The Journey and Vision of a British Columbia Cannabis Warrior
t is a rare thing indeed to sit down with someone so experienced
in all parts of the cannabis landscape, Brian Taylor has a long list of accomplishments,
most of which you will find out about in the interview
politicians who support the very social policies that keep them enriched and skewing everything from the justice sys- tem to the price of real estate. The other two votes in favour of supporting STV came from
Mayor Taylor and Councillor
below. But impressively, this former founding member and party leader for the British Columbia Marijuana Party, is cur- rently working in his 3rd term as Mayor of Grand Forks, BC. In British Columbia there is a growing movement of current- ly sitting and retired politicians, academics, law enforcement employees, doctors, nurses, teachers, and the Chief Public Health Officer that advocates to the provincial and federal government in favour of the regulation and taxation of mar- ijuana and all its products to stop the growth of organized crime and decrease the violence on community streets. Generally referred to as the “Stop The Violence” movement (http://stoptheviolencebc.org/ ), Brian had been seeking the support of Grand Forks City Council in signing on to a letter that so far 4 former Mayors of Vancouver, current sitting Mayor Gregor Robertson, and 8 other elected and sitting B.C. Mayors have signed, which specifically calls on both levels of higher government to implement these common sense prin- ciples surrounding the end of cannabis prohibition.
Unfortunately, after this 2 part interview took place, Grand
Forks City Council voted 5 to 2 to NOT support
the Stop The Violence (STV) campaign
and Mayor Taylor’s signing
of the letter.
In a stunning display of ignorance
and an inability to lis- ten to scientific fact and social
policy experience from multi- ple experts
on the STV campaign, and local citizens who took time to provide
majority supportive commentary on Mayor
Taylor’s involvement with STV to council, 5 Grand Forks City Councillors ran screaming into the
of prohibition, organized crime, and the Dark Ages. I wonder if Councillors Krog,
Wyers, Smith, and O’Doherty
understand that back in the day they would have just voted to support
Al Capone and a continuance
of alcohol prohibition. Organized
Bob Kendel. It is lonely, for the time being, in Grand Forks when it comes to forward thinking leadership on the very important issue of cannabis prohibition, however, there is much that can be done to educate the 5 uninformed coun- cilors. Stay tuned.
This interview took place in 2 parts and covered a wide range of Brian’s experiences in the cannabis world. From going to jail in 1966 Mexico for a joint and being interned in the jail shit pit, meeting the legendary Jack Herer at a hemp confer- ence in B.C., starting the very informative Cannabis Health magazine, growing legal medical cannabis under Health Canada license and being robbed of said cannabis, to an unlikely partnership with a local RCMP constable and a CBC television film crew to show the harms of cannabis prohibi- tion, Brian Taylor has done it all in his quest to see greater access for medical cannabis patients and a taxed and regulat- ed Canadian marijuana industry to be proud of, not to men- tion allowing more access to hemp and all its products.
We start off with my late arrival to Kocomo’s Coffee Shop in
bustling downtown Grand Forks in sunny
July. I had just come
from the other coffee shop in our downtown core, around the block…and it was I who
set the time and place. Kococmo’s and
Jogas, easy to confuse right?
Nothing to do with the recent sativa that replaces coffee so
well. We crash in brightly painted wooden chairs in the shaded outdoor
patio of the cof- fee
shop, which happens to be located in a tight alley, blocked off and gated at both ends, it is peaceful
and cool in the shade of the
alley, and packed with mosquitos.
Bravely throwing concerns over contracting West Nile virus aside we dive in to the interview.
Let’s meet Brian Taylor y’all!
OK, so we’re live, I believe it’s the 9th of July…
Brian: It is.
Here with Brian Taylor, this is on behalf of Treating Yourself magazine….yeah, Brian if you want to start off with where you come from, and uh, what got you generally started in the cannabis industry, and we can go as far back as ya want.
Brian: Well let’s see I lived in Keremeos and was away at school doing various things, going to jail in Mexico and that kind of stuff…got back in to Keremeos and the hippies were there right? They had moved in en masse from the coast bringing the counterculture with them and picking fruit in the Okanagan, so I had more than exposure then and to cannabis. The kind of experiences that I had had cer- tainly had an impact on me early in life, but I basically took a very responsible path at about age 21 or so I started work- ing with children, and working with the Toronto Children’s Aid Society for the better part of 10 years.
