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Amnesty group names Abi Roach a ‘cannabis hero’


Published on Mugglehead on April 24, 2020

When Abi Roach opened her first headshop and cannabis cafe in Kensington Market, stigma against cannabis use in Toronto was so strong that people were afraid to walk in the door.

But she persisted because she knew patients needed a safe place to toke up, and that she could help battle stigma by showing how cannabis users were normal, everyday people.

Two decades later the trailblazer is being honoured as a “cannabis hero” by Cannabis Amnesty to celebrate this year’s physically distanced 4/20. Roach was named alongside 14 other “cannabis heroes” who have left a lasting mark on the space.

 

Cannabis Amnesty@CannabisAmnesty

Best known for her advocacy for the legalization and normalization of cannabis in Canada, Abi Roach has been a icon within the Canadian cannabis community for over 20 years. As the founder of the @hotboxcafe and the Ontario Cannabis Consumer & Retail Alliance,

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Cannabis Amnesty volunteer coordinator Reena Rampersad said it’s important to remember that the space was a realm, not an industry, back when the legwork pushing for legalization was taking place. 

“It’s quite a milestone we’ve achieved. Legalization wasn’t just for the sake of industry, it was also about social justice and human rights concerns,” she said. 

Cannabis Amnesty says it honoured Roach because she spent over 20 years fighting, not only for medical access to cannabis but for safe spaces for patients to medicate. 

“She’s one of the people who helped convince our government that there was a need for this industry,” Rampersad said. “She’s essentially one of the people we have to thank as one of the driving forces behind legalization.”

As for Roach herself, she says she always knew the government would legalize, even when she opened Toronto’s first cannabis consumption lounge HotBox Cafe in 2003. Back then, people were afraid to enter the store because they worried the police were filming them. During those days you had to every smoking accessory was for tobacco use and it was illegal to sell a book about cannabis, she told Mugglehead from her home in Toronto. 

That’s how bad the stigma was, she said.

Abi Roach honoured as a hero by Cannabis Amnesty for 4/20
When HotBox Cafe first opened people were afraid to come in the store in case the cops were watching. Submitted photo

But Roach knew that if she brought cannabis out of the shadows and created a space where friends could get together over a joint, the same way you might meet up on a patio for drinks, then destigmatization would follow.

That’s a lesson she learned from the gay rights movement of the ’90s, she says. As a teenager she watched her gay friends go from being closeted and fearful of violence to openly gay and proud, and saw how the more people opened up about their sexuality the more it was normalized. 

Places like the HotBox Cafe helped break down stigma around drug use because people could come in and see cannabis users were just like your neighbours, co-workers, aunts and friends. Regardless of what the law says, if you can show 75 per cent of people that something isn’t morally wrong, then policy will change, Roach said. 

“Did I know 20 years before that this was going to happen? Yes, I did, because I knew that society was changing and I knew the war on drugs was coming to an end,” she said. 

She can even pinpoint the day when she knew legalization would happen. On May 26, 2016, Toronto police executed project Claudia, a coordinated raid on all unregulated cannabis shops across the city, and Roach got a phone call from her conservative mother. She was confused why the police were harassing the nice people who owned the cannabis store in her neighbourhood, Roach said. 

“That’s when I knew everything was going to change.”

Abi Roach honoured as a hero by Cannabis Amnesty for 4/20
Abi Roach said she knew the Canadian government would legalize cannabis 20 years ago. Submitted photo

Roach doesn’t own the HotBox Cafe anymore. In January, news broke that Roach sold HotBox Cafe to Friendly Stranger Holdings, Corp. and that she had accepted a job as senior product manager at the Ontario Cannabis Store. 

After 20 years of having the same job and running the same business, Roach was tired and ready for a change. When an opportunity came up to transition to a different environment came up, she took it.

While in the process of selling HotBox Cafe, the Ontario government announced it was scrapping its cannabis retail lottery system, which she had been loudly critical of. 

Read more: Ontario cannabis sheds lottery retail system, welcomes open market

Roach felt a rush of relief when she heard the news, but said she didn’t want to run back to retail. It was up to Friendly Stranger to apply for a licence through the new system — and she could focus on her new life as a civil servant. 

