In this episode, Kirk learns how the law was on the side of righteousness when Owen Smith found himself in front of the Supreme Court of Canada defending a desire to help others. In the first part of a longer discussion, listeners gain insights to his six-year legal journey which ends with him becoming a medical cannabis industry advocate and influencer. His cannabis story started with family, but it was a faulty exhaust fan and loud music which moved the Victoria Police Department to deliver, “rock star treatment” during his arrest for creating cannabis edibles. He explains how a legal technicality brought him to the Supreme Court, while the Canadian court system actually supported his efforts creating cookies for medical cannabis patients.
E97 – The Godfather of Cannabis Two Point Oh! - Owen Smith - Part 1
Meet our guest
Music ByPeter Tosh - Reggaemylitis
(Yes we have a SOCAN membership to use these songs all legal and proper like)
Kirk: We're back.
Trevor: You had a long, interesting conversation with an interesting guy.
Kirk: Yes. I talked to Owen Smith. And to the point that we're making this in two episodes, because it was such a fantastic discussion. Owen Smith is the man that sort of is the Godfather of Cannabis 2.0, I guess. In that he was taken to court for making medical cannabis edibles and it went all the way to the Supreme Court. And we it's kind of funny Trevor. I've been following Owen. He's been around the cannabis industry for pretty much ever I guess and now in this industry. But I've been following him on LinkedIn and he's got some neat stories. And so, I just contacted him and said, Hey, man, I'd like to talk to you a little bit about medical cannabis and where we're at and the government's review of the Act and let's have a chat. And he was very open. He said, Let's do it. So we started the conversation. That was my intent. And he gets in.
Trevor: And things happen. So often in this wonderful thing we do. Things went sideways. A really interesting sideways.
Kirk: Well, yeah, it's I mean, how many times have I interviewed a guest, and the thesis I'm after is not what I gather. And, and, and you'll hear in this conversation that Owens talking and I'm not saying much. And at one point he stops talking and I said, No, no, no, carry on, man. This is a fantastic story. So, we're splitting this up into two episodes. In the first half of the episode is the back story behind him getting charged for making edibles that I was never intending to get. So, this is like bonus.
Trevor: Absolutely. And yeah, so let's listen to this really good story and we'll come back and then we'll will give you guys a sneak peek of part two. So let's listen to Owen and edibles and his sister and and
Owen Smith: Okay, well, my name's Owen Smith. I'm a cannabis advocate in Canada. Since early 2000, I'm best known for legalizing cannabis extracts, edibles, and oils through the Supreme Court of Canada, where I've had many roles, responsibilities along the way.
Kirk: Yeah, you challenged you basically challenged the government and created Cannabis 2.0.
Owen Smith: They call it 2.0.
Kirk: So, Owen walk me through. How did that all start with you? Give me your give me your sort of how it all started for you and how you became an advocate for medical cannabis?
Owen Smith: Well, I'm from England, so in England there's not a huge cannabis movement like there is in Canada, much further behind, unfortunately. So, when I came with my family in the nineties, we didn't have any knowledge or expectation really that I would become a cannabis advocate as an adult. It was only after my sister contracted cancer that my family really turned over to trying cannabis. I had a previous to this, had the benefit of meeting Ted Smith, obviously no relation. Ted Smith is the founder of the Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club, the oldest still running Compassion Club in Canada. And Ted has talking about the benefits of medical cannabis, specifically for cancer and for many other ailments at my college every Wednesday. We have a smoke circle outside at 3:20 And then we go up to the university and have a 4:20 smoke circle and go downtown and have 7:00 smoke circle downtown. So every Wednesday there were constant sort of advocacy events that are happening and help to inform me. So when my sister was sick with cancer, we knew we could go and get some access to some products that she could use edible cannabis. She smoked cannabis and used some topical. It was a skin cancer that had melanoma, just very aggressive, and she died within a year. But in the last few months of her life, after the doctors had given up on what treatments were available and she tried cannabis and restored her ability to eat, to sleep and communicate and have a social time with her family. She went out for dinner, just be able to hang out more. And that time, that last few months of your life where we were granted, us the ability to say good bye; is priceless. And I think at that point I kind of saw the situation was what Ted was doing, and I offered to help if they would need Baker or whatever have going on. I'd be happy to come down. I knew that they were breaking the law to do that. But also I could see that the suffering of poor people is very real and very painful and knowing how prevalent cancer is, there are many, many families who would have gone through a very similar experience to me and my family, who we could help to prevent some of that moving forward. And along the way there was not just families with cancer, but children with epilepsy and many people with a spectrum of conditions who have amazing stories. Who eventually testified for me in court. For their use of the cannabis products, extracts, and edible oils specifically.
