From a gun to the head to today — a history of my family’s cannabis connection
By Quentin Janes
Photo © manjurulhaque/Twenty20
Jun 4, 2021
One evening, decades ago, my problem with weed became clear.
Three masked men kicked down our apartment door in Ottawa and held guns to our heads.
They ransacked our apartment, stealing thousands of dollars in weed and money. There I was, looking right into the barrel of their guns, held a few inches from my face. All I could think was: How did it come to this? Do I really deserve this? Is this who I am? Is this how it all ends?
For many parents, it's not so much a question of how to smoke pot and be a parent, it is if you can do it at all. That's what one mom, who had never tried it, was trying to figure out here.
Did everyone’s parents smoke pot?
My father attended McGill University in 1969. It was essentially what I would describe as Haight-Ashbury north.
In that year, thousands of American hippie draft dodgers landed at McGill. Their journey was full of idealism, funded partly (or I'm sure in some cases, fully) by the sale of cannabis.
When my father first started smoking it was symbolic — an act of defiance against a tyrannical government. The time was very different.
"Their journey was full of idealism, funded partly (or I'm sure in some cases, fully) by the sale of cannabis."
My father knew what he was doing was illegal, so he tried to shield it from us. Driven by what I can only imagine was guilt, he just could not talk to us in any way about cannabis. I’m sure there was some fear to it, too.
Like: What if we tell a teacher in passing? What if a neighbour overhears?
It sounds ridiculous now, given where we are now on the pot debate, but back then there was this fear that you could potentially have your children taken from you if someone caught a whiff of it or discovered it in your home. And he obviously did not want to risk that.
My dabbling with the “devil’s lettuce”
When I eventually started using, the stigma that surrounded pot drove me to situations I would not wish on anyone: Bar brawls with crack users in Hamilton, or being chased by chain-wielding heroin addicts in Vancouver. (Yeah, I've had some moments.)
I would never argue that I wanted it to be like this.
But I didn’t have any preparation — no communication with someone older, and experienced, like my dad. Knowing that people were so secretive flagged something in my brain that said the crime seemed to match the punishment: I was doing something illegal, and therefore I was a criminal.
"I smoked pot, and therefore, were you to ask some police, politicians and pearl-clutching conservatives, I was a reprobate."
Eventually my daughter was born with a criminal as a father — given the law of the land at the time, I was technically a criminal (like so many of us technically were).
I smoked pot, and therefore, were you to ask some police, politicians and pearl-clutching conservatives, I was a reprobate.
And the shame from this thinking was extremely painful. I remember looking at my beautiful newborn daughter and thinking how I would never be good enough for her. So, I decided, eventually there would be no more hiding.
Sniffing Us Out
My daughter would ask, “Daddy? Why do you and Mommy always go to the garage?” And “What are all these burnt up things and stinky stuff on your dresser?”
She was only five years old, and it felt like there was no more hiding it. It was feeling a little too full circle, and now I was my father. And I can’t tell you how much I wanted to run or just lie my face off.
In moments like this, I could see exactly why it was so hard for my father to break it to me.
"How do you explain how on one hand, we love and respect the police and government. And on the other hand, we openly defy them? It's not easy at all."
You basically have to admit to criminality, but outside of the law, and in the eyes of you and the people you love, you are not one.
How do you explain how on one hand, we love and respect the police and government. And on the other hand, we openly defy them? It's not easy at all.
But that’s when my memories flooded back — all of the terrible things that the criminalization of cannabis drove me to. And I said, “no more.” The cycle stops here.
Doing My Best To Make It Easier to Understand
I told my daughter it was “wine that you smoke.”
I told her it was bad for me, and that I probably shouldn’t do it. I told her it was against the law, but I also said that I believe it is, to crib Martin Luther King Jr.'s letter from Birmingham jail, “the duty of law-abiding citizens to disobey unjust laws.”
And then legalization happened. Smoking pot has been such a point of contention in my life that I almost quit in celebration.
"I told my daughter it was 'wine that you smoke.'"
What led me, and I'm sure so many people, down a spiraling path of self-doubt and despair was the stigma of cannabis — it is hard to separate not feeling like a criminal, because you are not harming anyone, with the legal definition of a criminal.
Pot was illegal, and performing illegal activities under the law is criminal.
With legalization, it was a relief to have years of criminality unravel, but there is still much work to be done — stigma is real, but to all of the pot-smoking parents out there, and to anyone who served time or is serving time for carry laws: we aren’t criminals, and never were.
The late Annette McLeod wrote about her own experiences around parenting and pot. Read her story here.
How We Discuss Cannabis Now
But back to my daughter. Her acceptance of the concept was immediate and absolute. All she had to say was “OK.”
She shrugged and walked off like it was the most irrelevant thing she had ever heard, and since then the topic is open at all times.
She asked why the garage is filled with roaches, and you know what I did? I just let it rip, and it felt so good. I told her “That's where we smoke, we do it in there to keep it away from you because it’s not healthy.” She wasn’t confused or worried at this prospect in the slightest — there was no stigma. She just said, appreciatively, “Oh, well that's a good idea Dad, thank you.”
Five years later, I no longer agreed with the shame I felt when she was born. There was acceptance in the air. So, I replied: “Thank you my love, it's the least I can do.”
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