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Formerly Westleaf Inc.

Stirring the pot: This veteran went from the Air Force to the cannabis business

Shon Williams knew almost nothing about cannabis a few years ago.

The Air Force veteran’s only personal experience with marijuana was “one little puff” when he was in the ninth grade, which he said he dutifully put on his military security clearance. But when a cannabis company reached out to him on LinkedIn with a job opening, Williams gave it a look.

What he found was a product that he believes in and an industry where he could put his military skills to good use. He is now the chief development officer at Westleaf, a company based in Alberta, Canada, that grows, extracts and sells marijuana products.

“If you go into it with an open mind, you’ll see that people are really benefiting from this plant,” he said. “I’m not saying it’s nirvana and can solve all the world’s problems or anything, but there’s definitely a place for it.”

Williams graduated from West Point in 1994 with a degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering. He would later pick up two master’s degrees, one in astronautical engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology and another in military operational arts and sciences from Air University’s Air Command and Staff College.

He began his Air Force career in 1994 and retired as a lieutenant colonel in 2014. During his military service, he did everything from flight-testing airplanes to modeling the effects of nuclear weapons to helping facilitate large-scale military sales of fighter planes. Williams also deployed to Afghanistan during his last five years in the Air Force.

“You spend 24 years in uniform, you do a few things,” he said.

Williams even applied and got called in to interview with NASA to be an astronaut, though that ultimately didn’t pan out, he said.

His first job after the military was at an aerospace company. Soon after taking that job, a recruiter from the Denver-based cannabis company Mjardin Group messaged him via LinkedIn. The recruiter was looking for someone based in Denver and from outside the industry to join their team, Williams said.

“When the first company contacted me, I was like, ‘Why would they want somebody like me?’” he said. “But I realized that as the industry matures, it’s a real business and needs people of all kinds of skill sets.”

He took that position, and a year and a half later, he left to start his own cannabis company, with a few friends and colleagues. Ten months after launching that endeavor, Williams sold his company and joined forces with Westleaf.

His military skills have translated well to the cannabis industry, he said, especially his experiences leading, doing organizational tasks, working in the engineering field, and designing and managing programs.

“If you’re going to run a good business and be able to compete with others and deliver good quality products to people that are safe … I found them to be surprisingly transferable and really good skills to have,” he said.

Westleaf is currently looking to expand throughout western Canada, Williams said. It’s constructing a new factory in Saskatchewan, opened its first retail store in January and has another 25 stores planned to open by the end of the year.

There are no current plans to expand to the United States, according to Williams, due partly to the stricter marijuana laws.

Unlike the U.S., both recreational and medical marijuana are legal throughout Canada. Thirty-three states have currently de-criminalized marijuana in some form, and of those, only 10 plus Washington, D.C., have legalized it for both medical and recreational purposes.The Department of Defense has only just begun looking into whether it will allow military personnel to invest in cannabis companies while maintaining a security clearance.

Marijuana is currently classified by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration as a Schedule 1 substance, or one the government has decided doesn’t have any medical benefits and can be easily abused.

Williams said he used to believe that marijuana was “a bad drug that’s akin to heroin.” Now he’s convinced that it can help people, including veterans dealing with symptoms related to PTSD.

“The more I’ve learned about the plant and talked to people, I’ve come 100 percent to the conclusion that it doesn’t belong in Schedule 1,” he said. “I’m not saying there are no negatives to it, but overall it has a very important place in some people’s lives.”

He encouraged anyone skeptical of its potential medical benefits — who just consider cannabis companies to be glorified weed dealers — to research before they make a judgment.

“I hope that myself and people like me that aren’t long-time cannabis folks can help to change that stigma,” he said. “I’d also say to people to do their homework. There’s literature about it … Put a body of evidence together for yourself.”

Williams also advised veterans interested in pursuing careers in cannabis to “play to their strengths” that they picked up in the military, just like he did.

“Just have fun with the journey,” he said. “It’s an exciting industry and an interesting plant.”

A Look at Westleaf (WSLFF)(WL:CA) and Vertical Integration in the Cannabis Industry

Vertical integration in the cannabis industry has strong benefits especially in states that are newly passing medical-based legalization. A few of the positive benefits of vertical integration is that on a regulatory side, inspectors do not have to spread themselves thin.Furthermore, as cultivators and retailers work together, the price of cannabis would continue to fall, which would benefit consumers in the long run. In addition, growers essentially have special access to consumers and their preferences, which allows them to track data more directly, and, in turn, make decision at the seed level about what strain to plant for the next harvest.

Westleaf’s Vertical Plan

One Canadian company that is moving fast in this direction is Westleaf WSLFF  (WL:CA[CDX] – $2.20 0.07 (3.08%)   ). First, on the retail side, the company has what we see as a very unique, high-end retail concept. Prarie Records is the name of Westleaf’s flagship retail concept and their first store will soon be opening in Warman, Saskatchewan.

The retail shop links cannabis and music by allowing customers to peruse cannabis strains and profiles like they would at a record shop. In a bin, cannabis descriptions will be printed on albums covers and will include playlists to accompany selections. The company will also have a matching e-commerce site that mimics the engaging in-store experience. Plus, the company is going to open another Prarie Records in Banff, the Albertan resort town, sometime this summer.

