Barinder Rasode distinctly remembers the moment she changed her mind about cannabis.

It was nearly three years ago today that she watched as her friend’s cancer-stricken mother used cannabis to curb her pain and nausea. Within that same household, she watched as the woman’s husband used cannabis to help relieve some of his anxiety over the impending loss of his life partner.

“The combination of those two things really opened my eyes, because I know that having some semblance of quality of life in your last days is just so important,” Rasode tells Civilized. “I also know that being [able to replace] medications that really numb who you are or your ability to engage with others is quite significant.”

To say the experience was a wakeup call for Rasode would be a serious understatement.

Before that day, Rasode was committed to the fight against legalization.

As a city councillor in Surrey, British Columbia, she routinely threw her weight behind proposals that “made it so difficult that it was almost impossible for a [cannabis] business to open in Surrey.”

“I went to high school in the ‘80s, so the whole message around cannabis being a gateway drug was prevalent while I was growing up,” Rasode recalls. 

“Then, as an elected official and a mother of three kids... all the information [about cannabis] that I received came from a public safety perspective that looked at the negative consequences.

“That meant that most of my term on Council involved me raising concerns rather than supporting any kind of [cannabis] retail model.”

The relationship Rasode observed between her friend’s parents and cannabis served as an impetus for her to start exploring the plant in a more meaningful way. She describes that experience of un-learning all the stereotypes she carried around about cannabis all her life as a “very long but very thoughtful journey.”

Throughout this process, she began to see “many examples where people’s lives were fundamentally changed for the better [because of cannabis], which made me not only re-evaluate how I’d been thinking, but really go out and research what cannabis actually is.”

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“[So many of us] have these stereotypes in our heads of that person who uses cannabis and ends up on their parents’ couch for the rest of their life, which has been emphasized through movies”, but that’s an incomplete and inaccurate depiction of cannabis users, she says.

“Cannabis is a part of wellness and healing, especially for those with cancer or for children with epilepsy or for veterans with PTSD... and it’s also so valuable as a recreational drug that doesn’t cause the same types of adverse reactions [as alcohol] in terms of aggression and anger.”

Inspired by these revelations – and driven by a desire to share them with others like her – Rasode founded the National Institute for Cannabis Health and Education (NICHE), a not-for-profit corporation aimed at supporting the "safe transition to legalization."

The organization serves as a bridge builder between industry, governments and other stakeholders “by sharing research and best practices to help all levels of government and industry in the creation of a safe and successful cannabis industry in Canada.”

In other words, NICHE is the kind of organization that could have helped change Rasode’s mind about cannabis a whole lot sooner if it had existed when she was a politician.

“It’s virtually impossible for decision makers to understand an issue to the depths it needs to be understood, as they have very little information and very little time to make decisions,” she says.

“That’s why we’re engaging in conversations with these people, because if somebody had reached out to me in my time on Surrey Council, my decisions would’ve been very different.”

As Canada prepares to legalize cannabis for recreational use next summer, Rasode says now is the time to start conversations with those people who may feel overwhelmed and bewildered by these changes.

“I now realize there are many Canadians like me who have to be given the opportunity to catch up with what we understand about cannabis,” she says. “The cannabis community has done such an amazing job of both being advocates and being integral parts of cannabis business, but sometimes we spend a lot of time talking to each other.

“Now is the time to talk to decision makers, parents and others who need to be given the chance to have the same understanding we do.”

Interested in hearing more from Rasode? Check her out at Van der Pop’s Women & Weed event in Toronto on Nov. 7.