As you might expect, Roach isn’t deaf to the criticisms that she sold out when she took the government job. But shrugs them off just the same: How many people can say they worked the same job for 20 years and don’t want a change?

Abi Roach honoured as a hero by Cannabis Amnesty for 4/20
Roach said being an entrepreneur is in her blood. Submitted photo

She was never anti-government, she says, but instead against policies that hurt people through prohibition. 

And besides, as a civil servant she gets to tackle how to make cannabis more inclusive and focus on the bigger picture, Roach said. Now she feels like she’s getting her MBA in cannabis because of all the experienced, knowledgeable people she interacts with everyday, and for all of the research and reports she gets to work on. 

She was surprised by how easy the transition was, she said. She’d never worked in an office before, and was relieved to find the OCS had a startup vibe where people were open to new ideas and everyone was given a lot of freedom. 

For people wanting to enter the cannabis space, Roach’s advice is to forage ahead and go for what you want. 

“This is my belief: create a path when there isn’t a road there for for you,” she said. “I am a disabled Jewish woman who’s made her way — alone, with no business partners and no support — for 20 years in an industry that was like the Wild West where anything can happen.” 

Abi Roach honoured as a hero by Cannabis Amnesty for 4/20
‘She’s essentially one of the people we have to thank as one of the driving forces behind legalization.’ Submitted photo

The cannabis realm, and all of the people she worked with over the years, Roach says, has always been pushing for regulation because. It creates stability and safety in the industry, which is why she believes all drugs should be legalized and regulated. 

The idea of regulating anything wrapped heavily in stigma as all drugs might seem far fetched, but all it takes is one person with a clear view of how they can fix the harms being done, Roach said. Like cannabis, all it took was having a vision and working tirelessly towards it, which is something a lot of entrepreneurs could relate to, she said. 

Others honoured by Cannabis Amnesty were equally surprised and grateful for the nomination, coordinator Rampersad said. But not everyone honoured is still with us.

“We wanted to show that their advocacy has not gone in vain and that their mark is permanent,” Rampersad said. 

TOP 10 ORGANIZATIONS TO SUPPORT DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC

TOP 10 ORGANIZATIONS TO SUPPORT DURING THE COVID-19 RESPONSE


The fight for justice and equality does not revolve around a single issue. Rather, it is a response to the most pressing needs of our day. Today, we respond to the need created by the global COVID-19 pandemic. There are a number of organizations across Canada that are focused on addressing the unique needs of vulnerable and marginalized populations during the COVID-19 pandemic. They could use your help a lot more than we can at this time. Here is our list of ten organizations doing this important work and instructions on how you can support them.

CANADA (National):

 

The John Howard Society

 

 

 

Website:

 

https://johnhoward.ca/services-across-canada/

 

Social Media Handles:

 

Twitter: @JohnHoward_Can

Facebook: @JohnHowardSocietyCanada

 

This is what this organization is doing for vulnerable communities during the COVID pandemic?

 

The JHS has branches and offices in over 60 communities across Canada, in all 10 provinces and the Northwest Territories. As an essential service, JHS offices continue to provide critical justice and social services and programs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

This is why you should care about this organization if you care about Cannabis Amnesty:

 

Like the Campaign for Cannabis Amnesty, the JHS believes those who have come in conflict with the law should be given a second chance. The organization provides for the effective integration into the community of those in conflict with the law and promotes changes in the law that will lead to more humane and effective treatment of individuals.

 

How can I support?

 

You can donate here.

 

 

 

QUEBEC

 

The Old Brewery Mission Foundation

 

 

 

Website:

 

https://www.missionoldbrewery.ca/en/

 

Social Media Handles:

Twitter: @missionOBM

Facebook: @missionoldbrewery

 

This is what this organization is doing for vulnerable communities during the COVID pandemic?

 

 

Open 24/7, the Old Brewery Mission is the largest resource for homeless men in Quebec and one of the largest resources for homeless women in Canada. The provincial government has officially declared the Old Brewery Mission, an essential service. Our teams on the frontline are working to ensure the health and safety of nearly 4,000 homeless men and women during, the covid-19 crisis.