The company plans to follow a similar strategy focusing on high foot-traffic and tourist-packed areas. According to their investor presentation, Westleaf is targeting 30-50 retails shops across provinces that allow for vertical integration.

In that regard, the company is developing a series of cannabis brands that are flower or derivatives. At the moment, thanks to the development of their Thunderchild Facility (the cultivation site is located on lands owned by the Thunderchild First Nation and is anticipated to provide a source of long-term employment for as many as 150 people from the region) in Battleford, Saskatchewan, the company has 7,300 kg of flower in process, while 14,600 kg will be available after Phase 2 is complete, and, lastly, Phase 3 will top out at 29,200 kg.

Recently, the company also closed a term sheet with Xabis Inc. that will see the latter offer extraction expertise at their Calgary plant. This was another step in Hurd and Westleaf’s march toward vertical integration and we have a feeling more M&A announcement are up ahead.

Westleaf (WL.V) cannabis concept is music to the ears

In his influential 1949 book: The Organization of Behavior, Canadian psychologist Donald Hebb theorized that “one thought is more likely to trigger another thought” if those two thoughts are linked together multiple times in the past.

This concept has been employed to good effect in the world of branding.

When a Bronx, NY ice-cream manufacturer realised Americans associate Europe with delicious ice cream – it launched Häagen-Dazs – with those impudent umlauts (double dots) hovering over the first “a”.

Häagen-Dazs was more American than Harley-Davidson (HOG.NYSE) – but once that European association was made – it stuck.

The retail concept behind Westleaf’s (WL.V) Prairie Records acknowledges the nostalgic link between music and cannabis.

Hurd accepts that the current Canadian cannabis marketing regulations make it almost impossible to create powerful retail brands.  He’s bypassing that by creating a strong brand association between the customer and the store (rather than the product).

In a recent excellent interview with The Midas Letter, the interviewer James West blurted out: “Nine times out of ten when I went to a record store as a young person, I was high!”

“I first heard about the Prairie Records cannabis retail business model mid last year,” wrote Equity Guru’s Chris Parry, “And my first thought upon seeing it was, this will never be allowed. But here we are, and the first Prairie Records store actually exists now.”

On March 18, 2019, Westleaf (WL.V) announced the execution of a term sheet with a Colorado-based cannabis processing company, Xabis, whereby Xabis will lend expertise to WL’s Calgary cannabis extraction and production facility.

Xabis provides turnkey operations for companies in “the mid-stream of the cannabis industry”. Its team of PHDs and scientists manage all aspects of the extraction and manufacturing of cannabis infused products.

After Westleaf consolidates its interest in The Plant to 100%, the facility formerly known as Delta West, will be rebranded The Plant by Westleaf Labs.

Westleaf is anticipating the 2019 legalisation of cannabis derivative products (consumables, topicals and other cannabis infused items).

After receiving a green light from Health Canada, The Plant by Westleaf Labs is expected to produce cannabis derivative products.

Term Sheet Highlights:

Industry Leading Expertise – Xabis is a leader in design, construction and management of cannabis extraction and manufacturing facilities, as well as product development:

Xabis has developed more than two hundred product SKUs, including oil based oral solutions, gummy edibles, hard pressed tablets, water soluble powders, oil-based capsules, body melt capsules and suppositories.

High Margin Products – a diversified offering of derivative cannabis products will account for the majority of consumer demand. Westleaf is focused on product formulations to produce vape cartridges, edibles, beverages, and topicals to meet this expected demand.

Global Ambitions – The Plant is being built to EU Good Manufacturing Process (GMP) specifications to ensure export capabilities.

Scalability – The Plant’s 15,000 sq. ft. complex can be expanded to 60,000 sq feet. The design includes R&D, processing, extraction, manufacturing and order fulfillment. Construction is expected to be complete in summer 2019.

Multiple Revenue Streams – As well as diversified cannabis derivative products, Westleaf plans to offer white labeling services for 3rd parties, and contract manufacturing services for raw extract and distillation.

Vertically Integration – With cultivation, extraction, processing, manufacturing, distribution and 1005 owned retail assets, Westleaf is positioned to protect margins across the life cycle of the industry.

Xabis has designed, built, and operated facilities in 5 US states where medical or recreational cannabis has been legalized.

The move by Xabis into the Canadian market under an exclusive relationship with Westleaf.

Xabis services:

  • Complete on-site extraction and manufacturing operations
  • Compliance, inventory management, supply chain and HR
  • Facility & systems design and implementation
  • License application support
  • Product development

“We believe a diversified offering of derivative cannabis products will account for a major shift in consumer demand once legal,” stated Scott Hurd, President and CEO of Westleaf, “We are positioning to formulate unique, high quality derivative products.”

Brand round up:

  • ‘General Admission’ – targets the recreational adult market
  • ‘Loon’ – embraces health and wellness
  • ‘Backstage’ – premium label for the recreational user
  • ‘Westleaf Cannabis’ — medicinal cannabis for pain alleviation and healing.

Tilray (TLRY.Q) invested $2.9 million in Westleaf, Vivo (VIVO.V) invested $5 million, and ATB Financial committed $30 million.

“We are entirely focused on the plant-to-product portion of the value chain,” explains Dale Zink, CEO of Xabis. “From the end of the grow to the final processed product shipping out to the retail store or dispensary.”