Kirk: So walk me through it. You are a baker by trade.
Owen Smith: Kind of. I was working at a local kitchen, breakfast kitchen, you know. I bake muffins and things like that before. So as a young guy and I think it early twenties and just out of college and stuff and I went away for a bit and became a landscaper and then just came back and happened to be that their Baker had recently quit and there was an opportunity and I showed up at the right time and they offered me the job.
Kirk: So, in the sense of putting this on a on a scale with this before or after your sister's diagnosis.
Owen Smith: This was after.
Kirk: Okay. So, your sister had your sister had cancer. She succumbed to that and then she used cannabis for part of her care. And then you went into the cannabis medical industry after that?
Owen Smith: That's right.
Kirk: Okay. So here you are helping people as the Victoria Buyers Club does. And we've interviewed Ted in the past, as you know. Walk me through that. That must have been something fearful when the when the police came busting through your door. Can you walk us through a little bit of that?
Owen Smith: Well, I had thought about it before. I had imagined the consequences of what I was doing might run into this sort of scenario. So when I sit on my lunch breaks for all the months, I would smoke a big joint for half an hour. I'd be thinking about this and running it through my mind. What would I say? What would you want to say? You know? Is it having the knowledge that we were serious about fighting the law, that it gives you the opportunity to prepare? And Ted had previously been in the court, a-number-of-times, establishing the right for dispensaries to operate and also had brought up the arguments with edibles and extracts before, but they hadn't been answered by the courts because of legal technicalities. So, he had explained some of this stuff in his Cannabis Digest article, which is our VCBC newsletter, and I had to understand I was thinking about it. And so when, it was a cold December morning and it was the fan, the air cleaner that we have in the room, the big filter, it had become clogged. It had been not being cleaned in a while. And the combination of lack of air filtration and wanting to keep the windows closed because how cold is one outside. The smoke or the smell from the bakery went out into the apartment building. Accompanied by the sound of my music because I was a deejay at the time and playing shows on the weekends, I would often make DJ sets in the week on the night and then listen to them during baking. While working. So the police had responded in part to a noise complaint, in part to a smell complaint, and the initial two police officers used a knock and talk strategy, which I was vulnerable to. And, you know, now they can say you have to let us in. And that could mean, if you listen to that, it would have two meanings. It could mean that “you're obliged to,” “you have to let them in.” “It's your responsibility to let them in.” By law. Which is not. But it could also mean that “you have to let them in, that you yourself have to permit their access,” which is truth. So I was a little confused and I just let them in and immediately I told them. This is what I'm doing. It's a bakery for the Cannabis Buyer's Club. Do you know Ted Smith. And the one cop who was of East Indian decent said, “Yeah, I know Ted Smith.” It turned out that this man I had previously stopped outside of the Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club, and haled Ted to come outside onto the street to speak to him. Of course Ted would happily jump at that opportunity and runs up the street, and the guy only wanted to tell him about his recent trip to India, where his family still they make cannabis pakoras and they had a special recipe for the cannabis infused pakoras. So this was the lead officer on the investigation and the first guy comes in. So he's asking me some questions about the products. I knew already from Watermelon's Case, which was an edible cannabis case before mine, that that's one of the defenses for that were that you can't tell that there's any cannabis in a cookie. By looking at it. How can you know look and survey and tell me that there's a crime there. You can't. They have to take it away and test it and bring it back. So previously, this sort of legal issue had come up and the police officer asked me, if I ate one of these cookies right now, what would happen to me. Would I feel all silly, and would I get busy? Would I have a great time all afternoon? And I was like, you know what? Those aren't for you. Let's be clear here. Those you're not allowed to eat those. Those aren't for you. They're for medical patients, for people with serious conditions. And if you were to eat them, then they wouldn't get their medicine. And they need their medicine for their cancer pain, for their epileptic seizures, for their ability to sleep at night, Perhaps, you would find it hard to sleep at night knowing that you'd eaten one of these things. So, it was my opportunity as I had sort of practiced a