Alicia Maher | Alicante, Spain | 23.09.2020

Alicia Maher is a University of Limerick PhD Candidate in Law, writing a paper on the regulation of medicinal cannabis in Ireland. She talks about her history of chronic pain, her difficulties accessing medical cannabis, the Medical Cannabis Symposium she helped organise at UL last year and more.

Twitter: @alicialmaher

Hi Alicia, thanks so much for joining me. Your chronic pain story began in 2001, when you were seventeen and went to get your tonsils removed. That’s right. And from there onward, you had a host of complications, which we don’t need to go into. But maybe you’d like to tell our readers a little about what happened next and why you later began to use cannabis? I ended up having to get a bag on my stomach and I was supposed to get it reversed in 2006, but I got precancerous cells. And after the operation, I got 1MRSA (Methicillin -resistant Staphylococcus aureus) and my coccyx bone was broken. So that was the start of the 2chronic pain that I had. From there until about 2012, it was just all medication and stuff. I was taking medication probably for about six years, and then I got referred to a Pain Specialist and it was actually him that found out that my coccyx bone was broken and that that was where the pain was coming from.

He gave me injections into my back every three months and different medication up until about 2018. That year, I was taking thirty opioids a day. I had pain patches on my back all the time and I was still getting the surgeries every three to four months, but it just wasn’t working anymore. The pain just got way worse, so I decided then to try cannabis. And a friend of my husband’s sent over a vape cartridge from New York, ‘cause he was able to get them over there, and I tried it and it worked straight away for the pain. So I decided then that I was gonna come off medication, because there was no point being on them. The side effects… it just wasn’t worth taking them anymore. I was just sleeping all the time. You have no quality of life on them at all. So I used the vape from 2018, started coming off all the medication and when I had come off half the medication, I told my Doctor that I was using cannabis and he was absolutely delighted. 

He said: “The first thing is, do no harm”, and he saw how the opioids were affecting me and he didn’t want me taking them either. So he said that he’d support my application for the medical cannabis licence. At the time, in August 2018, the Pain Consultant that I had been with since 2012 stopped working for the HSE (Health Service Executive). He went private. So he was no longer my Pain Consultant at the exact time I needed him to sign the licence. When my Doctor sent off the application, they wrote back and said that they weren’t declining it on the basis of chronic pain. They were denying it on the basis that I didn’t have a Consultant. And because that Consultant had just left the department, they were not taking more appointments. That’s right, yeah. I got another Consultant in the end, but it took till December 2019 to see him. 

By that time, we’d moved to Spain. We’d moved there in November 2019, but I knew I’d be going back in a month to meet the new Pain Consultant. I told him the exact same thing and he said that he’d support my Doctor’s application, even though it was his first time meeting me. Thank God for that. Yeah, that was how I’d gotten the licence then, in the end. That was through him. You put out a Freedom of Information request in June. Yes. You tweeted about it on June 19th, asking exactly how many medical licences had been granted by the Department of Health since the Medical Cannabis Access Programme (MCAP) was launched in 2017. At that time, they’d only issued thirty-two. Are you aware of any significant increase in that number since then? No, I think it’s at about forty at the moment. You know when they say in the media, “There’s been seventy licences granted”? That includes repeat licences, so that could mean three licences for one person. At the time, you were also aware that there hadn’t yet been any licences granted for cultivation in Ireland. Yeah, they’ve not granted any for that. You helped organise a Medical Cannabis Symposium in UL (University of Limerick) in September last year. Yeah. You were a speaker at it. How did that go for you? I’m doing my PhD in the School of Law at the University of Limerick and it’s on medical cannabis as well, the regulation side of it. So I emailed Gino Kenny (People Before Profit TD and cannabis decriminalisation campaigner)

This was after I’d started coming off the tablets and the medical cannabis was working and I was delighted. I’d asked him if he had any events coming up, or anything that I’d be able to go to. And he said that “There’s none at the moment”, but that he was thinking of setting one up. So I said to him then if he would consider having it at the University of Limerick, and that I could ask the Professor of the Law Department there. So I went to the Head of the Law Department and I asked him, cause he knew everything that was after happening with me and he supported cannabis and all that. And he was absolutely delighted, so he said: “Yeah, work away”. We started off with fifty people. Then we put up tickets and there was huge interest in it. We ended up having to get a room for over two hundred people. Fantastic, considering it was relatively short notice in terms of organising it. Yeah, it was. It was February I think, when we started organising it, and then we had it in September. 

Did you get any interesting comments or stories from people who had seen you talk? Was your talk primarily about your own experiences applying for medical cannabis access? My talk was primarily about how it worked for me for chronic pain. And it was highlighting that we needed access under MCAP for chronic pain, because it wasn’t included (under the accepted conditions to qualify). A lot of people were actually crying! Alicia giggles That is an interesting response! It was so nice! It was so much better than I expected. The whole day went absolutely brilliantly. But the people, they stayed around for hours afterwards, chatting to each other and to me. Saying that they found it such a comfortable environment. People in the crowd stood up and shared their stories on the day as well, even though they weren’t supposed to, you know? So we just had an open floor and everybody was talking about how it impacted their families and.. yeah, they said it was just so nice to have such a supportive environment. That they had never been to something like that before where they could just talk freely. Even though it was a Law Department, you know? And it’s still illegal and we were all getting it from the black market. 

