The Road Less Travelled -
A pioneer who helped rock the hand of medical cannabis’ precarious cradle, Hilary Black is one in a rare group of Canadian activists who is respected by players on all sides of this new industry. The founder of the country’s first compassion club and current director of patient and community services at Tweed's sister company Bedrocan Canada, her voice has been key to establishing a sense of peace and cooperation at a time of confusion and unrest.
Named one of the most influential British Columbians of all time in part for her efforts as president of the BC Compassion Club, Hilary is a recipient of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal. Over a journey that started improbably two decades ago, she has worked tirelessly to educate patients, physicians and the public about medical marijuana and break down barriers to access.
After high school at the height of the grunge era, as she considered whether to study law or medicine, Hilary hit the road with The Grateful Dead (yes, the band) and learned about “how hemp could save the world.” She heeded the late Jerry Garcia’s message in a major way and was inspired to set out on a course to spread the good word.
When she got back home to Vancouver, she put her plan into motion and started volunteering at Marc Emery’s newly-opened Hemp BC until he was left no choice but to hire her. The first time the Prince of Pot was arrested for selling seeds, Hilary was by his side and charged with trafficking an unlimited amount of marijuana. Though a point of pride at the time, it wasn’t long after her run-in with the law that she tightened the scope of her efforts to helping medical patients find and learn about cannabis.
Bottom left: Hilary outside the BC Compassion Club. Photo courtesy Marc Richardson (aka Bubbleman). Right: A group on Parlimant Hill advocating for patients. Pictured: Janet Yale, The Arthritis Society; Jonathan Zaid, CFAMM; Joanne Simons, The Arthritis Society; Mandy McKnight; Dr. Danial Schecter; Dr. Lynne Belle Isle, Canadian Aids Society.
In the early days of her career, she advocated primarily for AIDS and cancer patients, but it was an arthritis sufferer that first opened Hilary’s eyes to the fact there was a real need for community outreach in her work. She was inspired to a lifetime’s work one afternoon in the late 90s after watching the elderly, bed-ridden woman revitalized by the power of one shared joint.
“She was like a person coming out of a 100-year sleep, moving and stretching for the first time,” Hilary recalls. “She got out of bed and went and made us a cup of tea, carried them back into the bedroom and then started crying because it was the first time in a really long time she was able to carry a cup of tea her arthritis was so bad… I still remember what I was wearing that day.”
Since starting with Bedrocan Canada in January, 2014, she’s been at the centre of a number of important education and patient access initiatives. In addition to being in the front seat of our partnership with MADD and the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition to develop a safe driving campaign, Hilary also spearheaded E-90, a recent petition in Canadian Parliament to have the sales tax removed from medical marijuana.
“I’ve been working on the issue for 15 years via the compassion club. Medical patients should not be paying sales tax,” she says. “The ambiguous regulatory status of cannabis means it doesn’t have approval as a drug or a medicine, which is allowing the government to tax it when they shouldn’t be, and also making it very difficult to get insurance. The reason they’ve been charging for it is really unfair.”
Patient advocacy has remained Hilary’s primary goal in cannabis as she’s watched the culture transform to an industry and shifted her role from the front lines of the dispensary world to the inner workings of a fiercely medically-focused producer. Though the medium she uses to teach and reach people has changed over the years, she says, the message has remained the same.
“The work that I’m doing and the vehicle that I’m using to do that work has changed, but my passion has always been about patient access and breaking down barriers to access,” she says. “Twenty years ago that meant openly, flagrantly disobeying unjust laws. Breaking down barriers to access for patients now requires endless physician and patient education.”
Equally important to her passion and experience is Hilary’s unique perspective on the causes of, and solutions to, the problems that have plagued this young industry from its onset.
Perhaps the only person in the country to have had the good fortune of working with a dispensary on the West Coast and LP in the east, Hilary can speak to the regional challenges facing politicians in Vancouver and Toronto. On the question of why strong-arm tactics were used during compassion clubs raids in the country’s largest city, she presents a voice that not even the most respected and influential players on the scene can match.
“What I saw was a real lack of – and part of the problem of what happened in Toronto – is a lack of being a good neighbour: blasting loud music, taking up parking places that aren’t yours, having people smoking on the sidewalk. These are all things that people worked out in the early days and put procedures in place for through CAMCD (the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries), and that’s what generated the complaints and likely contributed to the crackdown.”
In the vibrant cannabis community that reform has already started to spawn, sensible professionals like Hilary – a person who understands commerce, law and marketing, yet empathizes with patients and activists – are few and far between. After 20 years on the scene, it’s easy to see why she’s become one of the most respected faces in Canadian cannabis. And she’s just getting started…
Here’s to Future Growth!
Header photo courtesy Tee Onek.
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