Next month, thanks to entrepreneur and environmental activist Salimeh Tabrizi, M.Ed., more than 900 people will gather in Vancouver, B.C., to give thanks and offer protection to the cannabis plant.
Tabrizi is the director of Amazon Coalition and the goddess behind the Cannabis & Hemp Conference and Expo (CHCE), one of Canada's only woman-run cannabis conferences and one of the largest. For this year's conference, to be held May 6 and 7 at The Nest, the University of British Columbia’s beautiful new LEED Platinum-certified building, she’s bringing together 50 speakers - doctors, researchers, biologists, authors, naturopaths, growers, activists, historians, entrepreneurs, industry experts , and more - to discuss sacred, historical, and ceremonial cannabis use; patient access and care; cultivation, activism, environmental sustainability, whole-plant hemp use, extraction and concentrates. Vancouver's own cannabis activist and advocate Mary Jean Dunsdon (“Water Melon”) will do a cooking demonstration.
Experts will talk about growing cannabis organically outdoors, where “cannabis roots are free to reach out to other companion plants and living soil,” Tabrizi says , while “being mindful, respectful, non-abusive or addictive.”
Workshops will cover cannabis and health, healthy edibles and juicing, and organic growing methods with master holistic growers Susan Sheldon, David Bernard-Perron, and Travis Lane. Musician-composer John Sheldon (Susan’s husband) will provide cannabis-inspired ceremonial music.
“Ultimately,” Tabrizi says, “it’s about self-empowerment and leading with your heart for the plant.”
What inspired you to create the Cannabis Hemp Conference and Expo?
During an ayahuasca ceremony in Vancouver, I received a clear message: It’s about cannabis. It’s a cannabis event. While meditating, Santa Maria (cannabis) told me she was “infuriated” and “tired of being abused, misused, misunderstood, and prostituted” and that she demanded reverence.
Where did you grow up and what brought you to Vancouver?
I immigrated to Vancouver from Iran when I was nine. I love my family there, and Iran will always be my first home. I'm so appreciative of the culture, the people, the poetry - and strong presence of plant medicines in Iran’s culinary arts, carpets, and art.
You were detained at the border when Trump put out his first travel ban. How was that?
My partner, Semir, and I went to visit my mother in Seattle. On the way there, as an Iranian-born Canadian citizen, I was detained. Four Iranian professionals from the U.S. who had visited Vancouver to see a theatre show were also detained for eight hours. There was a general air of confusion, but the border guards were very nice and respectful – they kept giving us juice boxes, snacks and blankets. I felt like they were ashamed and embarrassed. And you know, Iranians, overall, we’re very sweet people, so we were all just sitting there politely, talking nicely amongst each other, wondering what was going on.
I got my master’s in education in counselling psychology. After graduating in 2015, I worked in private practice for one year, but now the Cannabis and Hemp Conference and ayahuasca ceremonies have become my full-time practice. When I went to Peru for a one-month solo journey in 2016, the medicine advised me to step into more of an integration counsellor role, supporting individuals integrating their peak experiences into their day-to-day lives so the medicine won't be wasted. Over the past four years, I’ve been assisting during ayahuasca ceremonies and post-ceremony integration. I work primarily with people who are ready to wake up and to really let go of their burdens and shackles. People need to understand that their lives may be turned upside down, and they need extra grounding tools to come home and integrate their “new selves” into their lives, relationships, and work. Sometimes shedding the ego is a transformative experience, and you don’t exactly fit the mold that you once were comfortable in.
The more I explore plant medicines, the more I see the process of integration as essential, mysterious, and fascinating.
When I was in Peru, Madre (Mama Ayahuasca) told me that her medicine was being wasted because people were drinking, then drinking, then drinking again and not doing the integration work when they returned home, so they were not fully experiencing positive changes and continued to repeat the same patterns and programming. I’m very grateful to be able to hold that space for others. These plant medicines ultimately want to help and support us in connecting to our higher selves. Using ayahuasca or cannabis - or any plant medicine - as a crutch is not a way to empowerment. Going back again and again without mindful integration is not respectful of the work with the medicine. The plants meet us half-way, but we also need to be committed to making changes.
Tell me about your plant medicine teachers, cannabis and ayahuasca.
There’s an idea in some modern native Amazonian medicine traditions that the master plants ayahuasca and cannabis are jealous of each other and possessive of us. I’m interested in the plant spirit sisterhood of ayahuasca and cannabis. I’d like to get beyond the jealousy concept because both plants are unique and powerful. They’re both amazing teachers. For me, ayahuasca is a surgeon. She’ll diagnose everything, remove blocks, and upgrade my physical, emotional and energetic body - she’s like a sledgehammer. Cannabis can also be very powerful, and she’s a doctor too, but she has that empathy for sweet nursing along the way.