“We are reinventing the cannabis experience by leveraging a tactile, musically themed, shopping journey through a record store-style concept,” confirmed Hurd in a Trend Hunter interview, “allowing consumers to engage and educate themselves on products.”

Full Disclosure: Westleaf is an Equity Guru marketing client, and we own the stock.

Disclaimer: ALWAYS DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH and consult with a licensed investment professional before making an investment. This communication should not be used as a basis for making any investment.

Westleaf and Ace Valley partner on cannabis stores

The companies will pursue locations in Ontario that offer a “highly curated” retail experience.

Cannabis retail company Westleaf has established a partnership with cannabis brand Ace Valley to pursue the creation of Ace Valley retail locations in Ontario.

As part of the strategic partnership and brand licensing deal, Westleaf will help create the customer experience in Ace Valley-branded stores, providing guidance on operating procedures and best practices. Ace Valley – founded by the creators of the Ace Hill craft beer brand, with products sourced from licensed producer Flowr – will collaborate with Westleaf on design, merchandising and marketing efforts.

Westleaf is the company behind Prairie Records, a recreational cannabis store that takes inspiration from record stores to not only create a welcoming atmosphere, but helps to guide customers through the cannabis buying experience with “record sleeves” that contain information about different products and strains. It is looking to open the banner in provinces where private sale of cannabis is permitted, including Ontario.

Adam Coates, VP of sales and marketing at Westleaf, says the plan is to still pursue the opening of Prairie Records locations in Ontario. But establishing a partnership with Ace Valley, he says, is a way to connect more directly with consumers in Ontario through a “highly curated” retail experience built on the brand’s existing roots and expertise in the province.

“We have ‘prairie’ right in the name,” Coates says. “One thing that’s really great is Ace Hill already knows that millennial consumer really well and is in tune with the Ontario market. We’re coming from Western Canada and we are going to bring our concept to Ontario, but when you have an opportunity to talk to consumers Ace Valley is already talking to, it made a lot of sense to put together this partnership.”

Coates adds that the track record Ace Hill has with the way it has presented and marketed the brand – a simplified approach that focuses on quality and personalized consumer experiences – and seeing that same approach being applied to Ace Valley also made the brand an attractive partner.

Last week, the Ontario government announced changes to its private cannabis retail plans, introducing a cap on the number of licenses issued at 25 during the “initial phase” of the rollout in April. Who receives those licenses will be decided by a random lottery. The new PC government led by premier Doug Ford scrapped the public retail plans of the previous government after taking power in the summer, though physical retail would not be operating until April 2019 due to the late stage at which the change was made. The government had initially said it would not cap the number of cannabis retail licenses, but said last week it had decided to move towards a “phased approach” in response to supply shortages across Canada.

The last several weeks have also seen municipalities across the province accept the Ford government’s offer of being able to “opt out” of having private retail locations within their borders until they decide to opt in at a later date.

Coates says that while the cap caught many in the industry by surprise and may push Westleaf’s timelines back if the company doesn’t win a license, it doesn’t change it plans to enter Ontario, adding that it was already taking a “long term view.” He also says that the municipalities that opted out were not ones it was planning to be active in anyway, as it is targeting high-density, high-traffic areas, such as major urban centres (many of which have decided not to opt out, as of this writing) and tourist and resort areas.

Westleaf Cannabis Inc. Cannabis & Music


It’s no surprise that cannabis and music go hand-in-hand and have for multiple decades. While each person’s musical tastes differ, there’s no denying that when you pair cannabis with your favourite song, you have a truly elevated experience. Knowing this and leveraging it to offer Canadians a truly unique offering, Westleaf Cannabis Inc. created its retail banner, Prairie Records. This retail store merges the instinctual ties between cannabis and music to create an unprecedented in-store retail experience, replicating a modern-day record shop. Adam Coates, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Westleaf Cannabis Inc., has been spearheading the retail brand strategy and believes it will be well received with consumers when the company rolls out its national retail footprint later this year. “Whether you are a cannabis connoisseur or a first-time user, Prairie Records will offer a welcoming and memorable environment to everyone who walks through the doors,” says Coates.

The in-store design will provide a cool ambiance with a retro-style feel that is both modern and sophisticated. From record store display fixtures to listening stations with curated beats that compliment specific strains to private nooks for consultations, Prairie Records will offer consumers a highly interactive in-store experience, which replicates an iconic but contemporary record shop. Prairie Records will take you back to the days of browsing through records—with a specially curated cannabis twist. Each store will be stocked with ‘album covers,’ but instead of track lists and album credits, the covers will include strain information, the format, consumption methods, as well as the THC and CBD levels. By providing consumers with a tactile in-store experience, Prairie Records seeks to educate, enlighten and engage its shoppers in a unique way. “Given the restrictions cannabis companies have in regard to marketing within the newly legalized space, we’ve been tasked with getting creative to overcome those challenges by offering Canadians a retail experience which is different but approachable, relatable and inviting,” says Coates.

Keeping in line with regulations, all cannabis products will be stored behind lock and key, but the design of the store allows for an interactive experience from all angles. Whether it’s having access to tablets where shoppers can browse or taking part in a one-on-one consultation with store staff, consumers will have multiple touchpoints throughout the store. Once consumers have chosen their ‘record,’ they’ll bring it over to the checkout counter, where they will be given their product and an overview of its offering. “Education is paramount to us at Prairie Records.