little bit to start laying into them. Do you know, I know you're doing your job, but do you know the consequences of what you're doing? Actually, have real world effects. You know, those real-world people out there tonight, this is going to be their experience because what you do. I was trying to approach their conscience. Just as a human being. And it was interesting. They just accepted it and I offered to sit myself down because I'm about six foot two and the cops were smaller than me. And I was talking down to them and I was feeling a little aggressive. So it's just I'll sit down. He sort of asked me these questions a few more times and called in another officer, and the next officer who arrives gets his head around the corner and his name is David Bratzer. And this officer is a member of LEAP Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. I've recently had David at the University of Victoria as part of our convention. Our 10th annual cannabis convention at the university, and he spoke about the harms of prohibition. And so he was the poster on the wall and when the evidence went through and the police took all the pictures, the poster was part of the evidence and there was a Victoria Police officer as a third person on the case too. Seeing that, I'm like, you know, this is of two of three police officers I know who have cannabis sympathy, at least in their real life. So the other cops, were, like this one in town here known as Lars. He's the chief of police of this time. And you have many run ins with Ted in the past. And Ted actually, even challenged him into a boxing match at some point. As a raise funds for cops for cancer? Oh, yeah. So he came in and he called out this is the this is the first, I've been to lots of grow ups, but this is the first bake off I've been. And we're like chuckle and we like that. So we called. We had a file for all of the material and everything from the case, and we called it the Bake Off. Thanks to Thanks, Lars. The room was full of boxes. We were compiling a game, a board game at the same time as making cookies and stuff, a cannabis growing board game. And so it was just quite the scene in there was a crowd of police officers. Boxes of board game parts for growing cannabis, with cookies cooling on them and lozenges all rolled up like candy, caps in a cap filling tray and butter melting on the stove and lots of other oils in the fridge. And so later they would come back and seize much of those things. Two doors down was a member from the VCBC, and when they heard and saw the police arrived, they called Ted and the club. And Ted and a couple of the staff come running over cause where I am, in the apartment building is about two or three blocks from where Ted is, usually walk back with armfuls of baked goods through the city at the end of the day. And of course, nobody could tell it up and walk past police officers holding bags of cannabis cookies. But Ted had come so they were outside the building. They didn't handcuff me, but they did read me my rights at a certain point and took me downtown. When we were leaving the apartment building. Leaving the room. One of the other cops asked me who lives here? Because I guess that was one of the things they wanted to know, like whose apartment really is. It was like going to hide that and I just told him the very sick old woman, which was the truth, you know. And that's sort of it's just when you speak the truth to power in this situation, it's I think it is humbling because it is just, it's a harsh reality that we live where this plant is illegal. It's just helping people. So they took me outside and Ted and the other staff were outside and Ted remembers that when I walked out, they said the other police officers walked out with their heads down like this. And you walked out like this, no handcuffs, and went and sat in the police car and on the way to the police station, they're talking in the front seat and, they knew the part about you can't tell if there's cannabis by looking at cookies. So they're like, What do we do? What is going to happen? And honestly, this is what I remember them saying. The one guy who was like, Well, they're just going to have to legalize it. going to have to legalize it. And we got into the police basement and Victoria downtown and got out and they said, okay, we got some handcuffs on you now, but understand, like we've given you the rock star treatment, but we're going to lead you into the cell area and you have to be handcuffed. So we went into the interrogation room and I spent the next 8 hours talking to different police officers, sometimes in twos, and they would ask me similar questions and in different orders to see if I could remember things like, when did you go to college? How many years were you in college? What town did you grow up in, or asking me all this information because they believed that I was somebody who I wasn't. My wallet was lost about a few weeks before this. Doing other. Doing other things. Partying. I was partying on a mountain. Raving on a mountain. I lost my wallet and I didn't have any