Cocaine and Canada in the Early 1970s

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. Stefano Tijerina, a lecturer in management and Chris Kobrack Research Fellow in Canadian Business History at the University’s of Maine’s Business School.

Canadians have been consuming cocaine since the early twentieth century.  They have traditionally been part of the larger western thirst for the stimulant that resulted in a transnational global industry that was initially controlled by European mafias.  Nevertheless, prior to the 1970s, Canadian media repeatedly published articles that highlighted the drug addiction crisis as an American and European problem, not a Canadian problem.[1]  While Canadians consumed cocaine that entered their borders via Europe and the United States, media distracted its readership with the “other’s problem.”  In 1970, for example, the Medicine Hat News reported that New York City authorities had confiscated US$9 million worth of heroin and cocaine.[2]  The arrest included an Argentinean, a Cuban, and two American men linked to a trafficking ring from Vichy, France.[3]  The drugs had been shipped from Marseilles and into the United States via Corsica.[4]  Cocaine trafficking was yet to be constructed as a Latin American problem.

This quickly changed in the 1970s, even though American urban centers along the 49th parallel became the core of the distribution networks for Canadian consumers.  In 1972, for example, Canadian authorities reported that there had been a “sudden jump in cocaine use, with large amounts being imported via Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver directly from South America.”[5]  The advancement of this idea paralleled increasing reports of cocaine related arrests at the borderland, but even these reports gave minimum relevance to the U.S.-Canada dynamic, arguing that these petty crimes were “just side roads to the mainstream of drug trafficking.”[6]

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Canada and Cannabis: A More Complicated History

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Michael Couchman, a PhD candidate in history at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. It’s based off his presentation at the Cannabis: Global Histories conference held at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, from April 19-20, 2018. Enjoy!

At the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem in 2016, Canadian Health Minister Jane Philpott proclaimed that, “Our approach to drugs must be comprehensive, collaborative and compassionate. It must respect human rights while promoting shared responsibility. And it must have a firm scientific foundation. In Canada, we will apply these principles with regard to marijuana.” Although Canada’s upcoming decision to legalize cannabis presents considerable difficulties in the context of the many international drug control treaties to which it adheres, this challenge presents a unique opportunity to promote some much-needed reforms in the realm of multilateral drug laws. Being the first G7 country to tax and regulate cannabis at the national level, Canada has the potential to help redefine the global regulatory apparatus and its directives concerning cannabis and other illicit drugs.

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Michael Couchman presents his work at the Cannabis: Global Histories conference at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, on April 20, 2018. Photo by Morgan Scott, Breathe Images

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Video: Matthew DeCloedt at Cannabis: Global Histories

Editor’s Note: Did you hear? Yesterday, Canada’s Senate passed legislation legalizing recreational marijuana use for adults. Legalization will officially take place in October 17, 2018, in an effort to “take market share away from organized crime and protect the country’s youth,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said. Do you think Canada passed the law because they …

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Touring Tilray: Navigating Canada’s New Marketing and Selling of Medical Cannabis

Editor’s Note: This post is brought to you by Cynthia Belaskie and Lucas Richert. Richert is a lecturer in history at University of Saskatchewan and Belaskie is a senior advisor at McMaster University. Enjoy!

We weren’t left to wait in the B.C. rain. After presenting our IDs at the security station outside Tilray’s medical cannabis facility in Nanaimo, and once we were confirmed as being on the official “list,” it took less than a minute to enter the recently constructed $30 million, 65,000 square-foot facility.

There were four of us taking the tour of Tilray, one of Canada’s licensed producers of medical marijuana. We were part of a SSHRC-funded conference in the history of drugs and alcohol at Vancouver Island University, and this was one of the activities available to us as participants in the event.

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Philippe Lucas VP of Tilray a medical marijuana business is seen here in the grow room in Nanaimo August 14, 2014. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

Our guide was Phillipe Lucas, Vice-President of Patient Services at Tilray. He walked us through the electric gate and led us into a cozy holding room filled with bottles of San Pellegrino, a weigh scale, and a flat screen TV flashing images of the building’s construction. A former city councilor in Victoria, an expert witness on marijuana in Canada, and one-time dispensary owner, Philippe was handsome. He spoke quickly, laughed easily, and possessed an air of mischief, too.

Over the past ten years, Phillipe has published peer-reviewed articles on cannabis’s therapeutic effects on patients in top academic journals around the world. In particular, as a PhD student at the University of British Columbia, he has been working on a concept called the cannabis substitution theory, which seeks to understand the behaviours and choices of marijuana-using patients in the medical marketplace. Besides this, he helped co-found a Canadian chapter of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.

We deposited our belongings on the leather chairs in the cozy waiting room, leaving our phones and cameras behind, and Phillipe explained the building was a Level 9 security complex. Level 10 was reserved for nuclear products and the facility has been described by Charlie Smith as “a vault wrapped by Fort Knox wrapped in a castle.” No pictures allowed. No videos, either.

With security passes on display around our necks, we set off. We engaged in an intricate dance as we tapped in and out of each fortified and sanitized room. Our graceless choreography, made ever more awkward as we stood outside each room and robed and disrobed to prevent contaminating the delicate crops, was all caught on internal security cameras – lots and lots of cameras, in fact. It is understandable, isn’t it? Just imagine what would happen if this stuff made its way on to the streets.

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