We want to ensure every customer walking out of our store is feeling informed and comfortable with the product they have chosen to purchase,” says Coates. “Our staff will be taking part in a thorough training program so they are equipped with the tools to educate and trained to understand each customer’s needs,” says Coates. Prairie Records will have a robust offering of products, helping to satiate and fulfill its customers’ wide-ranging needs.

Prairie Records is set to open its first retail store in Calgary, Alberta, later this year in the iconic Palace Theatre on Stephen Avenue. Come 2019, the company has plans to roll out its retail footprint across Western Canada, with the second set to open in Warman, Saskatchewan. As each store opens, the company will be looking for ways to engage the local music and arts scene in the communities in which it operates.

As a vertically integrated cannabis company, Westleaf is currently building a world-class cultivation facility in Battleford, Saskatchewan, which will allow for it to develop and manufacture a diversified offering of cannabis products. The production site will be completed by the end of 2019. Westleaf will also have an extraction and research and development facility in Calgary, Alberta.

For more information, please visit the following:

Prairie Records Website: https://www.prairierecords.ca
Prairie Records Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/prairierecords

Saskatchewan First Nation invests $8 million in Calgary cannabis company

Dave Dormer – CBC News

A Calgary-based cannabis company is partnering with a Saskatchewan First Nation to build a pair of production facilities in the two provinces, along with a chain of retail stores across Western Canada.

An $8 million investment by Thunderchild First Nation makes it the largest shareholder of Westleaf Cannabis, a vertically integrated company based in Calgary — meaning it will control its own production and distribution of marijuana.

“The band has supported Westleaf since its inception over 12 months ago, and helped us bring the Westleaf vision to life by providing a large-scale investment during our preliminary business development phase,” said Scott Hurd, president and CEO of Westleaf.

“What’s unique about this partnership is really the authentic relationship that we’ve formed between Th

underchild and Westleaf and it really extends beyond just a business deal. We share similar values, we both have roots in the Prairies and we both want to invest in the communities that we serve.”

Hurd says construction began Monday on a 115,000 sq.-ft. indoor production facility in Battleford, Sask., on land owned by Thunderchild First Nation, which will take 10 to 12 months to complete.



“At full scale, this project will create approximately 150 … job opportunities and we’re in the process of implementing an institutional-quality training program that will allow for the development and advancement of our employees’ careers.”

Scott Hurd, President and CEO of Westleaf Cannabis. (Westleaf Cannabis)

Chief Delbert Wapass will serve as a board member with Westleaf on behalf of Thunderchild First Nation.

Westleaf has also applied to build a 60,000 sq.-ft. indoor production facility in an industrial space in Calgary’s southeast quadrant, and the company expects to begin construction in the next 30 days, which will also take 10 to 12 months to complete.

When in operation, Hurd said the facility will employ up to 80 full-time staff members.

A source with the city confirmed the building permit application and said Westleaf is one of a number of companies that have made applications for a production facility in Calgary.


Adam Coates is the vice-president of sales and marketing with Westleaf Cannabis. (Westleaf Cannabis

Westleaf also plans to open a number of retail stores across Western Canada, once recreational marijuana is legalization on Oct. 17, under the name Prairie Records. Along with producing marijuana flower, or bud, the company will create and sell derivative products.

“There’s all different types of products that can be formulated that would be called a derivative, which include edibles, vape pens, topicals, tinctures for oil consumption. We intend to have a fairly wide and diverse product offering,” said Hurd.

Stores across Western Canada

Westleaf has made applications to open five stores in Calgary and two in Edmonton, along with a number of other Alberta municipalities under the Prairie Records label. Hurd says the company holds leases on the locations, contingent on being awarded a retail licence.

Westleaf has also applied for a retail licence in the city of Warman, north of Saskatoon, as they were one of 51 companies selected in a recent lottery.

Companies awarded a retail licence in Saskatchewan will also be able to sell online in that province.

B.C. recently released its regulations around retail outlets and Westleaf plans to apply for three to six locations in that province, with at least one likely being in the Lower Mainland area, said Adam Coates, vice-president of sales and marketing.

One of Westleaf’s applications in Calgary is to open a business at the Palace Theatre. It will have the look and feel of a record store, but will sell marijuana, Coates said.

“It really fits our concept really well of being relevant locally, then creating a unique customer experience, all tied in with music,” he said.

“Music is kind of that universal thing, everyone has a relationship with it. There’s music for different moods and different occasions and we’re going to bring education … to tie that right along with cannabis, once it becomes legal.”

Two other applications have been made for retail stores one block east from that location, however, and there are liquor stores on either side.

A biography of cannabis

Ian Brown Globe and Mail

In the end, all this fuss comes down to a plant.

The media frenzy about the legalization of cannabis in Canada on Oct. 17, the pumping and dumping of stocks, small craft cannabis growers versus $6-billion weed factories, the black market or the legal one, how the provinces will and won’t sell it, the vast claims (cures cancer!), the endless complaints (edibles won’t be legal for a year?) − is finally, in the end, about our strange and bottomless obsession with a saw-leaved weed.

Where did it come from? How does it grow? Why was it forbidden fruit for such a long time? What does it really do to us? And why are we so obsessed with it? Herewith, a short biography of the cannabis plant.