ID. And so they were going through this trying to they thought that I was some somebody on the run a fugitive. So I looked a little bit like somebody they were looking for. And so this was going on and on. And I have had my phone call and. The guy said, you know, you don't tell him anything. It's like, all right, well. It just wasn't going anywhere until. They even brought out my student I.D. card because this was the best piece of I.D., with a picture on it. But it was from when I was at college where I had a shaved face, kind of chubby, and I had short hair. And at this time, I had long hair. I was like, get skinnier. And I had a big, big beard. And so it was they were laughing. They thought it was hilarious. And then one of the police officers came down the hall and happened to be an old friend of mine from high school. When I was younger, I played soccer and me and a couple of friends we formed a soccer team based on the idea that we all smoked weed. We called it the Blazers because it's one of those words that means two things You can blaze the herb or you could be blazing fast or and I could wear blazers or whatever. So we we had this cannabis secret cannabis soccer team and this guy was the goalie on the soccer team. And this he saw me from outside. He comes in and says, Oh, and I wouldn't expect to see you in here. I don't like me either. I was doing anything wrong. So they validated my identity through one of their own there. After about midnight, they let me out. I remember it being very cold in December. I say I wasn't dressed for the night. I've been working in the day, so I'm leaving the police station in pretty cold and the interrogation room is set up to be very uncomfortable, very bright lights, audible hums. Sort of an ugly room to be in for 8 hours. But got back to the club about midnight and Ted Smith was still there and a few of the other staff were still there. Smoking joints. Give me a hug and kind of help calm me down a little bit and give me a day off work the next day so I gave me a bag of weed, so I could sit at home and smoke and think about how awesome that just was.
Kirk: So you obviously had to go through the provincial system and you were found guilty of cooking cannabis and you took it to the Supreme Court and you won there.
Owen Smith: That's right. Six years.
Kirk: Six years it took.
Owen Smith: From that arrest until the Supreme Court. We did the province of B.C. in 2012. That was four weeks. We had scientists and patients testifying. We had the government bring their chief science officer, as well as a regulatory expert from Health Canada, and we duked it out, duked it out. And science was on our side. The weird denialism of prohibition. It just can't hold up against the arguments that have been established through science. And given that the situation was so ridiculous that people were allowed to have cannabis dried herbs but not allowed to make anything with it. We had the examples of just like making a cup of tea. You have you have cannabis in a tea bag, We have tea in a tea bag and you put it in a pot of water and you leave the tea in it. What's the point of leaving the tea bag in the tea? Now what you really try to do is get a nice measured cup of tea you don't want a strong, strong tea necessarily. But there was the law at the time that you had to leave the tea bag in just in case the police came and they needed to check that tea bag, make sure that the weight of it wasn't over. And that's that's bringing us back to that idea that they just couldn't enforce cannabis extracts and edibles because they couldn't visibly see the cannabis in it anymore. And so it was like, are these patients first or are these criminals first? You know, they're people first. You don't. You don't start them after. They got the other one, there's a lot of science in there, but the other example that was given for the judges benefit that helps to explain how extracting cannabis from the plant is not only makes sense to do that, but it happens anyway. It's just part of what's going on. It's present in a legal bag of cannabis. Once you've removed the cannabis and you're holding it and the packaging with tricomes on the outside. It's a silly, silly sort of thing like this. But the golf ball on the tee was the other thing. So really the trichomes are produced in the reservoir at the top of the hair of the trichomes. The materials needed to produce cannabinoids come up through the plant's roots and through the body of the plant and express out through the base of those trichomes hairs, through the trichomes to the base of that reservoir at the top. And there's a rosette of cells at the base of that reservoir which do the final work of transforming those ingredients into the cannabinoids that then are suspended in this fluid and with terpenes, as if the wind blows or you knock up against it, it's sticky. It's sort of pulls from the body of the plant in a number of ways. Liberates naturally from the plant. That's sort of a central argument to my understanding that not only makes sense, but there's no getting around it.