What, particularly did you do for Children’s Aid? Brian: I was a childcare worker, I went to school in Toronto at the same time I held a full time job, and was going to school full time and running a candle shop on the side… Laughter
So I was really busy but I got and education in the field,
started making money, got married, you know, so it wasn’t until I got back to
living in BC which was in 1979 or 1980, and was running the Society for the
Mentally Handicapped in Kelowna, I was the first executive director. We had a
workshop in behind the newspaper there and a residence. I ran that for close to
7 or 8 years, and then I built the Okanagan Neurological Association with
Walter Grey, the current Mayor of Kelowna. He was the president, I was the CEO,
and we were into gambling, we were the first society
in British Columbia to open a commercial bingo hall. So myself and Tommy Capozzi learned from a Native girl that came up from across the line in the U.S. and said you guys have the same rules we do and if you want to run bingos this is how you do it. She showed us the paperwork, Tommy was on it like a dirty shirt, he loved the idea and within a very short period of time we had filled out all the paperwork and were operating, making money every night.
Walter Grey…is he the mayor of Vernon? The cur- rent mayor?
Brian: He’s the mayor of Kelowna, he was also the President of the Okanagan Neurological Society at that time, then he was mayor for three terms I think and then they turfed him out on a technicality, he was supporting Sharon Simpson’s Kelowna Pride event so instead of the Peach Festival they had the Kelowna Pride because the Peach Festival turned to a riot. So the gay people wanted to have Gay Pride and they wanted the city to drop the “Pride” event because they wanted the name and so Walter didn’t support that so the gays ganged up on him. He had a bumper sticker going around town that said “Walter Grey is so homophobic he can’t even touch him- self”. Walter was a great boss and an impressive leader. Laughter
So from there did you go to Grand Forks directly, after your involvement with the society?
Brian: No, I’m running the Okanagan Neurological Society, they reach a point where I’m saying to them, “Look we have to play hard ball here with the government to get our funding back, we have to get out of gambling, we said we wouldn’t use it for operational funds, do you support it?” and they said “Yes we do” .
So I’m on the
phone daily here with the Ministry and I’m
dealing with a guy who is very unscrupulous bureaucrat named Brad. So Brad tells me that we have to sign, and I’m telling him no we don’t have to sign. It’s not enough, we are not keeping up with speech therapy and OT , we’re not gonna do it, you can’t reduce our revenue because we have a profit showing in bingo, it’s not fair, we’re getting trapped here. And he says, you know, basically that’s too bad this is what the offer is, you have to sign. I said what are the consequences if we don’t? He says well we’ll shut you down. I said don’t you think that would be a bit difficult? We’re the biggest childcare organ- ization in the Okanagan, we have 85 employees, we run the Infant Stimulation Program, you would shut us down…how? Give me a break here Brad, you know that’s not going to hap- pen, it’s going to be your ass up there. So, OK, I’ve been deal- ing with it for months it’s the end of the summer and I’m going to go fishing for a couple of days. So I go up to a fishing thing with my brother and my father, a long weekend, and I get back and I find the President of the society has signed off on the con- tract. The president was contacted behind my back and threat- ened that they would shut the place down…and I realized at that point just to add more drama that now all of the board members agreed with the President and had sold me out.
Oh wow….the hidden connections!
Brian:, what happened is I took a look at the situation and I had a couple choices, I could continue on, or I could say “This is not working”, which is what I did. Basically I reamed out the pres- ident, so it ended up that we decided that we would meet in the morning at 9 o’clock at the lawyer’s offices, and so I was there at 9, 9:30 we were out of there. I’m not supposed to say anything it’s still under a gag order forever. I was there for like 9, 10 years; I brought it from nothing, 8 employees to 85 or more employees. We built the new Child Development Centre, we started the Epilepsy program, the Head Injury Society, a whole bunch of things that we did were a great spark for social programs throughout the region. I built it but I had to walk away.
In half an hour too, those were your walking papers.