It’s an annual − a hardy weed that grows almost anywhere, from seed or (these days) from clippings and clones, indoors under lights or outdoors under nothing more than sunlight. The plants can be anywhere from less than a metre to six metres high. Male plants are frailer, and often culled before they pollinate the females. This makes the sexually frustrated females overproduce flowers, upon which grow the trichomes that produce the plant’s 113 cannabinoids − especially the two we care about most, psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the stuff that gets you high) and non-psychoactive cannabidiol (CBD, the nonintoxicating compound that calms people down). In general, the hotter and sunnier the growing climate, the more psychoactive the plant. Outdoors, some cannabis needs a three to five month growing season; indoors, fed hydroponically under artificial lighting and induced darkness (which in turn prompts the plants to bloom), a clever grower can produce three pounds of high-powered flower from 100 knee-high cloned plants (which might cover a large dining room table) every eight weeks.

But you don’t have to be a clever grower. The Mary.ag, a slick grow-box that sits in your living room and looks like a stereo speaker, controls watering and fertilization and odour electronically, via cellphone. The Mary produces 45 grams of smokeable flower every seven weeks. It costs US$499.

In general parlance (and exacting taxonomists have continuing objections to this), there are two widely accepted psychoactive variants of cannabis: harder-to-grow sativa, which is taller and skinnier and looks slightly hapless; and indica (shorter, bushier, tough guy). Neither plant wins beauty contests. The two subspecies are marketed in dispensaries, respectively, as energizing (sativa) and narcotic (indica). But − breaking news! a small scandal in the small world of cannabis research! − according to Vancouver’s Jonathan Page, a world expert on the cannabis genome and CEO of Anandia Laboratories Inc. (acquired two weeks ago by Aurora Cannabis Inc. for $115-million): “We’re having a lot of trouble showing that they’re genetically different. And also that there’s different chemistry between the two types, dopey-sleepy versus uplift.” For all the media attention cannabis gets, research on the plant is still in its infancy − as you might expect of a shrub that has been illegal in one form or another since the 1920s.

Cannabis evolved 65 million years ago. It was one of the earliest plants to be domesticated by humans, who have cultivated it for at least 10,000 years, starting with Neolithic man. (It was the Stone Age, dude). In 2008, a team of researchers in northwest China uncovered the grave of a Caucasian shaman buried 2,700 years ago with 700 grams of quad (high-grade AAAA cannabis indica) − “the good shuzzit,” as Louis Armstrong and his long-time dealer, Milton Mezzrow, called such stuff, and also the earliest physical evidence of human use of the psychoactive form of the drug. The earliest medical evidence of cannabis dates to the same era, also in China, where cannabis tea was recommended for a hundred ailments, including constipation, “female weakness” and absent-mindedness. One early Chinese doctor said cannabis in moderation lets users speak to spirits; in excess, he added, they become demons. Apparently, the advice to have “just one hit” has been ignored for centuries. The first cannabis plants grew wild − so say Robert Clarke and Mark Merlin, in their door-stopping Cannabis: Evolution and Ethnobotany − in the valleys of the Hindu Kush mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan. From there, cannabis was traded and cultivated across Europe and Asia. Herodotus writes of Scythians (they were early horsemen, and established the Silk Road) “howling with pleasure in their hemp vapor baths.” As Martin Lee observes in Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana (another excellent book upon which this article relies heavily), “Something about the herb resonated with humankind.”

“What is our society missing that we are so keen to bring cannabis back into it? What is it in the DNA of our society that puts cannabis on the front page of our newspapers every day?”

— Jonathan Page, world expert on the cannabis genome and CEO of Anandia Laboratories Inc.


The weed that went west and north, into Europe, tended to be hemp − that is, the leggy cannabis subspecies low in THC but excellent for rope, sails, clothing, paper, “hempcrete” and at least 3,000 other known uses that hemp fanatics will happily list. (Henry Ford built a hemp car that ran on hemp oil in the early 1940s). The plants that moved south into tropical India and Africa tended to be the psychotropic cultivars employed as medicine and for spiritual yayas. Daga has been used in Africa for at least 2,000 years: Zulus smoked it to relax and before battle, while pygmy tribes inhaled it through a mound in the earth and called it “earth smoking.” Today, Canadians vaporize cannabis oil through a water pipe and refer to it as dabbing. We’ve all been doing this a long, long time.

Most marijuana smoked in North America before the 1970s was grown in Mexico. When Mexico (under pressure from Ronald Reagan’s state department) sprayed its marijuana crops with the toxic plant killer paraquat, North Americans began to grow their own − indoors, to avoid detection. The war on drugs created a botanical revolution of historic proportions. Cannabis sativa, which produced a lighter, brighter, “talkier” high, was harder to grow in colder climates; the more narcotic and stonier indica subspecies could be grown everywhere, but it tended to induce couch lock. Growers (many of B.C.’s earliest were U.S. draft dodgers) soon combined the best of both worlds and produced seedless (hence sensimilla) hybrids of the two.

Indoor growing really took off in the 1980s with the invention of metal-halide and sodium grow lights. In 1982, U.S. law-enforcement agencies learned with alarm that the record tonnage of marijuana they seized was 38 per cent larger than the government’s estimate of the entire U.S. national crop that year. Cannabis plants that averaged 5 per cent to 8 per cent THC before the war on drugs were now capable of producing flowers with THC levels of 30 per cent and more.

