In the first article of this series, we covered cannabis in Canada up until the 1930’s. If you’d like to read it before this one you can find it here.
From the 1930’s to the 1960’s cannabis culture continued to grow in Canada. Primarily a youth activity, this subculture was most prolific around college campuses. Despite prohibition, it would seem that those using cannabis had never had an intention of stopping. Arrests for cannabis related offenses rose from just 20 in 1962, 2300 in 1968, and in 1972 there were nearly 12,000. Friction between the cannabis counterculture and the Canadian government was increasing. It would only be a matter of time before citizens would push for legalization.
Cannabis activism became prevalent in the 1960’s, mostly due to the hippie movement of the United States. Young people were experimenting with all manner of drugs and breaking down the barriers of cannabis culture stigmas. Highly influenced by Indian and Rastafarian culture many felt that cannabis was a holy sacrament; something sacred the government had no right to interfere with. So they did what any self-respecting hippies would do: marched on, sat in, lobbied, and let their views be heard loud and clear with demonstrations all over the country.
There were many protests, large and small, that occurred in Canada against cannabis prohibition. One of the largest and perhaps most influential, was a 1971 smoke-in that occurred in Vancouver and became known as the ‘Gastown Riots’. Over two thousand activists gathered in Vancouver’s Gastown district to smoke and protest the Canadian government’s encroachment on their rights. It was a peaceful demonstration that turned into a full-assault on Canadian citizens. Police beat any protestors they felt like regardless of threat, and 79 people were arrested.
Unfortunately, the efforts of these activists didn’t affect the cannabis laws in place. Over the next three decades cannabis use continued to increase. It wouldn’t be until July 2001 that Canada would finally begin to see true change when medical use was introduced.
Be sure to keep your eye out for our next edition of ‘Root Down: History Of Cannabis In Canada’ where we will feature the medical movement.
Shasta Nelson is a California Native and a cannabis connoisseur. She's been involved in the industry at every level since she was a teenager. Currently she provides content for Roottie, DOPE Magazine, and Terpenes and Testing. She's also a creative writer, with a graphic novel underway.