Brian: So financially it put me in a real bind, straight away the mortgage company, I had built a house right, I had a really nice house, it’s worth millions now in Westbank. I couldn’t get a mortgage on it, my father was panicking, I owed him some money, not a lot when I look at it now, it was only like $10,000, but I had no access to any kind of ability to borrow so I could- n’t sustain the mortgage I had to put it on the market, they forced me, my insurance company…
Brian:…and the mortgage company. Although I was very employable, as soon as I started looking I spotted this job in Grand Forks to come over here and shut down a small institu- tion, played a big role in closing the provincial institution, I sat on various boards.
Brian: So let’s get back to the cannabis
picture. I’m the bigwig in Kelowna
right? So the John Howard Society asked me if I wanted to
go on a weekend tour, a
weekday tour of the Federal institutions of the
Lower Mainland: Kent, Matsqui,
Mountain, Regional Psychiatric, all the facilities for two years plus a day [Authors note: those convicted of crimes that had sentences equivalent to 2 years of prison time and higher]. So myself and the sexologist, from the hospital…
Brian: Yeah, school board, Ron…I shouldn’t be using names. Anyway this group of other peers of mine in the community, we all get together, probably 7 of us in total, and we trek on down and tour these facilities and at night stay in motels. So the first night we’re there we go to this Kent maximum securi- ty and was interviewing these two guys in the woodwork shop, and this is maximum security, they’d been picked up, they’d come up the West coast under surveillance and landed on Vancouver Island and I think I remember that they were fol- lowed by a battleship, 4 helicopters, submarines…
Brian: They’d sold their boat in Eastern Canada, they had the drawl of, you know, Newfoundlanders, they’d sold their boat, went down there with their boat money, bought some mari- juana and another boat, never realized they bought the boat from an undercover guy, FBI or something. They had a boat- load of pot and they hauled ass up the West Coast, they let them go all the way up, it was like a 2 week trip and land in
B.C. off Tofino or somewhere around there and they nailed them. For a long time people were picking up bales of pot that were drifting in after that bust because I guess they threw some bundles overboard.
Was it wrapped in plastic do you know?
Brian: I have no idea.
Brian: So those were the two guys, we interviewed them, they were personable and everything, they tell us they got 9 years.
9 years in maximum security!
Brian: Maximum security, 9 years…
Had they suffered violence inside?
Brian: No violence, I don’t know…it was pretty whitewashed for us, right, we weren’t getting a lot of bullshit from anybody we were…just to make it look good.
The prime example.
Brian: But yeah, they got 9 years so we all go back to our motel room and we’re going “Fuck man that’s just not fair!”, I mean I even brought some pot so I bring out mine and I don’t think I was even first but by the end of it we had like 4 bags on the table, almost everybody smoked but only 4 of us brought it… Laughter
Brian: And these are all upper level people. And so I went away from that, it was really life changing for me as an experience. I went back to Kelowna and I started an advocacy organization. I just printed up cards and started getting people to sign up. CALM Canadian Association for the Legalization of Cannabis.
And how long did that last for? Or did it morph… Brian: It didn’t morph, it died. When I got to Grand Forks I met with Jack Herer at a conference, the first hemp conference
that they had up in Salmo. And Jack and I got into this big argument about –and I was already pushing for a hemp license here and I’d already been lobbying and writing in the paper and everything- but Jack was convinced that hemp would lead the way towards ending marijuana prohibition . I had this big argument with him about that…I can remember he was drunk, you know, first of all, and pontif- icating…
Wasn’t he the godfather of mari- juana?
Brian: Oh yeah, he wrote the Emperor Wears No Clothes…
That was an all-encompassing text. Brian: A big and important step for- ward for the movement. He was the first person to do that but Jack had his flaws, and he was wrong about it. Right after I was involved in the whole hemp movement I began to see there’s gonna be a point where this doesn’t work for me unless we look at the whole plant. So in the next several months I began to look at research and information about other things that you can do with hemp, the medicinal uses of hemp. And I was suggesting that we add that to our business plan. At that point, there’s a guy named Dave who I knew before, delivered a message, very political, which said get Taylor off the committee( Grandby Hemp Coop) or we won’t give you the money. With $160,000 for a hemp
research study at risk, the very first item on the agenda was that I had to provide my resignation.
