Now that cannabis is going to be legalized, we are seeing former high ranking RCMP and Conservative politicians- who used to rail against the ‘evils’ of cannabis while supporting or enforcing laws that put thousands of Canadians in jail (ruining lives and wasting taxpayers’ money in the process)- launching for-profit cannabis businesses of their own in the hopes of making a fortune.
Of course, these former cops and politicians all say that they’ve had a change of heart, after spending decades trying to criminalize the 43% of Canadians who’ve tried cannabis at least once.
Understandably, many people are skeptical and question their motives. Well, perhaps ‘question’ is the wrong word because, let’s be honest, we all know what it’s about- the money.
Cannabis industry leaders, such as Clint Younge, the CEO of MMJ Canada, have called out the cannabis companies of former prohibitionists and Dana Larsen, a well-known cannabis activist and founder of the BC Marijuana Party, has called for a boycott for all of the harm they did during their days as anti-cannabis crusaders.
Can you blame them?
It was activists like them who had to put their livelihoods at stake to bring cannabis to where it’s at today, and there’s a very real chance that they will be cut out of the legal system entirely while the crony capitalists reap all of the profits.
Here are two companies that epitomize these hypocritical and suspiciously-timed change of hearts.
Aleafia Total Health Network
Perhaps one of the most egregious examples is Aleafia Total Health Network, whose Executive Chairman is Julian Fantino, the former Toronto Police Chief and controversial Minister of Veteran Affairs under the Harper government, who once compared legalizing weed to legalizing murder.
Although the company is mainly focused on patient assessments and doesn’t have any cannabis on-site, it’s still disingenuous for Fantino to claim that he’s “not in the marijuana business”. The homepage of the Aleafia website features prominent cannabis images and graphics, and even if they’re not directly involved in cannabis sales, they are most definitely an auxiliary service to the industry.
But why is Fantino getting into the business now? Well, as he told the Toronto Sun in 2015 to justify keeping cannabis illegal, “There’s a lot of money in it. Big money”, and now it seems he wants some of that for himself, despite saying in the same Sun piece, “I would never do it.
I am completely opposed to the legalization of marijuana http://t.co/6xjeipzErR
— Julian Fantino (@JulianFantino) October 17, 2015
I guess a lot can change in two years, eh?
One of Fantino’s Aleafia business partners is Raf Souccar, who serves as the company’s President and CEO. Souccar’s past includes over three decades in the RCMP where he rose through the ranks to become the RCMP deputy commissioner. Souccar was also on Trudeau’s marijuana legalization task force, and he’s been rightly called out by NDP MP Don Davies for a conflict of interest, who told CBC, “The optics of task force members, within a short period of time of their task force duties, going into that very business for personal profit… I think it’s problematic.”
In an at-times combative interview last November with CBC journalist Carol Off, Julian Fantino is grilled over his tough-on-cannabis past, and while admitting that he’s never smoked weed himself, he refuses to acknowledge the hypocrisy of opening a medical cannabis business after dedicating a good part of his life to fighting legalization- his defense basically breaks down to “I was following the law, I was following orders”. But we’ve all heard those excuses and justifications before, so much that it’s even got itself a handy nickname- the Nuremberg Defense.
National Access Cannabis
National Access Cannabis is another company that deserves some attention. On their “About Us” pages, amidst the flowery language of providing access to medicine and all of the marketing copy about “talking answers”, you can’t find any real answers at all for things as simple as their leadership.
It might be due to the fact that the President is Derek Ogden, who used to be one of the country’s top drug cops as the Chief Superintendent of the RCMP, and the NAC may be (wisely?) trying to downplay his involvement in the company, especially considering all the backlash against Fantino’s and Souccar’s Aleafia business.
But at the same time, Ogden has done interviews with the press, even saying that once cannabis is legalized, he hopes that National Access Cannabis can start opening up dispensaries to sell recreational and medicinal weed, and he even cites his experience enforcing prohibitionist laws as a plus, telling Global News that he’s seen the marketing and selling of cannabis up close.
Right now, the NAC is an educational resource that helps patients navigate the medical cannabis system and doesn’t sell cannabis, which somewhat ironically makes them a competitor to Mr. Fantino’s Aleafia, which offers the same services.
For the Prohibitionists Going Forward
This article is not meant to be a witch hunt of Conservative politicians and former cops jumping into the cannabis industry.
It’s more about how the people who benefited and profited from keeping cannabis illegal are now immediately jumping into the fray when they realized they can make a buck off of legalization.
That’s not to say that people like Mr. Fantino, Mr. Souccar, and Mr. Ogden can’t change their minds on issues, but the thing is, is it genuine? It can be hard to tell if someone has really come around, and cannabis advocate Dana Larsen has an idea on how Mr. Ogden can start making amends, saying in a recent Facebook post that, “Derek Ogden needs to apologize for the harm he has done before he should be allowed anywhere near another cannabis plant. We will definitely be boycotting and protesting against National Access Cannabis.”
I’d like to see them to go one step further than that. With their newly enlightened views on cannabis, wouldn’t you expect them to feel guilty over all the Canadians whose lives they ruined when they threw them in jail over a plant?
If their hearts were truly in the right place, you’d think they’d want to make things right, and a good first step would be apologizing for their past wrongs, like Dana Larsen suggested, but they should also start calling for clemency and pardons for all the people convicted of cannabis possession that happened on their watch.
So far, they’re remaining as unapologetic as ever.
Hopefully, Canada’s cannabis industry gets the chance to be a truly open, fair, and free market, and the government will leave it up to us, the consumers, to decide who we buy from instead of forcing us all to buy LP weed.
Until then, it’s up to us to know who’s behind the growers, dispensaries, and companies all fighting for our money, and the ones that deserve our money are the ones that supported the culture and fought with us- not the ones who fought against us from the very beginning.
Featured Image Credit: Martin Trainor, CBC News
Stats Canada: Prevalence and correlates of marijuana use in Canada, 2012.
Toronto Sun: Legal pot would be a boon for organized crime: Fantino.