She is the medicine of compassion and self-care. She always reminds me to breathe, stretch, and take time to relax and regulate my system.
The cannabis liberation movement is also the ayahuasca Amazon liberation movement. It’s not disconnected. If we don’t go back to our heart and the heart of our planet, we’re going to perish. The social, humanitarian and environmental causes must be at the forefront of the conversation and then back to our personal journeys, but this is now a collective re-evolution of humans.
When I’m working with cannabis, I’ve learned to observe what’s coming up and flow with it, without judging. I can be an optimist, but I’ve also learned that it’s important to face, embrace and deal with my negative traits.
In the beginning, Santa Maria (cannabis) would show me how fast my mind was running. She is an amplifier and magnifier, and she showed me my anxiety and how I was over-thinking. She would kick my ass! I had to learn to calm down and slow down, and she taught me how to do that. It took me years to be in peace with her.
I didn’t have access to cannabis in high school, so I didn’t try it until my first year at university, and I actually hallucinated. Cannabis was my first connection to plant medicines, and she immediately highlighted my anxiety. My focus, intention and willingness to work through blocks to self-love and love for others allowed me to clear away the fear and welcome in empowerment.
For me, this is about cannabis legalization and liberation, but underneath, it is really about human liberation - from desire, trauma, pain, belief systems and more. Cannabis helps center and balance. The research backs that up, too. With the endocannabinoid system, cannabis is a balancing force for our mood, sleep, appetite, and homeostasis. It’s about balance and bliss.
We’ve moved to Sunshine Coast, about an hour out of Vancouver. Semir and I walk together in the forest, where there are tall, healthy cedar trees and wildlife is thriving. The animal spirits are very present - we have eagles, deer, bears and cougars. We saw a wildcat once! It’s so beautiful. I bring a rose quartz pipe that was a gift from my dear friend Alyse. It’s my favorite way to consume because I am reminded of the heart.
You’re 'forest bathing' with cannabis!
Yes! Intentionally. Mindfully. Getting high while still staying rooted.
Can you share an example of something that’s come up for you in your walking meditations?
I was meditating on my experience as a woman working within the conventional business world, which is still very masculine-focused, and considering how I have learned to set aside my emotions to work within that construct. Suddenly, I remembered reading a quote at medicinehunter.com about sustainable, mission-driven business models. Chris Kilham, the medicine hunter, wrote: “You know the expression, ‘It's not personal; it's business.’ We sneer at such rot. All business is personal, all the time.” That’s so true, and it came up for me when I most needed it. I no longer had to hide my emotions but could instead use them to connect to my heart in my personal expression and within my ethical business.
You’re talking about the patriarchal construct and culture of “business as usual?”
Yes, exactly - and how does the feminine light come into this space? I’ve learned big lessons about being a female with a spiritual mission within the male corporate realm. The plant medicines tell me what to do and watch out for me. I humbly listen and follow their guidance.
The irony is we’re talking about a female plant that conventional, male-driven business systems are trying to control. It’s another form of dominating.
I see cannabis in many, many visions as the goddess of compassion. She’s very generous, but she’s asserting her boundaries too. She’s saying, “Enough is enough, guys!” No more polite pretending. We’re learning to speak the truth from our hearts without being aggressive or hostile.
Are the plants working for you or are you working for the plants?
That is such a great question! I had a vision in which ayahuasca vines grew up from the ground and wrapped around me, up to my throat, all twisting and writhing and then at the top of the vine they became a snake that looked right at me and said, “I own you.” I stood up to her and said, “No, you don’t. We are co-creating together.” When I said that in all my power, the vines suddenly sprung open all around me and burst into flowers. And the snake came back around me and said, “Just checking.” At that moment, I knew she did not want me to be weak or to give up my power to anything or anyone.
The plants have an agenda, and it is for all of nature to be living together in balance. They help us get in touch with our bodies, minds and souls again, so we can see where our blocks are and heal ourselves.
Plant medicine helps people reconnect with nature.
In a big way.
I’ve met people from Christian-based ayahuasca churches, including the Santo Daime, who see ayahuasca as a sacred medicine and gave her a Christian name. Daime is their name for ayahuasca, so Santo Daime is Saint Ayahuasca. Many of those followers felt that cannabis is a sacred plant that often presents herself in the form of a saint, so they wanted to give her a Christian name as well. Cannabis became Santa Maria.
How has cannabis been abused?
Cannabis has been degraded and prostituted, villainized, stigmatized, and imprisoned.