Because of the association with marijuana?
Brian: Yep. And because I wanted to add it right away I was going to push to add that we would look for other poten- tial uses for the hemp heads. Like that we would look to future uses. We know where the regulations are but let’s not forget it in our business plan, anyway…I was out.
They thought it was too controversial…
Brian: I lost my temper that day, I got pissed off at them, because I actually had to leave the meeting.
That was it, you were kicked out basically.
It’s all over something that’s…It’s the same plant, just different genotypes and phenotypes…
Brian: They expected
me to be angry but I didn’t
make a big speech. I said, you know,
I’m really disappointed in a num- ber of people here today, goodbye.
Did that lead you into Cannabis Health? Was that something you jumped onto straight away?
Brian: No, the Cannabis Health situation…we
started the company (Cannabis Research
Institute) basically to produce
grow units. We were quite innovative in our early days in building wooden grow
units with a variety of plastic guts that we picked up from Walmart. So, we
were producing these but the wooden cases themselves, the guts were pret-
ty cheap the way we were doing it, you know,
very simple units and they worked like a damn.
But the boxes were get- ting more and more expensive. To get a good company to do it was costing
us $400 per box. And then we’re putting in the other stuff, some of the people
in the company saw that we were abandoning a worthwhile project, but my
business sense had told me if I even added a couple bucks an hour for my labor, all of a sudden we weren’t making
anything on it, we were losing money. And
I wasn’t going to go ahead with doing
that, right, I had another partner, Bill
Faminoff, who got involved, who was a good partner but he introduced us to
Styrofoam sandwich approach, and where I was going with it I thought we should
be going to the fridge people,
the refrigerator people,
and retro-fitting them ourselves. You know, having doors, having all of the apparatus in place allows us, because peo- ple do that with old refrigerators why not do it with a new unit with new technology. Anyway the whole thing started to go down.
The story about Cannabis Health Magazine, you know, clearly, we had internal personnel problems, there’s no doubt about that. But, in fact, we were running up against the same problem as Marc Emery was running up against with his CC magazine…
Brian: Yeah, it was the technology change, was changing the customer base that read these magazines and would pay for them. We were trying to break into the big markets out of the local advertising market, and clearly the last few efforts to put the magazine out there ended up costing the magazine more money than it was making.
Well how long of a run did it have?
Brian: 2.5 years, almost 3 years.
I found it a very informative magazine…
Brian: Well it’s still, I think, the closest thing to it is Treating Yourself magazine with Marco Renda who started that overlapping actually with some of the things we were doing towards the end but, you know, Marco’s approach to it was different. He was putting out a less fancy kind of layout, I think he went with cheap paper for a while to start with, you know, building a base of consumer’s end and advertis- ers that make it work for him. But he put quite a bit of his own money into that too.
CH got $30,000 start up from Advanced Nutrients. They were a big supporter of ours…
That was good start-up…
Brian: That was part of it, we took our grow unit to a hydro- ponics show in Vancouver where Maximum Yield, was the sponsor.
So we set up, we brought a booth, we had all our Advance Nutrient supporters, we were part of their big show, and we brought down our newest unit, it was pretty skookum at that time, I think we had two 600’s in a small box…it was a cookin unit.
Anyway we brought it down and they kicked us out of the show.
Why? Too much marijuana?
Brian: Max Yield Magazine
always pretended that they grew only tomatoes We looked too much like
we were growing marijuana. I think a couple
of our promo shots had cannabis
in them. The whole issue was they told Advance Nutrients not to bring us, and
they did it anyway. So we were just
pissed, the meat in a sandwich here between them and Maximum Yield because
Advance Nutrients also got kicked out of Maximum Yield Magazine
But they are a huge part of that industry and that’s got to be a slap in the face…
Brian: Those people at Maximum Yield were so rude that we went out into the hallway we said “OK you want to call the cops? There’s media people all over here, you want to call the police on us you go right ahead.” I said “We’ll go out but we’ll go into the hallway.” And we did, we went out in the hallway of the Pan Pacific, set up, and we had a great show with everybody in the place going by our booth.
