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Dana Larsen Completes His Coast-To-Coast Tour In Spite Of His Arrest

"Jam yesterday and jam tomorrow but never jam today."- Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

After Dana Larsen's arrest in Calgary earlier this month, his bail conditions stipulated he couldn't handle cannabis seeds except at his workplace, which include a seed bank and medical dispensary - both "grey area" businesses contravening federal drug laws. Seeds yesterday, seeds tomorrow, but no seeds today.

The court said his attempt to give away the seeds made him "dangerous," and the crown will seek the maximum penalty of six months jail time.

In the meantime, he got back on the road and completed his 14-city tour in Halifax on April 17th.

Larsen says when he was released from jail, Calgary police actually gave him back the same seeds he had been arrested with. The seeds are a CBD- rich strain and usually test below the 0.03 percent THC level that classifies the plant as a drug.

Canadian farmers growing hemp still need a license from Health Canada to plant and harvest hemp and are subject to background checks and random plant testing. Hemp producers pay Health Canada a nominal fee for annual testing to ensure the THC level is below the approved limit.

Larsen said he looks forward to his Alberta court appearance as a chance to get more publicity for his cause.

"We owe the Calgary police a big 'thank you' for the exposure and allowing us to keep the legalization movement in the public eye," he said.

He says that, although he doesn't expect the charges will proceed to trial, he's still grateful for the opportunity, "We'll rally at the courthouse and people will come and light up and show their support. It'll be a good time and great exposure."

Larsen focuses on race and criminal justice issues

Larsen's lecture on the white narrative of cannabis use and subsequent criminalization is the starting point for any meaningful dialogue on drug reform. His detailed hour-long talk directly links unjust drug laws to ideological state policy underpinned by race and class discrimination coupled with military and economic interests - getting high in and of itself has little to do with prohibition.

Larsen says the history of cannabis is a seed of knowledge subverted for a century. "However,the dark days of prohibition did not stop the benefits of cannabis from being spread." he said.

British Columbia has led the way for both drug law reform and harm reduction programs in Canada through the efforts of Larsen and like minded politicians.

His two books of satirical parody pay homage to Abbie Hoffman whose use of subversive humor and political theatre undermined establishment values. Hoffman was once arrested for wearing a shirt that played on the design of the American flag; he was convicted on desecration charges that were later overturned.

Larsen too has been creative and playful in his attempts to draw attention to the legalization debate. In addition to his recent campaigns to distributed seeds and mailing out cannabis to federal politicians, he once hosted a show called Weed Wednesday that ultimately cost him a chance to run as an NDP candidate in 2011. Footage of him smoking cannabis and also using LSD on the show was leaked to the CBC and aired on the The National. Larsen blamed the Liberals for the leak.

'Dangerous class' won't be consulted on legalization

Flickr / Cannabis Culture

As the government moves to roll out a task force on the logistics of legal pot, there appears no place at the table for the "dangerous" class, as Larsen calls it. He doesn't expect to be asked to participate as a stakeholder in the public debate, even though the Minister of Health promises to "consult broadly with public health, substance abuse, and law enforcement in order to examine and report on all the issues related to legalization."

"All the issues" include the economic interests of licensed producers and their investors and the tax windfall for three levels of government. It's their table and they will decide who's invited to dinner. Formal dress required with an open bar. And please, absolutely no smoking.

Larsen and hundreds of others are operating seed banks and dispensaries in a "gray area" until new laws and regulations for cannabis use are passed by parliament. These gray areas vary and seem largely determined by community standards in each jurisdiction. Calgary police arrested and charged Larsen with possession and trafficking, even though a recent poll shows the majority of Albertans support cannabis legalization.

Overgrow Canada encourages individuals to open more dispensaries and seed banks and Larsen believes the government will respond to the strength of numbers. He also acknowledges the government had little problem shutting down hundreds of bong shops across the country in the last round of the war on drugs. And dispensaries continue to be raided by police.

Overgrow's position is based on legalizing cannabis as an over-the-counter medication no different than cold remedies. Larsen argues that an over-regulated, heavily taxed market will not work based on the economics.

Larsen says hemp and cannabis industries are economic drivers

Larsen believes the industrial hemp industry can be converted to an agri-food model with organic standards. The current price on industrial hemp is around $180 per tonne. Thousands of hectares of hemp are harvested and subsidized each year in Canada with the CBD rich oil deemed a waste product. Alberta led the country in hemp production in 2011, making it the country's biggest organic oil producer.

The government position on marijuana, led by Health Canada with input from the Minister of Public Safety and the Justice Department, is not nearly this ambitious: their focus is mainly on protecting children, and costs related to health care and public safety. Think child-proof packaging and road-side checks of saliva, and you understand the scope of their agenda on cannabis.

Larsen says he expects a strong police presence to represent public safety concerns, and views Health Canada as the PR wing of licensed producers. He doesn't expect his views, or those of small producers and retailers to be represented around the table.

"Licensed producers are in the bio-tech industry with paid lobbyists, political insiders and Bay Street money," he says. "They have 'patents pending' and 'proprietary delivery methods'. They are not farmers."

Stephen Shay is a writer living in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

banner image: Flickr / Cannabis Culture


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