Six years in, PEACE EAST keeps growing. The three-day outdoor festival in Middle Musquodoboit is Atlantic Canada’s annual epicenter for cannabis consumers, advocates and caregivers to celebrate the tireless fight against the war on drugs. There’s music, lectures, workshops and plenty of chances to get inspired. And, no, it’s not just some hippie fest in the woods.
“Well, you know what, it’s a little bit of a hippie fest,” counters Sherri Reeve-Enns. “There are hippies. I mean, they kind of popularized weed. You can’t really avoid that.”
Reeve-Enns is one of the primary organizers of PEACE EAST—an acronym for Public Educational Advocacy for Cannabis Enthusiasts, Eastern Activists Supporting Truth. She, along with other medical marijuana advocates and volunteers from the Halifax Compassionate Club help facilitate the festival that draws in roughly 500 attendees every year. Ticket sales and funds raised go directly back into the HCC’s programs, which deliver cannabis education and medications to cancer patients and others suffering from painful conditions.
The cannabis festival’s growth these last few years seems as sure a sign as any that Canadian attitudes about marijuana are evolving. But that hasn’t stopped police from raiding Reeve-Enns’ businesses, or eased the battle she’s been waging in court. Despite all those legal troubles, the medical marijuana activist and PEACE EAST organizer hasn’t given up hope.
Back in 2013, Halifax RCMP raided the HCC and arrested vice-president Chris Enns on charges of trafficking marijuana, hash and mushrooms. A year later, Enns and Reeve (they’ve since married, hence the hyphen) opened the Farm Assists vapour lounge on Gottingen Street. Just a few weeks after last year’s PEACE EAST, the lounge and the couple’s Chezzetcook home were again raided by police. Enns and Reeve were arrested and arraigned while dozens of supporters rallied outside the courthouse. Topping it all off, their Chezzetcook home was robbed shortly thereafter in a home invasion.
“Financially, it really hurt us,” Reeve-Enns says. “I invested every ounce of energy I had into my grow, thinking that it’s going to be my medicine that sustains me for awhile. We bought a building for that. I have an illness”— rheumatoid arthritis—“that there’s no cure for, so we assumed we’d be there as long as possible.”
Already suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder before the cops burst through her front door, Reeve-Enns says she’s become like a “ticking time bomb” of emotions. There’s been a lot more therapy since last summer.
Adding to the stress, the couple are still waiting on their day in court from both raids. They’ve been self-representing—which “is really pissing people off,” she laughs—in order to learn the justice system and teach others.
At first, courthouse workers treated the couple with hostility during the various perfunctory hearings before trial. “As if I was a terrorist,” Reeve-Enns claims. Suddenly, attitudes shifted. Without knowing it, the couple had started treating a bailiff’s wife for cancer. “Now they treat us really nice there.”
Surprisingly, given the organizers’ legal troubles, police have never really been a problem for the PEACE EAST festival. Reeve-Enns says she’s talked with officers in Middle Musquodoboit about the festival, but they were mainly concerned the event would have security (it does). First aid? Waste collection? Insurance? Check. Check. Check.
“Usually with these kind of festivals the police just park and make sure that nobody’s drinking and driving around the event. That’s kind of a nice thing,” she says. “I don’t want anybody drinking and driving.”
To be fair, most outdoor music festivals aren’t so, well, academic. They don’t often feature so many public talks and workshops. Patients will be sharing their personal stories, while facilitators like Reeve-Enns show how to process cannabis more cost-effectively.
“We don’t try to focus too much on giving people too much information, cause they can always come see us anytime of the year at any one of our businesses,” Reeve-Enns says. “We hope to inspire people more than anything.”
Inspire, and celebrate the often futile work that goes into fighting the war on the war on drugs. Don’t worry, there’s also plenty of music. Other common PEACE EAST side effects include a calmer atmosphere than is often found at some other outdoor festivals.
“It’s much more green and far less alcohol oriented,” says Reeve-Enns.
Jonas Colter only recently became aware of PEACE EAST, but he’s been a supporter of legalizing pot “since I smoked my first joint at the age of 14.”