 

This is why you should care about this organization if you care about Cannabis Amnesty:

Homelessness is a form of marginalization that results in overrepresentation in the criminal justice system.

How can I support?

You can donate here.

 

 

THE PRAIRIES

 

Manitoba Harm Reduction Network

 

 

 

Website:

 

https://mhrn.ca

 

Social Media Handles:

Twitter: @mbhrn

Facebook: @manitobaharmreductionnetwork

 

This is what this organization is doing for vulnerable communities during the COVID pandemic?

 

Providing harm reduction support to vulnerable communities with a particular focus on Aboriginal populations with AIDS. MHRN is working with a number of community organizations to collect harm reduction information and resources related to COVID-19 for people in Manitoba who: - use drugs - are experiencing homelessness/houselessness/overcrowded living situations - are Indigenous - provide services to these groups

 

This is why you should care about this organization if you care about Cannabis Amnesty:

The MHRN Shares our commitment to ending the stigma around drugs

 

Cannabis Amnesty is committed to assisting Aboriginal populations who are overrepresented in criminal justice system. There is also significant overrepresentation of AIDS among Manitoba’s Aboriginal peoples and the problem is growing. The factors that lead to overrepresentation of AIDS in the Aboriginal population are some of the same factors that result in overrepresentation in the CJS, including systemic racism and a history of colonization MHRN is doing valuable work compiling statistics on the impact of COVID19 on individuals who use drugs, are Aboriginal, are homeless, etc. We are also committed to making sure that data is compiled on the impact that government policies have on these same groups.

 

How can I support?

You can help by providing information you have on the affect of COVID 19 of the identified groups by emailing covid19@mhrn.ca.

 

 

ALBERTA

 

The Mustard Seed

 

 

 

Website:

 

https://theseed.ca

 

Social Media Handles:

 

Twitter: @mustardseedyyc

 

This is what this organization is doing for vulnerable communities during the COVID pandemic?

 

People experiencing poverty and homelessness are among those most at risk of infectious diseases such as COVID-19. The Mustard Seed provides a variety of essential services to people experiencing poverty and homelessness including housing, employment assistance and health and wellness services.

 

This is why you should care about this organization if you care about Cannabis Amnesty:

The Cannabis Amnesty team cares about vulnerable communities. The Mustard Seed is actively supporting vulnerable populations as we deal with the pandemic.

How can I support?

Donations can be made here.

 

 

MARITIMES

 

Brunswick Street Mission

 

 

 

Website:

 

https://www.brunswickstreetmission.org/

 

Social Media Handles:

 

Twitter: @BSMHalifax

Facebook: @BSM.inspire

 

This is what this organization is doing for vulnerable communities during the COVID pandemic?

 

The Brunswick Street Mission, located in Halifax, serves those who struggle with poverty. Many are homeless, others are at risk of homelessness. Since March 2020, the Mission has been preparing breakfast, lunch and dinner for 5 shelters, double the amount of meals it normally makes per day.

 

This is why you should care about this organization if you care about Cannabis Amnesty:

 

Like the Campaign for Cannabis Amnesty, the Brunswick Street mission aims to address concerns primarily related to social problems such as poverty and homelessness. These issues include mental illness, addictions, physical disabilities, criminal record, and violence.

 

How can I support?

 

The Mission needs donations to help them purchase the food they need to cook over 350 meals daily. Donate to the Mission here.

 

 

THE NORTH

 

We Matter

 

 

 

Website:

 

https://wemattercampaign.org/

 

Social Media Handles:

Facebook: @WeMatterCampaign    

Twitter: @WeMatterOrg               

Instagram: @wematterorg

 

This is what this organization is doing for vulnerable communities during the COVID pandemic?

 

We Matter is an Indigenous youth-led and nationally registered organization dedicated to Indigenous youth support, hope and life promotion. Suicide rates for Indigenous youth are several times higher than that of other Canadians, as well as rates for challenges like addiction, abuse, and school drop outs. We Matter recently had a virtual town hall on Thursday afternoon to discuss the ways in which young Aboriginals can maintain mental health and wellness during COVID19 isolation periods.

