Wednesday, December 2, 2009

My afternoon with Chris Summerville

On August 20th , Cannabis Culture reported that Prime Minister Stephen Harper had appointed CEO of the Schizophrenia Society of Canada, and evangelical minister, Chris Summerville to a committee who's task is to study the link between cannabis and schizophrenia. The initial story can be found here.

A fellow activist forwarded my letter to the editor regarding the appointment to Mr. Summerville. We exchanged email responses(his and mine ), and Summerville agreed to meet me for a glass of wine (or three) when he visits Vancouver for a mental health conference. I agreed, although I find it highly amusing that Mr. Summerville suggested that we meet to drink alcohol, a substance that has a far higher correlation to schizophrenia than any other substance. This report is my account of our meeting, and what I believe is to be made of Summerville’s appointment.

The first thing to be said about Chris Summerville is that he is one of the most genuinely pleasant people that I have ever met.

“I want to assure you,” he prefaces our conversation as we sit in the lobby of the lavish Fairmont Vancouver, “the conference is paying for my accommodations. I don’t spend non-profit money this way.”

Summerville seems very receptive to my concerns that this study is merely going to be used as propaganda to support c-2 (including mandatory bodily fluid samples for “drugged driving”), c-15, and the whole neo-prohibitionist agenda of the Harper government. In fact, he feels that this could very well be the case. He wants to assure me that he will not contribute to this, and that he agrees that creating faulty research would be detrimental to the community that he has spent his life advocating for.

“I was upset with how [Conservative MP] Joy Smith announced the research, and with a great deal of their rhetoric. I have had serious concerns with the Conservative government’s exclusion of the social sciences on matters surrounding mental health policy”

I explain to Summerville the discrepancy in the raw data. Cannabis use has exploded in the past century, yet incidence of Schizophrenia has remained fixed at 1% of the general population. Even though he is not a scientist, he speaks the language of science, which does assuage my fears.

“There is one researcher on Vancouver island who strongly believes that there is a causal link. There are other variables to account for: environmental, dietary, and of course the changes in diagnostic methodology over time.”

We are joined by the vice president of the Mood Disorder Society of Canada, Bill Ashdown. Both men are adamant in expressing their displeasure with the Conservative government’s “tough on crime” strategy. Mr. Ashdown is far more vitriolic in his criticism, despite being a card carrying member of the Conservative party of Canada.

“If common sense ruled, then the whole war on drugs would be abandoned” Ashdown said, echoing my own sentiments. It is an odd feeling, preparing for a heated debate and finding only consensus. “Unfortunately, politicians capitalize on fear. They have elections to win. Change takes time.”

This should be both disappointing and reassuring for drug policy reform activists. On one hand, it appears that many influential mental health experts agree with us. On the other, they have taken a similar position to that of many scientists, and have refused to speak out for fear of reprisal. We may have allies that we have not fully realized in the mental health community. We have one significant shared burden: social stigma. Both those with mental health issues and those who use or abuse drugs (the difference is lost on prohibitionists), are faced with prejudice and hostility. Since prohibition adds to the social stigma facing those with mental illness, we would be well advised to build ties with the mental health community.

While I greatly disagree with Summerville on matters of faith and reason, and the existence of a theistic god, we seem to share a lot in common with how we approach our mutually exclusive belief systems. Summerville is an outcast among many theologians. He is quick to recount his experiences when he almost became an atheist as a young man.

"I have certainly had doubts about my faith. One of the most useful prayers for me is "Lord, I believe, help my unbelief”.

I explain to him how I dislike the term atheist, and that I think it is a bankrupt term that opens the door to generalizations and unfounded fear. "I feel the same way about the term "Christian". In fact, I often do not like the interviews that I do with Christian media. I find that I am often misquoted, or that it is assumed that I am allied with the right wing. Evangelicals in Canada are much different than those south of the border."

This includes the Canadian Christianity interview in which it was said that there would be a spiritual aspect to his research. "Absolutely not. There will be no religious component." When it was claimed that Summerville's research is a " "a wonderful opportunity" for Christians to be involved in dealing with one of the most pressing issues in our society", Summerville's original quote was misquoted by somebody else, and was used for the interview to justify an incorrect assumption. Summerville believes that this is a "wonderful opportunity" for Christians to affect positive change to a serious problem, not for Christians to hijack policy and use tax dollars for a religious agenda. Summerville believes this is an opportunity for Christians to return to the true teachings of Christ.

"There is nothing in the bible, the New Testament at least, that indicates that Christianity is right wing. Concepts like environmentalism and social justice are perfectly compatible with Christianity.”