So you still got to be part of the show, you just had to leave the general area?
Brian: Yeah, and it was right there that night that Advance Nutrients said hey we’ll give you money to start a new magazine. Laughter
Brian: Anyway that’s when they made the offer to fund us.
So you also had the Grand Forks Cannabis Research Institute (CRI).
Brian: That was the company that started the growing unit.
And CRI applied for a contract from Health Canada to produce cannabis.
Brian: Yeah we did that in response to the RFP and we suc- cessfully put it together including a million dollar guarantee basically, a million dollar back up to your plan, so we found someone who would sign for us. But we didn’t even get considered. We were never in the game.
Yeah, and it went to Prairie Plant Systems as far as any contractual work for cannabis, which has main- tained itself up to this day.
Brian: Well, when you talk to Prairie Plant Systems you find a whole different story because actually the guys who got the contract were expert growers, they knew their business, they were not amateurs, and what they would tell you is that they were capable of growing all kinds of stronger pot, more finished, all kinds of things they didn’t do because they were trying to keep the THC levels down to meet the government standard.
And they wanted, what, about 10% I think.
Brian: That’s right they wanted 10%, you know 10% is such a…you know it’s 10% of what? Figures can really be manip- ulated by scientists in terms of what percentage of what…
Yeah, like is it of the overall plant weight, or just what’s in the trichomes…
Brian: There’s a lot of ways to cut it, when Health Canada says they’re worried about 24% THC pot. I don’t know man…basically somebody’s taken their pill, their Cesamet pill and dumped it into a cigarette.
Yeah it is bizarre, it would be nice to have that cleared up, because I know there’s some controversy about how that is measured.
Brian: I struggle with
trying to reconcile my
this point, the medical
marijuana program can’t be fixed. There’s
no need for it in a sane society
where we have reasonable
marijuana laws. The cannabis could be available and grown by a lot of patients just the way they do now, but without licens- es, without all the headache. I’m fighting for that, at the same time I realize we could be years down the road from getting that in place. In the meantime, we need an operating medical marijuana program. I support that concept of trying to make it a little bit better but in the process of making it better I don’t think we’re gonna get what we think we’re gonna get for reg- ulation. I suspect they will go with the larger commercial growers…2 or 3 larger growers. That for them is less bureau- cratic headache, you can see, as once being a bureaucrat yourself, it’s the path of least resistance.
That’s interesting because I remember being in the stakeholders meeting (Health Canada Marihuana Medical Access Program Stakeholders meeting – Vancouver BC September 7, 2011) and the Director-General was using words like, is there any limit on commercial licenses to be granted and she said if you meet the qualifica- tions you can apply and you may receive a license. But there’s still nothing very specific about that, so the suspicion is that it will be a small number of large, commercial producers. What do you think now about the MMAR and the proposed changes, are they going to make it any better for the patients? I mean having commercial growers instead of designated licenses, personal produc- tion licenses?
Brian: I understand too that one of the changes anticipated is that the doctor signs for you and that’s it. You don’t have to submit the license to Health Canada, I mean that could signal to doctors an easier route than involving the bigger bureaucra- cy, it could actually, I think, be more attractive to doctors to say “Yeah, shit, what the hell…”, rather than “Oh my god I’m going to be on record with the federal government, and I’m going to be called up on my license, they’re going to find out about my previous use of drugs…
It’s interesting that rather than go the way of the wine model and just regulate it generally for per- sonal production, commercial production, and adult use, that you could over regulate things, you imag- ine issuing 300,000 licenses in British Columbia alone, that’s a lot to keep track of, even if these doc- uments are just signed in the doctor’s office.
Brian: I think they will be overrun, I
think it’s gonna overweigh the system,
which will push us quicker into
why do we need it at all? So I’m not worried about that at all, that could be a good thing. Yeah, I just
think this movement is going to be
something like the Berlin wall, when the sand gets liquefied
enough the wall falls and
I think we’re seeing a liquefication right now, people of various philosophical bents banning together, a common sense approach to this…to
the Liberal, to the Conservative, I mean it’s almost non-partisan at this point
to have an opinion of let’s do something different.
