Trailblazer – Jamie Shaw

By: Anne-Marie Fischer

“It was a crime against humanity when they instituted prohibition,” says internationally renowned cannabis advocate Jamie Shaw about why she has dedicated so much of her life and efforts to cannabis advocacy.

After almost two decades of working with cannabis, and almost five years after legalization, this trailblazer continues to fight for social justice in the industry, the prioritization of medical cannabis, and the improvement of the overall cannabis industry in Canada.

Early Interests in Social Justice

“I’ve always been interested in the social justice aspect [of cannabis],” explains Shaw. “I started doing some research on historical stuff and I ended up moving to BC to further that.”

In 2002, she found the BC Compassion Club Society as a place to purchase medical cannabis, when she was diagnosed with anxiety. She became a director of the pre-legalization Vancouver medical cannabis provider in 2004. “I was quite passionate about the people it helped, and I’m sad it’s not there anymore.”

She says the list of ways that she saw cannabis save people’s lives in medical cannabis dispensaries pre-legalization is “endless”.

An Advocate for Medical Patients

Shaw’s advocacy really took off in 2012 when she took over communications for the BC Compassion Club, and in 2013 became their representative in the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries, where she held positions as Director, and then President, and CEO.

In 2015, she was an expert witness at the federal Allard trial, which won medical cannabis patients the right to grow their own medicine. She also played a critical role in getting municipalities to license medical cannabis dispensaries under the Harper government, which at the time was a big step forward for medical cannabis.

“Medical cannabis dispensaries were replaced by recreational retail stores.”

She is extremely disappointed in how medical cannabis has fallen by the wayside with recreational legalization as dispensaries were replaced by recreational retail stores. “I think the way medical cannabis has been treated is a travesty and has created a lot of suffering,” she says. “The inability to talk about the medical side of things is not a benefit to public health.”

Recognizing Public Health Harms

Shaw notes that people having a predisposition to psychosis or possible drug interactions are examples of risks that retailers take when people turn to recreational stores for medical uses; topics retail stores are prohibited from discussing.

“Cannabis is going to do the same thing, no matter if you call it recreational or medicinal,” she states. “I’d like to see more of the knowledge gained by medical dispensaries incorporated into budtender training.”

Fighting Against Injustice

Shaw is also a strong voice for social justice within the Canadian cannabis industry, saying, “There has been no movement in social equity and justice in Canada’s industry.”

As many across the nation continue to suffer the effects of prohibition, the government’s lack of initiative fires her up. “It’s that kind of injustice that makes me angry. In my mind, it’s no different than bullies in the schoolyard.”

Bringing Medical Cannabis Back to the Forefront

Shaw’s current advocacy efforts focus on bringing medicinal cannabis back to the forefront of the cannabis industry. “There are cultures that have used cannabis medicinally for two thousand years, and we ignore everything we have learned about it,” she says. “That’s not very smart.”

“Shaw would like to see a future where cannabis has a firm place within provincial pharmacopeias.”

Ideally, Shaw would like to see a future where cannabis has a firm place within provincial pharmacopeias. “We know for a fact that we saved governments tons of money when people used cannabis, as they were often able to reduce, or completely stop other more expensive medications that our provincial health system was paying for,” she describes. She is currently working with a group of fellow medical cannabis advocates on “picking up the slack” of where legalization has failed those who use cannabis for health, wellness, and in many cases, survival. It’s a project she can’t discuss in detail just yet, but is excited about.

What keeps Shaw moving forward day-to-day as a medical cannabis advocate in an industry so focused on the recreational market? She replies, “The ridiculous pie-in-the-sky hope that maybe one day we’ll have something reasonable for medical cannabis, at some point, if we keep fighting like hell for it.”