The History of Cannabis in Vancouver

28 Nov 2022
B Be C A F Db A The History Of Cannabis In Vancouver

Cannabis has a long yet slow history in Canada. In 1920, cannabis was officially declared illegal under the Narcotics Drug Act Amendment Bill but it wasn’t until 1937 until they would make a seizure. For the next few decades, cannabis saw very little growth in popularity and it wasn’t until the late 1960s that the authorities would begin to push for a more serious crackdown.

This is because recreational cannabis use hit a peak during this period. With the rise of the hippie era, Vancouver’s cannabis culture began to thrive despite the harsh penalties that were added to the Narcotics Control Act in 1961. However, that wouldn’t stop the use of cannabis or growers who wanted to improve their skills and create supply for the demand. This was further encouraged by the ideal growing conditions in British Columbia. This made Vancouver an ideal location for both growing cannabis but also as a base for cannabis culture.

Vancouver’s tolerance for cannabis

It wasn’t until the 1990s that Vancouver began to have a more relaxed attitude towards cannabis culture. Between the 1970s and 1980s, authorities would actively crackdown on growing operations and would stop people who were smoking cannabis in public. However, attitudes towards cannabis started changing during the 1990s.

Despite it still being considered illegal in Vancouver, recreational usage was more tolerated and people started learning more about the plant’s medicinal benefits.

Early cannabis activism

Marc Emery

One of the most renowned activists during this period was Marc Emery. Affectionately known as the “Prince of Pot”, Marc Emery was one of the most vocal activists that spurred policy reform. He came to Vancouver in 1994 and opened a store named Hemp BC. His store openly sold marijuana paraphernalia such as pipes and bongs despite it being illegal to sell these items. Despite this, he continued his business and wasn’t afraid of disregarding Vancouver’s laws. His business continued to grow, eventually selling seeds to growers as he continued to ignore the authorities.

Eventually, Marc Emery founded Cannabis Culture in 1994 as a newsletter that was edited and published by himself. The newsletter was originally called “Marijuana and Hemp” which was also printed on hemp paper. It wasn’t until January 1995 when the first issue was officially published and released. It was initially called Marijuana and Hemp Magazine but renamed to Cannabis Canada for the next issue. It was eventually named Cannabis Culture for issue #13 which stayed as its name until early 2009 when it ceased its printed publication and instead switched to a digital format.

Dana Larsen

Dana Larsen was another activist at the forefront of cannabis legalization. Together with Marc Emery, they founded the BC Marijuana Party and the Marijuana Party of Canada. He also opened one of Vancouver’s first banks for cannabis seeds and two medical cannabis dispensaries in Vancouver.

In 2012, Larsen launched Sensible BC, a campaign that was aimed at decriminalizing the possession of cannabis in British Columbia. Although he was ultimately unsuccessful, he garnered 202,085 signatures which was the second-highest number of signatures ever for a referendum issue in British Columbia. This was a huge milestone for the movement and would be a great sign of things to come.

Cannabis Culture

In 2001, Marc Emery founded the Cannabis Culture Lounge to celebrate cannabis culture and the increased exposure it was receiving across Canada. This was also the same year that the medicinal use of marijuana was legalized. The lounge itself doesn’t sell cannabis, but visitors are encouraged to bring their own buds. There are rental options for bongs and vaporizers, and medicinal cannabis is available for patients with a doctor’s note.

Cannabis use after 2001

Attitudes had completely changed by 2001. Thanks to the efforts of thousands of activists, the medical benefits of cannabis were widely known and open use was common across Vancouver. Police would rarely bother people who were using it unless they were disrupting the peace, and the city was dealing with more severe drug epidemics.

By 2012, polls showed that 61% of British Columbia residents were in favour of legalization. This was yet another huge victory for activists and coincided with the flourishing cannabis culture in the province.

Cannabis legalization on October 17th, 2018

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau pledged to legalize recreational cannabis use if he became Prime Minister of Canada. The Liberal party won by a huge margin and surprisingly, Trudeau kept his promise and legalized recreational cannabis on October 17th, 2018 just under three years after he assumed office.

Bill C-45, also known as the Westray bill, was originally enacted in 2004 following the Westray Mining tragedy. However, the cannabis act was proposed as part of Bill C-45 to legalize the recreational use of cannabis throughout Canada. This is because the original bill was designed as legislation to create legal responsibility for companies regarding workplace health and safety. Since legalized cannabis use comes with potential safety issues for both employers and employees, it was deemed as a necessary amendment to make.

The legalization enabled Canada’s cannabis culture to flourish, resulting in many new stores being opened and many large events such as 420 Vancouver being hosted. These days, finding a cannabis dispensary in Vancouver is incredibly easy.

One fear regarding cannabis legalization was that usage would increase dramatically among young people. However, these fears were put to rest thanks to surveys carried out by Statistics Canada. In 2017, the usage among Canadians who were over 15 was just 14%. A year after legalization, that same statistic was just 15%, a one percent increase.

Today, there are many rules regarding legalized cannabis use that support the culture. For example, purchases must be made at licensed retailers and you can’t possess more than 30 grams in public. There are even rules that allow you to grow up to four plants in a household as long as they are out of public view. In addition, consumption in public areas is allowed as long as it’s designated for smoking and you cannot smoke cannabis while operating a vehicle.


Thanks to the hard work of activists, cannabis was eventually legalized in not just Vancouver, but the whole of Canada. Attitudes changed across several decades and cannabis culture continued to thrive in the country. Nowadays, these victories are celebrated on 4/20 with massive events every single year.