So we have the Stop The Violence campaign… Brian: I’m really optimistic about that, it’s slowly growing, and it’s interesting I’ve been following that guy that’s wheeling across Canada to all the municipalities….
Oh yeah, Neil Magnusson.
Brian: Yeah, Neil Magnusson, he’s getting a decent response compared to what he used to get, like he’s been doing this for a number of years I think this is his 5th annual or something like that.
He said on one recent report it’s like preaching to the choir in a lot of areas he goes to, all behind stopping the prohibition of cannabis for regulation. Brian: I know it’s there, I watched people stand up and applaud for Elizabeth May when she put it on the floor, you know, and that was like 4 or 5 years ago. So this year at UBCM (the annual Union of BC Municipalities meeting where all municipal governments meet and pass resolutions directed at informing the provincial and federal governments of public policy options best suited to the residents of B.C.) a Stop The Violence resolution will be on the floor and I intend to be one to speak to it if I can, but I’m sure it will be popular so, I think it will pass.
As the Mayor of Grand Forks, have you been get- ting any movement on signing a letter or endors- ing the Stop The Violence (STV) program on behalf of city council?
Brian: Where it stands is I would like council to address it again in a discussion and if they want to pass a vote on it let them do that. But in fact I’ve committed myself to sign- ing as Mayor, and so there are some Mayors that are sign- ing without their councils, and I am one of those at this point. There will probably be an accounting here sometime soon where we’ll catch up on where things are at. At the same point even when it gets prickly like it did in Nelson and Castlegar, it shows you the emotional resistance to this the fact that this has politicians getting angry tells me that we’re touching a funny bone here of some kind.
I’m kind of astounded that in this day and age, with the media coverage that it gets, more peo- ple don’t know about the therapeutic, and essentially non-toxic effect of cannabis and to a multitude of disorders.
Do you see, generally speaking, as a 3rd term Mayor in Grand Forks, over that period of time, a change in the public’s attitude towards cannabis?
Brian: I’ve seen amazing change in
perception on it. Medical marijuana was not even on the
radar for my period as Mayor in 1997, I was dealing with hemp, primarily pushing for the hemp thing. I made the trip to Europe in 1993 and toured Le
Mans looking at iso chanvre (a French building material made from mixing lime and hemp herds, it can last for centuries), went
over to Britain and looked at some plantings they were putting in.
Oh, where is Le Mans?
Brian: In France, that’s where they use iso chanvre and build houses, subdivisions made out of hemp only, amazing struc- tures.
Great insulation factor.
Brian: And easy to make, they sell it in their hardware stores. As well Germany does the same thing, they have a thriving hemp industry there. Small scale, they make bricks and various kinds of building blocks they call them girly blocks cuz they’re light.
Light but strong…
Well we have a tiny bit of time here…
Brian: I should run, we should spend more time on this at a later date, that way we won’t get off track from what we’re talking about…
Can I ask you just two more questions?
One of them is, most effective medicinal strains you have come across, if you can recall any standouts? Brian: I guess
that standouts are when you smoke the same
thing for a whole lot
of time and then you try something dif- ferent…that’s my standout, I
can’t tell you a single strain
I can tell you I had great success with popularity of a cross that was
done here in town. It’s called just “Haze Cross”, I grew it for 5 years.
Brian: No, it was not, it was an indica strain but amazing prod- uct and something that a local farmer had crossed. So it was like, really acclimatized.
That’s interesting…and just changing the profile of cannabinoids seems to be of benefit.
Brian: Yeah for me that’s it, I like that change of pace. The Mexican pot, when I was down there in Mexico…
That, actually, was my next question…
Brian: Oh yeah, we should do that as a separate story, it’s fas- cinating. It was written it up for a magazine, Rolling Stone, but they didn’t take it. And Brian, this writer friend of mine, wrote it up. And I’ll tell you the story but we should dedicate 15 min- utes or so to it.
Well we can meet again and we can go over that story, and any other developments that we get to. Brian: Sure.
Perfect, well hey, thanks for fighting mosquitoes with me in this shaded alley-way, much appreciat- ed, thanks Brian!
Brian: Time to go to council and get some
business done, they’ll be mad if they start the meeting without me.