Canada may be the first industrialized country to legalize cannabis for adult recreational use, but this isn’t the first time cannabis has been legal. From Pakistan, weed made its way around the world: to Europe and England both overland and from India, and to North and South America and everywhere in between via colonizing settlers and the slave trade from Africa. Richard Burton, the explorer and writer, used it for depression. Friedrich Nietzsche used it to wind down, Yeats and Wilde to wind up. Alexandre Dumas and Eugène Delacroix, the painter, smoked it with their famous pals at Paris’s Club des Hashischins.

The first crop of hemp cannabis in Canada was planted in Port Royal (now Nova Scotia) in 1606 by an apothecary accompanying Samuel de Champlain. France pressured the colonies to grow hemp for its navy, exempting the crop from the tithe paid to the Catholic Church, which in turn made the Catholic Church a sworn enemy of cannabis.

William Brooke O’Shaughnessy helped introduce cannabis to modern medicine after encountering the drug in Calcutta as an agent for the British East India Company. Upon his return to London in 1842 with a large stash of cannabis indica, he commissioned the manufacture of Squire’s Extract. Sir William’s chronic tonic actually relieved pain from rheumatism, quelled infant convulsions and calmed the spasms brought on by rabies and tetanus. Queen Victoria’s physician prescribed it for her menstrual cramps, and to others for what we would call Alzheimer’s.

The United States, so rabidly anti-drug for so long, was as keen on cannabis in the past as states such as California, Oregon and Washington are today. Mary Lincoln used it as a sedative after Abe’s assassination. The first two drafts of the Declaration of Independence were written on hemp paper. According to Dana Larsen’s Cannabis in Canada, F.W. Goodwin gave a lecture in 1897 that touted cannabis as a remedy for a raft of ailments, and also recommended it recreationally: It stimulated the appetite; induced sleep; gave users a sense of well-being “as if he had heard good tidings of great joy.” It also enhanced sexual pleasure, inducing a “powerful erection when the necessary mental stimulus is at hand,” which is an interesting way of putting it. However, it reduced the sensitivity of the member, which in turn lessened “premature discharge.” Dr. Goodwin was president of the Nova Scotia Medical Association.

“No one had a problem with cannabis then,” the legendary California cannabis activist Steve De Angelo told me recently. “Because it was being used by white people.”

How did such a popular plant become an object of hysterical hatred? The answer is no surprise given the current standoff at the U.S.-Mexico border: Cannabis became associated with immigrants and foreign labour during what Mr. Lee calls “an early twentieth century upsurge of nativism, scapegoating and political repression.”

Britain tried banning cannabis in the 1800s, over complaints about what it did to work habits on plantations: Slaves grew pot between rows of sugarcane and smoked it to lighten the drudgery of long hours of repetitive labour. By the early 20th century, after the prolonged Mexican revolution drove thousands of fleeing Mexicans into California, prohibitionists invented the threat of marijuana-crazed Mexicans and African-Americans to rail against immigration, tainting cannabis in the process. The anti-pot mania also infected Canada, where the spectre of black men puffing reefer and unemployed Chinese railway workers smoking opium were commingled and demonized by hugely popular writers such as Emily Murphy, who worked for Maclean’s Magazine under the byline Janey Canuck. She was also in favour of sterilizing “inferior” women.

Manias take hold of entire nations. Cannabis has inspired some notable developments in human culture − from Louis Armstrong’s improvisational jazz and Ella Fitzgerald’s scat singing and the Beatles’s Sgt. Pepper album to Jack Kerouac’s novels and Tommy Chong (a Canadian) and a good part of Woody Harrelson’s acting career. But Canada banned cannabis under the Opium and Narcotic Act as early as 1923. The prohibitionist frenzy didn’t abate until 70 years later, when the medical cannabis movement, in the form of compassion clubs, turned up in B.C., partly in response to the AIDS crisis.

By then, in the United States, Mr. Lee maintains, fifty separate government agencies were dedicated to inhibiting research into the therapeutic use of pot. Even in 2003, when Mr. Page took a job in Saskatoon at the National Research Council to study cannabis, he wasn’t allowed to buy or grow any: The NRC was an arm of the government, and it focused on the illegality of cannabis. Recent polls say a quarter of Canadians are still against legalization.

The problem is that prohibition has never worked. In 1937, 50,000 Americans smoked pot. By 1947, the number had doubled. In 2005, the year before California licensed its first six medical-marijuana clinics, more than 750,000 Americans were arrested on marijuana-related charges, most for simple possession, and most of them not white. In all, roughly two million people have been arrested for growing and selling pot in Canada; as recently as 2013, more than 59,000 people were arrested for possession. And yet somewhere between 183 million and 238 million people worldwide have tried or are users of cannabis. In the meantime, the governments of the United States and Canada have spent an estimated US$60-billion a year on the war on drugs. “Thirty years from now,” the writer and anthropologist Wade Davis has said, “the entire war on drugs will be seen as one of the greatest acts of folly in the history of public policy.” Meanwhile a third of Canadians plan to use cannabis when it goes legit on Oct. 17. People are already planning their parties. Big ones.

Cannabis is the only plant known to manufacture THC. It does this by siccing a series of enzymes upon a fatty-acid molecule and transforming it into an acid form of THC that, when it is heated or smoked, becomes psychoactive. (You can eat the leaves raw and not feel a thing.) All this action takes place in the trichomes on the surface of the resin-heavy flowers.