Cannabis grow-ops are usually in a concrete structure in a basement, with no natural light and no natural air, and plants are usually in separate buckets where their roots aren’t touching. This isn’t right, and it really troubles me. I’ve seen images in ceremony of cannabis in chains and behind metal bars. I mean, what plant grows without sunlight? How did this happen?
I’ll never forget when I visited a grower in Canada, and he said looked at a prize plant and actually said, “I want to see how much this bitch can get me.” That’s incredibly disrespectful and abusive.
Calling her a drug is also abusive and denies 5,000 years of history for this incredible plant medicine. All the propaganda and laws from prohibition are designed to brainwash people to forget their beautiful relationship with this plant.
It’s a reflection of humans’ attempt to control or remove themselves from nature - an unhealthy condition of detachment or disassociation.
Our treatment of this sacred plant so perfectly mimics where we are as a species - a strong statement, a symbol or mirror of ourselves. The faster cannabis is free to come out of the darkness and into the light, the faster we too can reconnect with nature and reach for the sunlight, breathe in again, and let our roots grow deeper, reaching out to others.
Tell me about the three medicine men you chose to be keynote speakers.
If the time of the male spiritual warrior is shifting as well, these men are exemplary of that positive shift.
Graham Hancock is an activator for many of us. He has tirelessly written about our lost past, highlighting the ancient mysteries of human civilization, and he is an exceptional story-teller and hero. He is honest about his own journey with cannabis and talks about respecting the plant.
Medicine Hunter Chris Kilham is so alive, and when he comes in front of other people, other people come alive! This is not only the power of his words but also his presence. He carries many medicines, and has decades of experience promoting cultural and environmental preservation through medicinal plant trade all over the world.
I respect Dr. Ethan Russo so much for committing deeply to plant medicine. He’s a neurologist and leading cannabis researcher, and his presentations, while academic, are highly engaging, informative, and inspiring.
Let’s talk about the cannabis goddesses presenting this year. What is it about these speakers that inspires you?
There are so many women presenters, and I love them all, and I wish I could tell you about every one of them. Here are some thoughts on a few of them, including our keynote, Anndrea Hermann. Anndrea travels internationally, teaching about hemp utility in regards to nutrition, industrial use, and textiles. She is fiercely determined to bring hemp to the forefront and break down the stigmas against this incredible plant.
Joy Beckerman is a pioneer who opened the first hemp store in New York. As a hempcrete expert and legal advocate, she makes ripples of policy changes within Washington state, as well as all of the United States. Dr. Natasha Ryz, PhD, translates her scientific expertise about cannabis for gut health and skin care into relatable and concise terms for the public.
Jodie Emery, a political activist and long-time marijuana legalization advocate, is Canada’s cannabis sweetheart. Together with her activist husband, Marc Emery, she owns and operates Cannabis Culture stores, Cannabis Culture vapor lounges, Cannabis Culture News and Pot TV. Jodi and Marc were recently arrested and stripped of their business and their magazine. It was Jodi’s first time in jail, and she’s traumatized but says now she understands what people experience when they’re imprisoned for cannabis and will continue to fight for human rights and access.
There have been some highly-publicized raids.
This is a very confusing time in the fight to liberate cannabis in Canada. The recent raids of Cannabis Culture coincide with Trudeau’s government promising the release of legalization legislation on 4/20 and nationally legalizing cannabis on July 1, 2018.
We have about 39 licensed producers in Canada, which are legal under Health Canada’s medical marijuana program, introduced in 2001. Dispensaries aren’t legal, but in Vancouver, they are regulated by the municipal and provincial government. Cannabis Culture opened up dispensaries all over the country, so I feel the government wanted to make an example of Marc and Jodie in the period before the entire country goes fully legal in 2018. The old paradigm is breaking, and parts of the government are just clutching at straws. There has never been such a wealth of information and research on the practical, therapeutic, medicinal and environmental uses of cannabis, and the overall acceptance and understanding of the general public is taking place. Viva liberation!
Psychedelic Feminist Zoe Helene (@CosmicSister) is a multidisciplinary artist, cultural activist and journeyer who is connecting visionaries and activists who share her commitment to the rights of women, wilderness, and wildlife and to the liberation of “sacred plants” such as cannabis, which she promotes as allies for ethical evolution. She has been featured in top media venues such as Forbes, Bust, Vice/Broadly, Outside Magazine, Boston Magazine, New York Magazine, Fast Company, Utne Reader, and many more.
Banner image: Cannabis Hemp Conference and Expo producer Salimeh Tabrizi. (Photo by Cosmic Sisters of Cannabis (@CosmicSister) award-winner MaryBeth Lafferty, a Vancouver-based Canadian photographer in the cannabis liberation movement.
You can register here for the Cannabis Hemp Conference and Expo, May 6-7.