The Evolve Festival organizer knows a little bit about the war on drugs. This summer, he proudly announced to the media that Evolve would be offering free drug-testing kits in an effort to reduce overdoses. The plan backfired, as his original insurance underwriter bailed and Colter scrambled to keep the festival alive (see sidebar).
Colter says he’d had informal meetings with representatives from the RCMP, Emergency Health Services, ER doctors, even the department of Tourism. Everyone, he says, knew he was trying out this new harm reduction policy. No one could condone his plan (certainly not publicly), but they all shared the same goal: keep people safe.
Reeve-Enns is a big fan of Evolve. Thats where she and Chris went for their honeymoon.
“I know a lot of people that did that testing at Evolve, and were very happy for it,” she says, about attendees who brought in their own kits once Colter was unable to offer the service. It’s education, she says, not prohibition, that’s the key to fighting addiction.
“We have a lot of people in our club that have gotten off of the pill problem—the diladid, oxycontin problem—with cannabis,” she adds. “Same with alcohol.”
Colter is in agreement. For him, the continual criminalization of cannabis is a travesty and an embarrassment.
“I just think,” he says, “the sooner we legalize marijuana the better we are going to be off as a society, period.”
The problem the war on drugs, especially the war on marijuana, is that the state’s already lost. The vestigial attitudes and moral panic from the government run counter to a general public who really don’t give a damn. Everyone’s amiable to cannabis these days. People are pretty much over pot.
The results aren’t hard to spot. Colorado’s taxation of recreational marijuana has generated millions of dollars for public schools, and other states are following their lead. Here in Canada, the Supreme Court recently ruled that medical marijuana extracts were legal in all forms (which “outraged” health minister Rona Ambrose). Meanwhile, three out of four major political parties want to either decriminalize or outright legalize marijuana.
Just be careful what you wish for. Legalization is going to come with a lot of growing pains, cautions Reeve-Enns.
“I’m not even sure legalization is really the right avenue for Canadians because it’s just going to take cannabis out of the hands of the people and put it into the hands of the mega-corporations and government,” she says.
Take the Supreme Court’s recent decision on extracts. Reeve-Enns was at that hearing. “We thought that we’d done something good.” But now that it’s legal, Health Canada can dictate restrictions on use. The resulting medicine is so watered down that Reeve-Enns says she would have to take something like 30 pills a night just to reach the dosage she was using before.
“They’re treating it as if it’s the most volatile substance.”
She says she’d prefer decriminalization over legalization, which would have the same desired effect but keep production from being dominated by government controls.
As for Trudeau’s promise...
“Yeah...you know, it’s an election,” Reeve-Enns says. Raided twice, her plants cut down, still awaiting two trials—you can forgive her for being cynical.
“I’m not the right girl to ask about how I feel about politicians and government.”
Legalizing cannabis will have its highs and lows. Taking away the stigma of cannabis as a medicine, that’s a different story. Reeve-Enns gets why people joke about pot. If anything, it betrays the drug’s commonality. Most people don’t see what she sees, though.
There’s this one patient she helps treat. The young girl has seizures; “thousands of them” every day, Reeve-Enns says. Medical marijuana has calmed them.
“Now she can do a puzzle with her mom.”
Those are the sort of moments that keep her going despite the police raids, the property destroyed, the years tied up in court. Despite periods of doubt.
“I do go through that and say to myself...” she pauses. “I really don’t do anything other than activism and try to grow my own medicine...It has made me say, ‘Maybe I’m done with this. Maybe this isn’t for me anymore.’”
She has no children, or even pets. She doesn’t own any property that can be taken away from her. There’s little the police or the government can do at this point. All of which makes her “probably the best candidate” for activism there is.
“I guess that’s why Chris and I plow forward, because what can they do to us?” she says. “All they can do is imprison us.”
The dirty truth about cannabis is whatever dangers it theoretically poses still seem mild to other government-sanctioned products like cigarettes and alcohol. Sugar probably kills more Canadians every year, but no one’s arresting Pepsi. It’s a state-supported hypocrisy that’s difficult to reconcile.
“If I was a kid right now, I’m not sure what I would think,” Reeve-Enns says. “I’d totally just go smoke weed and figure it out for myself.”
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