Home Culture Sacrificing Freedom for Cannabis: An Interview with Chris Goodwin

Sacrificing Freedom for Cannabis: An Interview with Chris Goodwin

Image Courtesy of Chris Goodwin

Those of you who follow what’s going on in the cannabis industry may have heard about a recent series of raids on marijuana dispensaries in Toronto. The raids have led to arrests of dozens of people and the confiscation of hundreds of thousands of dollars in product and equipment.

The day after his Cannabis Culture shop was raided, Canadian activist and marijuana entrepreneur Marc Emery reopened the dispensary and installed himself behind the counter. Emery had previously spent 5 years in U.S. federal prison for the crime of selling cannabis seeds.

“The people want it,” Emery told reporters outside the shop that day. “As long as we have true believers who are willing to go to jail for our cause, as I am, then we will continue to open and defy the punishment that the City of Toronto — under the federal government — is giving us.”

The foundation of the cannabis activist community is the activists who are willing to go to jail – to sacrifice their very freedom – to advance the cause of liberty for all marijuana users. One of those activists is Chris Goodwin, a man who is no stranger to being arrested and jailed over the cannabis plant.

Chris is an activist and business owner based in Toronto and is connected with the raids that have been executed recently. His wife, Erin, was working as a manager at the Cannabis Culture dispensary on the day of the raid and spent the night in a Toronto jail.

I recently got a chance to talk with Chris about his career in activism, what’s been going down in Toronto and more!

The Marijuana Times: What were you told about cannabis growing up?

Chris Goodwin: Growing up I was told cannabis was addictive and would lead to hard drug abuse. That the high would never be good enough, and would force the user to search for greater highs.

MT: How did you get involved in cannabis activism in the beginning?

CG: In 1995, a friend named Rob Barham gave me the book The Emperor Wears No Clothes by Jack Herer. It changed my life, and I became a hemp activist.

In 1997, I was arrested, and it caused me to search out other forms of activism, which I found Cannabis Culture. Marc Emery encouraged me to engage in civil disobedience.

In 1999, I organized my first 4/20 Smoke Out, getting arrested publicly.

In 2001, 4/20 smoke outs were doing well, so I opened a cannabis cafe, that got raided the first week.

In 2003, I opened the Up In Smoke Cafe, which was raided 4 times in 3 years, and had hundreds of police visits.

In 2007, I opened Vapor Central in Toronto, and organized Toronto’s first 4/20 smoke out in Yonge Dundas Square…

2016, Good Weeds, Cannabis Culture…

MT: How many times have you been arrested? What was your longest stretch of time in custody?

CG: I have been arrested 14 times, on 38 separate charges since 1997, all for cannabis. I have spent a few stretches of 3 weeks, once I was held for 3 months on remand, and one 6 month sentence. Mostly overnight, or under a week. Almost a year in custody in total.  

MT: How did you get involved with Vapor Central?

CG: An Amsterdam cafe, or cafes in general, are traditionally open to the public, customers just walk in, sit down, order. Marc Emery had the New Amsterdam Cafe, Abi had the Hot Box.

Cafes also require a lot of overhead. And so much time is spent providing food services, and little time providing cannabis services.

So when my first cannabis cafe was raided the first week, and I opened Up In Smoke Cafe 2 years later, I added the concept of a private membership based vapor lounge.

Behind a closed door. Pre-paid. Leather couches. With vaporizers included. Event based. Comedy, podcasts, etc. There would be totally cannabis services. Bong rentals, dab rigs, rolling trays, papers, grinders, etc.

When Up In Smoke Cafe finally closed, I felt the vapor lounge concept was what should be expanded. So I opened Vapor Central.

MT: What are some of your favorite moments from Vapor Central?

CG: My favorite moments were producing all the live shows, over 1,500 episodes in total over 9 years. Stoner Sundays, The Sarah Hanlon Show & The CK Potcast Mondays, The Mernahuana Zone Tuesdays, Weedy Wednesdays and 3rd Klass Thursdays.

MT: What has been going down in Toronto when it comes to police and cannabis shops?

CG: In Toronto, vapor lounges have operated successfully for the last 10 years. Neither the City of Toronto, nor Toronto Police have enforced any laws or by laws against vapor lounges.

The Province of Ontario has added a ban on vaporizing in public to the Ontario Smoke Free Act. Some lounges are concerned by law fines.

Although all vapor lounges in Toronto, and others in Ontario, have municipal business licenses, zoned as Retail and Food Stuffs in most cases.

Dispensaries have been targeted by Toronto by Law inspectors for failure to have a business license, and Toronto Police have Operation Claudia, arresting owners and employees for possession for the purpose of trafficking and proceeds of crime. Most or many have reopened.

MT: What are your thoughts on how the Trudeau Government has handled legalization so far?

CG: Very poorly. From our perspective, slow or non-existent.

Although I have always been a Repeal Activist. I am not too concerned with what regulations legalization has, in each province, or each city.

I am only concerned that the prohibitions on cannabis are repealed from the criminal code.

But for legalization to work, it has to be inclusive and based on science.

MT: What are you currently working on or involved with in terms of the cannabis industry?

CG: In January, my wife Erin Goodwin and I opened Good Weeds, a lounge on The Danforth that sold recreational vapor bags, bong hits, and dabs, to all adults, 18+.

We are now working with Cannabis Culture on Queens Street, to sell recreational cannabis, hash, and cannabis oil to all adults. And helping open CC lounges in Toronto.

My wife is the Manager of Cannabis Culture. I am also Editor of Pot TV. We both still organize 4/20 in Yonge Dundas Square every year.

The sacrifice that activists like Chris Goodwin make is not measurable. They give time out of their life – a year in Chris’ case – in order to fight cannabis prohibition, something that has ruined tens of millions of lives. That is a year Chris can never get back, given in the fight to end this ruinous war against non-violent people.

No one should go to jail if they are not infringing on the rights of someone else. That is the standard by which all “crimes” should be measured. Maybe someday countries like the United States and Canada will get back to that standard.

In the meantime, people like Chris, his wife Erin, and thousands of other cannabis activists will continue to go to jail for standing up for their rights. They sacrifice their freedom for all of us. We must not let their sacrifices be in vain.

Legalization must come, sooner rather than later.