A Bootlegging Grandmother Inspired This Woman To Start A Career In Cannabis

The cannabis industry is filled with passionate, forward-thinking people who have devoted their life's work to changing people's perceptions. But the question remains - how do people become involved in the cannabis industry in the first place? It turns out everyone has a unique personal journey that has brought them to the world of cannabis. Each week cannabis professionals, activists, and others will tell their stories in their own words. This essay comes from Lisa Campbell, the Chair of Women Grow Toronto.

Growing up, I saw cannabis as a core part of Canadian culture. It was a normal part of family life, it was just society that didn't accept it. Cannabis seemed like a harmless plant in comparison to alcohol or other substances which could potentially put you in the hospital. As a teenager I would see my friends getting sick from binge drinking, and we had a lot of access to drugs despite prohibition. As such, I started volunteering with the TRIP! Project while I was in high school to educate other youth about drugs and keep my community safe. Little did I know that so many years later it would lead to a career in drug policy reform, or a career in cannabis!

TRIP! is a youth-led harm reduction initiative which does outreach at festivals, including cannabis events like 420 Toronto and the Global Marijuana March. Over the years TRIP! has included cannabis as a part of its drug education efforts. One of its projects is the Holy Smokes compilation, which includes cannabis history, harm reduction tips and music from local Toronto artists on an interactive CD sponsored by local Toronto cannabis businesses. Working with TRIP!, I had the opportunity to be a part of the Toronto Drug Strategy Implementation Panel and got to know intimately how city hall works as a result. If it weren't for TRIP! I would have never made it to my very first Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy (CSSDP) Conference in Vancouver, where I was exposed to Cannabis Culture firsthand and got a lesson or two in how to start a drug policy revolution.

Years later I had the privilege of working directly with CSSDP as the Outreach Director, collaborating with students across the country to push forward drug policy reform in Canada. From the halls of the United Nations, to Parliament Hill, CSSDP advocates for sensible drug policy grounded in evidence, not ideology and works with an international network of students and youth. During the Canadian election we were able to publish a drug policy report card for the party leaders designed for and by students. Now that we are so close to legalization it's imperative that young people get involved in advocating a better drug policy reform future. Getting involved in the movement has given me the opportunity to travel around the world, and as a legalization activist, I have been featured on everything from BBC to National Geographic to Pot.tv.

Lisa's grandparents in 1947.

I am personally inspired by my bubby who grew up selling moonshine as a child with her mother during prohibition. She was born in inner-city Detroit to a single-mother who was a Russian Jewish immigrant. I remember listening to stories of my bubby growing up in poverty and hustling to support her family. There were many stories of alcohol-fueled domestic violence that she endured as a child growing up in a rooming house. That being said, there were stories of true community despite the challenges to help make ends meet. After prohibition ended she kept on hustling, working as a nightclub photographer to support her brother through school. My bubby didn't have a choice to challenge prohibition, like so many people in the drug trade, she engaged in bootlegging for survival and did not get rich from it.

Recently, I've watched cannabis culture explode in Toronto with dispensaries and vapor lounges. The cannabis culture movement in Canada has never been so strong with Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, yet our movement remains divided in many ways. While we await legalization, cannabis is still a grey market industry riddled with many risks, and as such women are often more vulnerable working in this emerging industry. I have also seen many brave women put themselves at risk, while simultaneously being told to shy away from the credit for behind the scenes work.

Women like Hilary Black who founded the Canada's first compassion club the BC Compassion Club Society, or Abi Roach who started Hot Box Cafe, Canada's first vapor lounge, are not usually properly honoured in cannabis culture. That's why I founded Women Grow Toronto, so we can honour cannabis herstory and create a new cannabis culture which is inclusive of women. Through Women Grow we are trying to create a safe supportive space for entrepreneurs to come together from all sides of the industry. Women Grow empowers female entrepreneurs to know their rights as this industry emerges into legal access to cannabis. By working together, we can support each other as we grow with our evolving cannabis industry in Canada.

In order to end the harms related to cannabis and other drugs we need to end the war on drugs itself. If we can transition from prohibition to legalization for alcohol - like my bubby saw - I'm confident we can do the same for cannabis!


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