drew to a close, after all the speeches and with the non-stop drumming continuing in the background, Jack, as he loved to do, was hosting a discussion with a group of 20 or more admiring fans around a roaring campfire. Jack was making his well-rehearsed argument that hemp would save the world from itself and that as we awoke to the potentials of the plant, the walls would crumble.

Far in the back and fighting for airtime were other voices. I recognized some as founders of the Holy Smoke from Nelson, B.C. Paul DeFelice, Dustin Cantwell, and others were expressing their appreciation that Jack and the hemp revolution were putting the spotlight on cannabis, but they pressed their message that the medicinal use of the plant would in the near future become the greatest influence on cannabis decriminalization. Hemp had opened the door, but the medical use of cannabis would kick that door down.

The Impact of ‘Medical’ Marijuana

And so it came to pass around 2001/2002, I became one of the early designated growers. I watched as poorly written medical marijuana regulations allowed increased access to thousands of new patients, but also allowed for enterprising entrepreneurs to grow larger and larger quantities that were marketed to the general public.

As I waited in the jam-packed waiting room to see a doctor in Vernon to get my own personal license, I struck up a conversation with a family of five who was waiting for approval for personal licenses. They were not organized crime, they were farmers and enjoyed their craft, and felt comfortable working in the illicit market.

I too, crossed the line. In my first experiences as a designated grower, I was committed to teaching patients to grow their own. I sent seeds and detailed instructions, I was available by phone and eventually,  I learned some valuable lessons.

A number of my patients became more ill and some died. I tried to stick to the vague rules of cost recovery but quickly learned that as well-intentioned as many patients were, most of the chronically ill were also very poor, and paying me meant sacrificing meals and other medications.

Grand Forks Cannabis

I began to send the medication to patients for free, and thus I became part of what we now euphemistically call the grey market. My rationale was based on my personal discovery of the medical benefits and my refusal to accept the rules of a failed system that denied this relief to so many.

And where will the medical use of marijuana in Canada go from here? How many times have you been asked, “Where can I get some medical cannabis?” As David Malmo-Levine is oft to say, all cannabis is medical.

The Future of Medical Cannabis

The federal government is launching a new initiative aimed a tightening the regulations governing the patient and designated grower. Washington state and other jurisdictions have simply melded the recreational and the medical together by removing tax relief and dosage regulations. Science is fracturing the plant into more components and new genetics are complimenting the search for more effective medical applications.

In the future when asked, “Where can I get medical marijuana?” my answer will be, “from your garden”. Better genetics will allow the home grower to successfully grow quality organic strains of cannabis and small technology will allow the home grower to make infusions to make hash and extracts and to share with family and friends. 

I am happy to see more targeted research into the complex composition of this miraculous plant, but for myself and many others, the true medical benefits will come from the consumption of the whole plant grown with love in my own garden. 

(Author’s note: the flag referred to above and made by the Doukhobors was stolen from a clothesline after a wet 420 event.)

Brian Taylor is a longtime cannabis advocate and the mayor of Grand Forks, B.C.

Grand Forks mayor Brian Taylor