 

This is why you should care about this organization if you care about Cannabis Amnesty:

 

Indigenous youth are overrepresented in cannabis-related arrests. They are a segment of the population that are uniquely vulnerable to over-policing and over-incarceration. Focusing on the mental health and wellness of Aboriginal youth is an important way to ensure their success and well-being.

 

How can I support?

Donations can be made here.

You can also purchase merchandise here.

 

ONTARIO

 

Fred Victor House

 

 

 

Website:

https://www.fredvictor.org/

 

Social Media Handles:

Twitter: @FredVictorTO

Instagram: @fredvictorcentre

 

This is what this organization is doing for vulnerable communities during the COVID pandemic?

 

Fred Victor continues to provide housing and shelter for men, women and families who live in extreme poverty, are marginally housed or are homeless and strives to provide appropriate and effective health services for community members through the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

This is why you should care about this organization if you care about Cannabis Amnesty:

 

Homelessness is more likely to bring people in contact with the police. Increased police interactions results in overrepresentation in the criminal justice system. This overrepresentation is a phenomenon the Campaign is seeking to combat.

 

How can I support?

Donate to their COVID-19 fund here.

 

 

ONTARIO

 

Feed It Forward

 

 

 

Website:

 

https://feeditforward.ca/

 

Social Media Handles:

 

Twitter: @Jagger_Gordon

Instagram @chefjaggergordon

 

This is what this organization is doing for vulnerable communities during the COVID pandemic?

Feed it forward helps provide food to vulnerable communities across the GTA.

This is why you should care about this organization if you care about Cannabis Amnesty:

Many communities most effected by possession offences live in areas that are considered “foot desert” and suffer from food insecurity.

How can I support?

You can make a donation here.

 

BRITISH COLUMBIA

 

First Nations Health Authority

 

 

 

Website:

 

www.fnha.ca

 

Social Media Handles:

Twitter: @fnha

Facebook: @firstnationshealthauthority

 

This is what this organization is doing for vulnerable communities during the COVID pandemic?

 

The FNHA is working with provincial and federal partners to actively monitor and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. It has have created a COVID-19 web portal to help BC First Nations people and their health care providers and community leaders get the information they need to keep themselves and others safe.

 

This is why you should care about this organization if you care about Cannabis Amnesty:

This organization supports First Nations communities who are disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs.

How can I support?

Take advantage of and share the culturally sensitive COVID-19 resources available on their website here.

 

BRITISH COLUMBIA

 

Salvation Army BC

 

 

 

Website:

 

https://salvationarmy.ca/britishcolumbia/

 

Social Media Handles:

Twitter: @salvationarmy

Facebook: @salvationarmy

 

This is what this organization is doing for vulnerable communities during the COVID pandemic?

 

The need for services has increased over the past few weeks as people are getting laid off due to businesses forced to close their doors. We are serving more individuals and families with the following: Shelter Spaces and beds, food bank, community meal services, mobile feeding trucks, spiritual and emotional counselling, care packages and sanitary Supplies.

 

This is why you should care about this organization if you care about Cannabis Amnesty:

 

This organization supports vulnerable communities including children and families, often tending to the basic necessities of life, provides shelter for homeless people and rehabilitation for people who have lost control of their lives to an addiction.

 

How can I support?

Donate here.

Celebrate 4/20/2020 and join the fight for Cannabis Amnesty

Published on ADDICTED on April 20, 2020

Happy 420, fellow canna-lovers. Cannabis connoisseurs have long held April 20th (4/20) as a day of celebration, a time to gather and embrace the herb, regardless of its state of legality.