None of the positive qualities or promising signs that Summerville exhibited should diminish in the least our collective suspicion of Harper’s intentions. While Summerville may very well be a valuable and influential friend of cannabis activists, Harper will either manipulate the research, spin it so that he can get what he wants out of it, or bury it. Our response should be to draw attention to whatever he does. If Harper buries the research, it will be up to each and every one of us to unearth it, and to facilitate the proliferation of the damning conclusion.

Prohibitionist propaganda has not improved since the days of William Randolph Hurst, Harry Anslinger, and Emily Murphy. In the case of Murphy, she said that two puffs of cannabis made one insane. Now, Harper is trying to revive that claim. Sure, they use “schizophrenia” in place of the word “insane”, but it is the same nonsense claim. Information kills superstition. Hopefully the good reverend can help us exorcize the spirit of Emily Murphy, and in the process kill the superstitious faith called prohibition.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Travis at

As of today, I am the newest blogger at Cannabis Culture. You can see my bio here.

My first post is my letter from 'The Langley Advance' on Friday, you can view it here.

I'm excited about this. I should post a report on my meeting with Chris Summerville next week. I am looking forward to that, I think Chris is a nice guy and I feel that he will be receptive to my concerns.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Three more letters

Here I criticize H1N1 hysteria in the 'Langley Times'.

Here I criticize Langley City Mayor Peter Fassbender's flat out STUPID testimony in front of the Senate hearings on bill c-15. The Mayor embarrassed Langley in front of the entire country.

Here I discuss the Vancouver Police Departments new weapon that they wish to destroy our eardrums with.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Letter writer of the month

If I may take this moment to do a little self-promotion and celebration, I have been named DrugSense Weekly's letter writer of the month for october 2009. I had 4 letters to the editor and one Op-Ed published in the past month. It is quite an honor to be named the top writer on drug policy in the world for a month.

Not bad for a kid from Langley. Although today is my last day of teenage...five minutes until I have lived two decades on this wonderful planet. It's been a scream so far and I have only just begun. Thank you for sharing some of it with me.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Three new pieces...

Well I have pretty much given up on updating this blog regularly, as you no doubt can tell. I have been extremely busy with third year classes, more responsibility at work, and all of the issues surrounding Marc Emery and David Malmo-Levine's jailing...

However, I do have two letters and one featured opinion piece that I have contributed in the past week.

The first, which can be viewed here, is my assessment of US President Barack Obama's decision to no longer prosecute medical marijuana users, as well as the possibility that the US will legalize cannabis before Canada.

The second, here, is my response to a prohibitionist letter that says legalization will increase crime. How anyone can still believe that at this point is beyond me. It really is sad how one sided this argument is...

The third is an opinion piece for the University of Guelph's independant student newspaper, 'The Ontarion'. I responded with an online comment to a piece saying that Salvia is the new drug threat and the new hot party drug. They asked me to write an opinion piece and the first comment seems to be positive. You can read my piece here.

I am particularly proud of the last one. I can't believe that anyone would want to give gangs yet another resource to exploit.

Please go to and read up on what YOU can do to FREE MARC EMERY. Also now we must show our support for David Malmo-Levine, who has been sentenced to 6 months in jail for running the Herb School and Museum of Drugwar History. I recommend you search youtube for 'Drugwar walking tour' or David's name and see what the tour consisted of.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Two new letters...

Sorry for neglecting you all... here are two letters from 'The Advance' this Friday...

I demand that Langley MP Mark Warawa stop lying to us

I call out hypocritical PM Harper

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Nowhere Man, By Marc Emery

Here is a poem I wrote from my prison cell.

Nowhere Man (With apologies to Lennon and McCartney)

Imagine life without cannabis,
that's life here.

Imagine life without music,
that's life here.

Imagine life without fresh food,
that's life here.

Imagine life without any privacy,
that's life here.

Imagine life without any sex,
that's life here.

Imagine life in only red pants and a red shirt,
that's life here.

Imagine life in a 8 by 10 foot concrete cell,
that's life here.

Imagine never touching the sun's rays,
that's life here.

Imagine life without being with any one you know,
that's life here.

Imagine being hungry every waking hour,
that's life here.

Imagine life without love,
that's life here.

Imagine never seeing a grape or a peach or a tomato,
that's life here.

Imagine changing linens threadbare once every ten days,
that's life here.

Imagine your happy memories gradually fading away,
that's life here.

Marc Emery is an activist currently locked up at North Fraser Pretrial Center in Port Coquitlam, B.C., while he awaits extradition to the United States for selling marijuana seeds on the internet and using the money to fund anti-prohibition activism around the world.