Kirk: Yeah. Well, okay, so the provincial government obviously finds you guilty. And what was the technicality that the Supreme Court fell on that said, no, we're going to say you win the appeal, Because, my understanding of the law, there had to be something in the in what happened in the provincial system that the Supreme Court to say you've failed to prove X. So what was what was the point the Supreme Court gave you that said go back home and cook your cookies?
Owen Smith: The Court of Appeal. So after we'd done the we won the constitutional challenge and I had my charges dismissed. At a hearing after that, we went to Vancouver about 18 months later. So to do a court of appeal with three judges and those three judges looked at the initial judge's ruling and they decided 2 to 1 that we were in the right. So the two female judges were in agreement with the original trial judge but the one other judge had questions in and around the legal standing. The idea that because I was not a legal medical marijuana patient so I wouldn't have legal standing to challenge a law that doesn't necessarily affect me. In terms of a medical cannabis thing, even though my freedom certainly was risked by this law in place and we have a civil right to help those by the Charter, to help those who, we can see that have benefit medical necessity to use something. So I believe we had the Section seven standing. The judge believed that we didn't, but piece that he dissented that gave the government automatic right to go to the Supreme Court of Canada. So that was part the majority of what was discussed in the Supreme Court, which was only about one or 2 hours of time. And it was dismissed. There we have it being supported in the Supreme Court by interveners which are groups which see the arguments and align with the arguments and bring in other arguments or help to add to the agruments that we have made. And so we had, we had legal experts. They're just really to hammer out that detail. And they were very happy to show up at the Supreme Court of Canada and everything had flipped. When I started, it was, you know, us scrapping together. Getting our one lawyer. Versus the government bringing two really slick lawyers to come against us. At the end, it was pretty much just the government with one lawyer who had anything to contribute. But we had like ten lawyers with nine of them being there of their own volition. They were so happy to be a part of this. So, yeah, we got to knock down that standing argument. As you know, corporations have been awarded standing in case. So, yeah, as a citizen, I have a standing.
Kirk: That's amazing. See, I had it backwards. So you. You won the original provincial. You lost the appeal. You won the Supreme Court.
Owen Smith: We won the appeal 2 to 1.
Kirk: Yeah. Okay.
Owen Smith: Because there was if that the question then the government elevated to the Supreme Court.
Kirk: Okay, that's fantastic, man. Thank you. That that was more of a story than I was expecting. My original goal with calling you was to say, as an expert of the medical cannabis field, because you are you are involved with it. You've taken the government to court over this or you've been taken to court. We've got a few minutes left. On the real subject, I wanted to talk about what's happening to the medical cannabis industry right now. In your opinion, and I'll just let you talk mate. I'm just going to sit back.
Owen Smith: And some interesting advances related to my case that are ongoing. We have Pat Warnecke, and Jerry Martin that have a case that's coming through that relates directly to mine and the limits that were put on edibles and extracts. These limits weren't established in the court and they don't really make a lot of sense in the law. We currently. There's sort of a workaround because you can get concentrates legally. You know, you can you can get smokable concentrates legally, very high test stuff. And so but you can't get edibles or topicals with anything above 30%. So it's in this strange spot where if you wanted to get a higher strength concentrate for an edible use, legally, then you have to pretend that you're going to smoke it. This is just it's just, you know, this is and they have to sort these things out still. But you can buy a syringe just like you used to be able to in the old days, because for medical when I was running dispensaries before it was legal, there was always a sense for those who have cancer that we are going to help you get, make sure you get that oil. Get that honey oil that you're going to be eating. And that was just lacking in the legal system altogether. How is the legal system even coming close to social benefit and the social growth potential that we had when we were making sure we were taking care of people with cancer? It was really the baseline, I thought, back in the day and there was a lot of volunteer online promotion stuff. People would often talk about their cancer and their cannabis oil use. I'm very surprised you couldn't find that. But some companies have done the work around where now you can sell a concentrate and people will have to meter it out themselves. Unfortunately, that is against what the governments intentions are when they want patients to have or with their regulations, have strict metered doses because they haven't sorted it out. Patients are necessarily having to meter out their own using oils which have been made for smoking. Another part that's a problem with that is that it was always a lower grade. If you have to eat it, you don't have to go through as much processing. So it could be made more affordable. I know there's a $40 price tag on that per gram concentrate honey oil. So there's lots of room for improvement. I'm just been recently introduced to a program called UTNDR. U-T-N-D-R . Check this out, utndr.com. I'm one of the people on there. So you can go to this site and you can sign up for a medical cannabis license. And then you can have somebody like me who will talk to you about what kind of cannabis that you're looking for and that's going to shop within that. So they have doctors and medical staff who will review your medical documents and they will, you know, if you want to grow cannabis, to license to grow and otherwise get your license to possess larger amounts or have it delivered to your house as part of the medical system. So this is new. A new thing. It's nice to see people trying to innovate on the medical system, as with the Cannabis Act review. I just finished a campaign with the Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club with Ted Smith to raise awareness about how the Cannabis Act review asking whether or not we need a medical program at all.