As the myth behind 420 goes, (according to Wikipedia), in the early 70s five high school students in San Rafael, California were in search of an abandoned cannabis crop.  They called themselves the Waldos, because they hung out at “a wall outside the school.”  The group would gather daily at 4:20pm to coordinate their hunt.  When their efforts to find the crop were fruitless, the students continued to meet at the same place and time to partake in the habit that inspired their search.  The tradition gained traction in the community, according to Steven Hager of High Times thanks to fans of the Grateful Dead.  One of the original Waldos, David Reddix, became a roadie for the Dead’s bassist, Phil Lesh , and he called for 4:20 PM to be the socially accepted time of day for cannabis consumption.  And the rest, as they say, is history.This year was meant to be the most righteous of 4/20s, in that there will literally be four twenties:  4/20/2020 at 4:20pm will be the ultimate moment in cannabis celebrations.  But like the many nice things we can no longer have, the COVID-19 crisis has thwarted all hope of the epic in person parties cannabis lovers have been dreaming of leading up to this year.  Today also marks the second 4/20 under the Canadian Cannabis Act, which legalized cannabis for recreational use on October 17th, 2018.  And while legal medical and recreational access in our country should be celebrated, it bears repeating that cannabis legalization has not benefited every Canadian, and in fact has left many people behind.

As more and more places around the world move away from the criminalization and towards the legalization of cannabis, a new and lucrative industry has risen to benefit the privileged, while fundamental injustice continues to be inflicted on the oppressed and marginalized.  There are millions of individuals who have suffered convictions for crimes that no longer exist in places where cannabis is legal, and biased enforcement where it is not.  While some profit from legalization, others continue to bear the stigma of those convictions, including limited access to employment and the chance at financial success, the stigma related to criminality, and the mental health and wellness issues that come from those struggles.

In North America there are two organizations fighting for criminal justice reform when it comes to Cannabis.  In Canada, Cannabis Amnesty is a non-profit organization lead by legal experts and community organizers campaigning for blanket pardons for anyone convicted of simple cannabis related offenses.  While the government has shown some leniency on the subject with the passing of Bill C-93 (providing no fee, expedited pardons), Cannabis Amnesty is still fighting to remove all remaining barriers, cost related or otherwise, from gaining those pardons, and for full criminal record expungement to ensure true cannabis criminal justice reform is achieved.

The COVID-19 crisis further shed light on why cannabis amnesty was more necessary than ever: overcrowded prisons are a potential hotbeds for outbreaks.  Individuals incarcerated for minor cannabis related offenses are put in harms way, when, frankly they shouldn’t even be behind bars in the first place.  And Cannabis Amnesty agrees.  According to the press release they put out today, “the Campaign for Cannabis Amnesty is adding its voice to the growing number of rights groups calling for the immediate release of as many inmates in custody as possible to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Among other options, measures should be taken to allow for the early release of those convicted of cannabis and non-violent drug offences. Decarceration is the only way to protect prisoners and staff of correctional institutions from COVID-19.”

While cannabis is not yet legal on a federal level in the US, the legal cannabis industry is a multi-billion dollar one, and millions remain behind bars for cannabis related offenses. The Last Prisoner Project not for profit organization fighting for criminal justice reform when it comes to cannabis.  It’s a coalition of cannabis industry leaders, executives and artists dedicated to bringing reform, and hopefully equality, to this very flawed and broken system. Through intervention, advocacy and awareness campaigns, the forces behind the Last Prisoner Project work to fight the continuing harms of laws and policies that disproportionately affect minorities and the poor.  Like Cannabis Amnesty, the Last Prisoner Project has been fighting tirelessly for the release of incarcerated individuals in the wake of COVID-19, specifically those convicted of minor cannabis related offenses.

Many of today’s U.S. based virtual 420 celebrations will be working to raise funds and awareness for the Last Prisoner project, so cannabis consumers can do their part to help the cause while celebrating in the comfort of their own homes. 

So while we take today’s 4/20 to celebrate cannabis culture and the new levels of acceptance it continues to find, we must also work to ensure that everyone can benefit from its legalization, not just the rich, powerful and privileged.  Check out some of the virtual 420 events taking place today in the U.S. and Canada, that are also helping to fight for equality in the cannabis space.

Cannabis Amnesty’s Who’s your #cannabishero campaign

Cannabis Amnesty@CannabisAmnesty

Who's your ? We want to know!

This 4/20, post a picture of and tag a cannabis hero in your life, and tell us what makes them so great!

We'll also be posting about our own heroes, so keep an eye out!

