Born in Montreal in 1948, John Conroy’s childhood was spent in African countries that were then thought of as “the colonies” – countries that had yet to achieve independence from Belgium, Britain or France as the case may be. His father was an agricultural advisor. John recalls his father at work, walking through tobacco fields. Between the rows of plants, his father would occasionally spy another plant, clearly intentional. He’d pluck it and lay it down. This plant was known as Dagga, the local term for cannabis, a prohibited plant. His father’s reaction to coming across it was simple: straightforward issue (this is not allowed) and a straightforward and commensurate response (pluck it). No blaming, no shaming, just a recognition of the law and, importantly, the humanity of those for whom cannabis was part of their culture.
John’s conviction that shaming should not be a factor in legislation, and that penalties should be commensurate with the harm done, underscored a career dedicated to protecting the rights of the incarcerated. He also began to contribute to the reform of Canadian cannabis legislation shortly after he was called to the British Columbia Bar in 1972. He has appeared on this issue before various Parliamentary and Senate Committees. Most notably, he incorporated the National Organization for the Reform of the Marijuana Laws in Canada (NORMLCANADA) in 1977 and the BC Compassion Club Society and 1997.
Over the years he has been counsel to numerous well-known members in the cannabis community, including acting as lead counsel in the recent medical marijuana case, Allard vs. Canada. This is the case that determined the previous medical marijuana regulations to be unconstitutional and led to the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR) and ultimately Part 14 of the Cannabis Act regulations. He also appeared as counsel in the Supreme Court of Canada on behalf of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) that kept open the Vancouver supervised injection site.
Semi-retired now, he divides his time between his offices in Abbotsford and Mission, and his farm near Hatzik Lake, northeast of Mission. He believes the BC Craft Farmers Co-op to be a valuable mechanism that can help bring BC’s 6,500 craft growers into the mainstream. Despite the little bit of legalization now in place, there is still a need to work for saner and simpler regulations. Through the co-op, its members can keep informed, advocate, and be a part of the process of societal change that is a necessary underpinning of improved regulation.
His advice to growers, processors and retailers who are seeking to be licensed is to be patient. Over-regulation is still hampering the industry, despite the depth of expertise of its players, but it helps to take the long view. Cannabis regulation in Canada has a history of peaks and valleys, but the pitfalls are less extreme now. And a co-op model just might be the best vehicle to drive through this landscape.