Things get even more interesting once THC is ingested into the human body by smoking or vaping or eating. It turns out − this is a fairly recent discovery − that the human body has its own (very ancient) set of endocannabinoid receptors in our central and peripheral nervous systems. These receptors bind to (among other agents) a neurotransmitter called anandamide, an endogenous cannabinoid − that is, one produced by our bodies. (Anandamide derives from the Sanskrit word “bliss.”) THC binds to the same receptors anandamide does, and does the same general thing anandamide does, except that it does it in a much blunter and more aggressive and more discombobulating way.

And what is that? That’s a question researchers are still answering in full. Like its in-house double, the retrograde anandamide, THC is a signal inhibitor − what Mr. Page refers to as “a kind of presynaptic dimmer switch that reduces the excitation of the neurons.” To put it (too) simply, cannabinoids such as THC (in conjunction with CBD and terpenes and many other cannabinoids, all of which work on one another to produce an “entourage effect”), slow down the messages barrelling back and forth through our synapses. This accounts for many of cannabis’s indicated medical effects − because cannabinoids reduce inflammation and pain, lower blood pressure, can stop seizures and relax muscles and quell epilepsy (and maybe migraines and fibromyalgia), seem to reduce spasticity and stiffness in people with multiple sclerosis, help with cramping, improve sleep, reduce nausea and calm PTSD. They may even be useful in weaning people off harder drugs. Opioids take pain away from patients, along with most alertness; cannabis, as one user once said to me, “takes you away from the pain.”

Or, to put it psychoactively, in addition to lowering the body’s pent-up physical pressures, cannabis spaces out the messages the mind and body send to each other incessantly, which in turn gives us time to notice what’s going on − that sense one has, using pot, that everything is happening for the first and most remarkable time. Michael Pollan, in his astonishing book The Botany of Desire, called it “the italicization of experience.”

Some researchers speculate that anandamide and other cannabinoids may be implicated in helping us forget − the short-term memory problem pot smokers experience − but in ways that are necessary and clarifying. Mr. Pollan thinks the main attraction of THC may be, in fact, the disarray and short-term memory loss it creates in the human brain. “The cannabinoid network appears to be part of that mechanism, vigilantly sifting the vast chaff of sense impressions from the level of perception we need to reach if we’re to get through the day and get done what needs to be done. All depends on forgetting.”

Cannabis does the same thing, just harder and faster. Cannabis makes it impossible to remember all the details that threaten to drown us, and lets us concentrate on them one after the other, laterally and forgetfully. It impairs us, but in doing so allows us to experience the world not as masters of the entire universe but as liberated goofball bystanders, freed from the world’s and our own blinding compulsions and expectations. Physiologically, cannabis disarms the bully Time, quiets its insistent tattoo of tick tick tick − leaving us to respond to the mere moment, possibly while laughing. And not just to respond to it, but to feel it, emotionally. It’s as if THC were a converter that transforms the matter we see and hold and hear and smell and taste into the wow of a more − for lack of a more comprehensive word − spiritual experience. At the very least, THC lets us be in the here and now, and experience the moment not as something to be rushed past but as something worth paying attention to.

The last time I spoke to Mr. Page, he ended our conversation by asking me a question. “What’s so special about cannabis?” he said. “What is our society missing that we are so keen to bring cannabis back into it? What is it in the DNA of our society that puts cannabis on the front page of our newspapers every day?” I thought about that for a while. Then he said “Someone characterized cannabis to me recently as the cure for the human condition.”

Maybe we can’t take our eyes off the cannabis plant because it serves a purpose. Maybe the evolutionary purpose of humanity’s ancient obsession with cannabis is that it can free us (momentarily) from the job of evolution − or at least from the relentless grind of it, of trying to survive with the fittest − which in turn allows us to simply be who we are, briefly, without regret, while high. Maybe it’s a spur to keep going. If cannabis is the cure for the human condition, which is that we are born to die, that we live only in order to sadly leave, cannabis may be all about forgetting. But it might also be a way to repeatedly forgive ourselves for our unwitting part in the calamity of being human.

Marijuana legalization Bill C-45 officially passes Senate vote, heading for royal assent

Monique Scotti Global News

The Senate has voted to accept the latest version of the government’s long-debated legal marijuana legislation, paving the way for the bill to pass into Canadian law.

The Senate voted 52-29 to approve the government’s newest version of Bill C-45 on Tuesday evening.

Bill C-45 now moves to royal assent, the final step in the legislative process. That could occur within days at the government’s discretion. The government’s desire to see home grown marijuana permitted across Canada eventually prevailed, and a proposal from the Senate to allow provinces and territories to ban them has been stripped from the final bill.

“We have witnessed today a very historic vote that ends 90 years of prohibition, that’s historic. It ends 90 years of needless criminalization, it ends a prohibition model that inhibited and discouraged public health, and community health approaches in favour of ‘just say no.’ Approaches that simply failed our young people miserably,” independent Senator Tony Dean said after the vote.

But not all Senators were happy with it.

“This bill does not do what the overarching goal says it does, which is to reduce the marijuana use among young people,” Tory Senator Leo Housakos said.

“The message for me is be very cautious, just because it’s legal doesn’t make it right. Educate yourself, and take cautious steps because what you do today will invariably have an impact on your life for years to come.”