Trevor: So, Kirk, we have two of three cops think that Owen's a good guy. We have some other random cop at the station who used to play soccer with him. You know, someone is, you know, heard to say, well, you know, maybe this stuff will just have to be legalized. So he certainly was not in an unfriendly territory even after the initial arrest?
Kirk: Well, as I said in the start here, I did not know this was going in this direction. I didn't ask him. I didn't expect him to tell me this. And it was I found it fascinating. And I just sat there going, No, no, no, keep talking. Keep talking. The best part of the story for me was when you sit in this in this in this police room for 8 hours and a buddy of his walks by and goes, Owen what are you doing here? It's like it's like, isn't Victoria a small town? It's my hometown, right? Newlyweds and nearly deads. It always was Victoria. It's a much bigger city than it was when I was there, but it tells me that it's still a small community, the business community, the, you know, the Chamber of Commerce, those who are doing. People know who you are. And it's a small community. I guess I just thought that was a ridiculously wonderful story.
Trevor: No, it was. And one of the things I can't be the only one because of the last names. Yes, Smith is common. I kind of assumed that Owen was related to Ted, so I liked how early on he cleared that up, because he must get people like me all the time and then just, you know, kind of a regular My Cannabis Story that we've heard a lot. You know, his sister get sick. They're learning cannabis might be helpful. He finds this Victoria Cannabis Buyers club when this Ted Smiths and on Wednesdays they do some smoke circles and they can get access to some product and just kinda goes from there. So you know it's I guess like revolutionaries everywhere. If it wasn't, he wasn't really getting into this to start a revolution. He just, you know, had a burning need for, you know, someone who was very close to him and it's kind of gone from there.
Kirk: He was trying to help people end of statement. Yeah I am Yeah. It's and he stumbled into it and, and by stumbling into the situation he, he got lots of peer help. He got a lot of lawyer help. Obviously the lawyers fell over to be part of his gig and, and now, now here he is. So like that went on for about a 30 minute discussion anyways. Yeah, I thought it was a great story. I didn't know. I didn't know that he actually won the provincial case. And then the government took it to appeal and he won two out of the three. So the law, the law was there all the way supporting him. All the way.
Trevor: Yeah, So no. And, and now let's tease the Part 2. The so back to kind of your initial question is the Government of Canada is now reviewing cannabis legislation and there's lots of interesting things in there including what should happen to just kind of the medical system in general and should it keep existing. I think that's a good teaser about where we are, why you should come back for Part Two.
Kirk: Well, Part Two of Reefer Medness - The Podcast. I'm Kirk: Nyquist. I'm the registered nurse. We got to remember to introduce ourselves.
Trevor: We do. I'm Trevor: Shewfelt, I'm the pharmacist. Come back for Part Two. It's completely different. And but still excellent.
Kirk: Meantime, I'm going to throw in a little Peter Tosh.
Trevor: Okay? No one's going to say no to that.