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See Cannabis Amnesty's other Tweets

 

This 420, Cannabis Amnesty is asking people to embrace the spirit of community and nominate their cannabis heroes.  All you have to do is use the #cannabishero and #cannabisamnesty hashtags when you share and tell your story.  Watch Cannabis Amnesty’s twitter feed for their own nominations of activists and allies in the Cannabis community.

COMMENTARY: It may be too late for Canada to keep a promise on pardons for pot crimes

Published in the Global News on May 18, 2019

Canada’s federal government is currently working to pass a bill that would provide pardons for people convicted of minor cannabis possession. With a federal election around the corner, it may be too little, too late.

As a result of mounting pressure, Canada’s federal government is now struggling to pass this bill before politicians leave the capital for the summer break.

If the bill does not pass, it is unlikely to do so before a national election this fall, leaving tens of thousands of lives hanging in the balance.

Read more

SECU Submissions

SUBMISSIONS TO THE HOUSE OF COMMONS’ STANDING COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC SAFETY AND NATIONAL SECURITY STUDYNG BILL C-93

Presented by ANNAMARIA ENENAJOR FOUNDER & CAMPAIGN DIRECTOR CAMPAIGN FOR CANNABIS AMNESTY

  1. PREFACE: The Campaign for Cannabis Amnesty (hereafter “the Campaign”) is an independent, not-for-profit advocacy group focused on righting historical wrongs caused by decades of cannabis prohibition. It was founded in April 2018 in response to the absence of federal legislation addressing the stigma of previous convictions for offences that would no longer be illegal under the Cannabis Act. Since then, the Campaign has been calling on the government to enact legislation to delete criminal records relating to the simple possession of cannabis. We believe that no Canadian should be burdened with a criminal record for minor, non-violent acts that are no longer crimes.

  2. INTRODUCTION: For almost 95 years, the criminalization of simple cannabis possession has resulted in the imposition of unreasonably harsh penalties on hundreds of thousands of Canadians. It is estimated that as many as 500,000 Canadians currently have a criminal record for simple cannabis possession.1 These records interfere with their ability to travel, find meaningful employment, and volunteer in their communities. To make matters worse, decades of unequal enforcement of cannabis possession offences has disproportionately affected racialized, low-income and Indigenous Canadians.

The Campaign supports the implementation of measures to remove the stigma of past cannabis convictions that disproportionately impact marginalized people. As it is currently drafted, however, Bill C-93, does not go far enough. We offer the following observations and modest recommendations on this proposed legislation.

 

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'Pardon truck' rolls across Canada, calling for cannabis crime expungement

Published on Yahoo News on March 31, 2019

Parked on a busy corner is what looks like a food truck.

Instead of selling poutine or perogies, the people inside are trying to sell the idea of the complete expungement of criminal records for people convicted of cannabis possession.

Campaign to erase simple cannabis convictions rolls into Calgary

Published in the Calgary Sun on March 30, 2019

A cross-country tour aimed at gathering support for the permanent deletion of simple cannabis convictions made a stop in Calgary Saturday.

Doja and the Cannabis Amnesty campaign are calling for expungement for people with a simple possession of marijuana conviction.

Fair Trade and Fair Treatment: Cannabis Amnesty Law

Published in the Harvest Investor on January 22, 2019

The Canadian Government made history in October last year after the legalization of cannabis. The plant has been a topic of huge debates because of its previous illegal state. However, with time and research, a strong case has been made for its beneficial attributes. The Cannabis Act is one of the hallmarks of the change in the perception of cannabis. However, there is more to the issue than just making it legal.

 

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Canadian Cannabis Moments We’re Looking Forward to in 2019

Published in Leafly on December 28, 2018

It’s hard to believe that legalization was just a few months ago. And, while the rollout of cannabis legalization in Canada has been nothing short of a rocky, there are a bunch of exciting developments on the horizon.

The future of cannabis in Canada is looking bright. Here are 7 key cannabis moments that we’re looking forward to in 2019.

Read more
Campaign for Cannabis Amnesty is an Open Democracy Project Civic Campaign Accelerator participant. Website by DemocracyKit, created with NationBuilder.