Bill C-45 has been the subject of heated debate and uncertainty on Parliament Hill over the past several days. The conflict between the elected House of Commons and the unelected Senate ramped up last week with the government’s rejection of several key Senate amendments — most notably one linked to home cultivation.


Quebec, Manitoba and Nunavut have all decided they don’t want to allow home grows, in spite of the federal government’s desire to permit four plants per household. The Senate decided to side with the provinces, inserting a provision that would allow them to ban home grows if they desired.

Over the weekend and into Monday, however, there began to be indications that the Senate might defer to the government’s position.

In an interview on The West Block on Sunday, Dean, who sponsored the bill in the upper chamber, noted that while the Senate can provide advice, it’s the government that makes final decisions.

Then, on Monday, independent Sen. Andre Pratte, who had publicly supported the provincial bans, told reporters that while he felt the issue was important, “it’s not crucial” and not important enough to provoke a crisis.

“We know that it will come before the courts,” Pratte said. “That’s a case, even in the opinion of the Quebec government, that you’d have an excellent chance of winning.”

Court challenges may indeed be inevitable, and Quebec has already promised it will push back against any federal law that allows home-grows across the land.

A spokesperson for Manitoba’s justice minister told Global News on Tuesday that the minister is “satisfied that provinces have the legal authority to restrict home grown cannabis, up to and including prohibition” and that the Manitoba would be “willing to defend our position if challenged.”

Impaired driving bill still languishing

One other complication also remains: the government’s second marijuana bill, linked to drug-impaired driving. Bill C-46 includes new powers for police and harsher penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, but like C-45, it contained some elements that the Senate wasn’t sure should be included.

Specifically, the upper chamber took exception to allowing police to force drivers to submit to random breath tests (without any reasonable suspicion of impairment) that could detect the active ingredient in marijuana.

The Senate removed that mandatory screening provision, which Justice Minister Jody-Wilson Raybould dubbed the “centrepiece” of the legislation, and sent C-46 back to the House of Commons. The government then rejected the Senate’s changes.

As of Tuesday, the issues surrounding Bill C-46 are still not resolved. The House of Commons is set to rise for the summer on Friday.

The enforcement of Canada’s new impaired driving laws, once they take effect, is also somewhat up in the air. Police currently rely on standard field sobriety tests, Drug Recognition Experts (DREs) and bodily fluid testing to detect impairment by drugs.

“Drug screening devices will assist with roadside testing,” said Mario Harel, president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, said an emailed statement.

“At this time, we await approval by the federal government as to which units will meet technical specifications and will be approved by the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada. Until this process has been completed, police services are unable to make purchases and train officers in their use.”

Harel said that regardless of the status of drug screening devices, “we are very confident in our present processes, knowing that they will continually improve with time as we build capacity.”

From Palace Theatre to pot palace? Downtown landmark could play home to future cannabis store

Sammy Hudes Calgary Herald

Designated as a provincial and national historic site in 1996, changes to certain portions of the building would require approval from the province, if those parts have been designated for protection.

“It would all just depend on what they’re looking to develop at the site and if it is regulated by the province’s heritage designation,” said Josh Traptow, executive director of the Calgary Heritage Authority.

“I don’t think there would be a concern,” he said. “I think any time that heritage buildings have active use is a good thing. If you can create more opportunities for historical buildings, it’s a win-win for the owners of the site and the property.

The building has undergone a number of changes since it was built in 1921.

Billed as one of the grandest theatres in Western Canada during its early years, it served as the site of then-premier William Aberhart’s first radio broadcasts during the 1920s while forming the Social Credit party.

Until the opening of the Jubilee Auditorium in 1956, it was considered Calgary’s most prominent theatre and concert venue.

The Palace ran as a movie house until February 1990, when it showed its last film, Tango & Cash. It sat vacant until 1998 when it was converted into the Palace Night Club, which closed its doors in February 2004.

The venue was renamed Flames Central in 2007, as the Calgary Flames partnered with Concorde to turn the Palace into a hockey hub, calling it “a modern-day hybrid version of the interactive sports bar.” It went back to its original name in 2017 along with a broader scope.

Traptow said it’s not uncommon for heritage buildings to take on new uses, as a potential cannabis store would certainly do.

“I don’t think it would change the historical nature or anything like that,” he said.

“It’s always been a gathering place for Calgarians when it was a movie palace, and then when it went to kind of a more modern-day movie theatre and then the Flames Central, and now going back to Palace Theatre. It’s always been a place that Calgarians have gone to and I’m sure that it will continue to be as time progresses. Buildings go through natural changes and they find new purposes and new uses.”

Coun. Druh Farrell, whose ward includes the venue, expressed concern on social media Thursday about future pot shops abiding by all the necessary regulations that have been established.

“We have so many cannabis applications, I’m just stressing that we make sure they follow the rules,” she tweeted.

The province has estimated it will issue 250 cannabis retail licences during the first year of legalization, with no single retailer allowed to own more than 37 stores, or 15 per cent of the total licences.

As of late last month, about 250 would-be cannabis retailers had applied to do business in Calgary alone, none of which have been approved in the lead-up to legalization.

Changes to the land-use bylaws on cannabis stores will help determine how many stores end up opening in Calgary.

The city will have a 300-metre buffer zone between cannabis retailers, which will be prohibited from setting up within 150 metres of the property line of schools and emergency shelters.