That’s fantastic that it went so well, I’m delighted that it did. Has there been any talk since then of a follow up, even loosely? Yeah. After that one we had arranged, we were gonna do another one, but then… Covid. But I’d love to do a follow up. Covid really threw a spanner in the works! You’ve been based in Spain since the pandemic kicked off and there was lockdown for quite a long time in Spain. Have you been back to Ireland since then? I went home for my husband’s graduation in February. Congratulations! We only went home for a couple of weeks. Came back to Spain then, but we were planning on going back home again in April, full time. So then we went into lock down on the 13th of March. I rang the Doctor and I was like, “What will I do, because of my underlying condition?” Would I get on a plane and go home, or should I stay in Spain? Yeah. And you were concerned as well about exactly how EU laws are, in relation to travelling with prescription cannabis. That was afterwards actually, I wrote to him (the Doctor) about it. He told me I’d be better off staying in Spain. 

We were in lockdown before Ireland was I think, and it wouldn’t be worth the risk travelling home. Plus, they didn’t know what was gonna happen with the medical cannabis licences. I don’t think they had collected any for anybody at that stage, so if I went home I would have had to get it from the black market again. Which was the whole point of coming here in the first place. So yeah, we decided to stay here! There was another issue with the licence as well. I have the licence and I have the prescription. And my prescription is for twenty grams of cannabis flower a month, from Bedrocan (a global medicinal cannabis producer). At the moment, they only have one 22% THC available, and it’s a sativa. Whereas, that makes the pain worse for me and the one that I need is an indica. So even though I have the licence, I can only get one strain from one place in Europe. 

And according to a tweet of yours on June the eighth, that’s costing nearly €2000 every three months, is that right? That’s how much I was told it was costing. I didn’t pick it up myself yet, so I don’t know the exact figure. And you were saying that in Spain, one seed is about €7. And you’re allowed to grow a personal amount over there. And there’s cannabis clubs. Yeah. Have you met with other people with similar circumstances to yourself, who would have also gone to Spain, for that sort of reason? The only person I knew of that would have gone to Spain as well is 3Kenny Tynan. The man behind 4The Cannabis Patient Podcast. Yes, that’s him. He was using it to treat a brain tumour, I believe. And he used the Treatment Abroad Scheme (TAS) and went to the Kapala clinic in Spain and had his treatment there. He lived in Spain for a good while and joined a cannabis club. Same thing as me, he used to get his cannabis there and he used it for seizures. And I think it’s controlling them now. 

That’s fantastic. You’ve said before that the Department of Health was willing to send prescriptions from the Hague (in The Netherlands) to Ireland, during lockdown. From April, they had the courier service. And you found out that they were willing to send prescriptions, but that they then decided that they weren’t going to pick up all of the CBD-only products for people, because of a technicality where people who only need CBD don’t require a licence. So they weren’t obliged to pick them up and bring them back. Yeah, that’s right, that’s exactly what happened. Because they didn’t need the Ministerial licence. Somebody decided: “We’re not gonna pick that up”, even though they went all the way over to pick up the ones with THC. And the courier service was only available for people who were able to pay around four grand up front for it? 

Yes. So, Kenny Tynan’s prescription is around €4000 every three months, paid up front. For the first three prescriptions, they actually covered the cost for him, but then they decided to change the goalposts and told him that he no longer qualified to have it refunded. Now I’m sure like me, he probably has a medical card if he has a long term illness. But they’re refusing to cover it on the medical card for everybody, so… it was only the people that paid for it up front who they would deliver it to. So then a load of people had to do fundraisers. Do you know about 5Pamela Fowler? Yes. Her son Ryan has a prescription. He has the licence for a large tumour in his back and he uses it for chronic pain as well. She and Kenny, when they found out about the courier service, they couldn’t afford it. So they set up a fundraiser so they could get their stuff sent over.

The government recently announced that there were budgetary constraints. I suppose that ties into why they decided not to pick up all of the CBD products… Have there been any developments from them since then? Because I see a lot of people saying that they won’t respond to them online. They don’t seem to be giving people many answers at the moment. No, absolutely not. 

I’ve been emailing Stephen Donnelly (Minister for Health) for weeks and weeks. I haven’t even gotten an acknowledgement. I’ve told him I’m here in Spain, have a prescription, the product doesn’t suit me. And… nothing back. So, they did another (prescriptions) collection recently. But the budgetary constraints thing was an email from Stephen Donnelly to Gino Kenny. That was about the MCAP itself. They said they’re trying to negotiate the price with the supplier and that he had no date now for the MCAP. So everybody that wants access has to still go down the Ministerial licence route. Even though the legislation was signed by Simon Harris (former Minister for Health and current Minister for Further & Higher Education, Research, Innovation & Science) last June, it’s still not operating and now they have no date for it. Wonderful. That was only this week that Gino Kenny put that up actually, that there’s no longer a date for it to commence. It’s astonishing really. It is. 

I saw you mention on the 2nd of September that the costs for your cannabis prescription each month were less than what the opioids and pain treatments would’ve cost you previously. Your Consultant and GP aren’t willing to cover the cost of your cannabis anymore. But they will cover the opioids and more expensive medications. Yeah, that’s the HSE for you. They consulted with the Doctor, they were happy to prescribe it. They were happy to prescribe the opioids and everything was covered on my medical card. ‘Cause that came to thousands every month. Their excuse was that they won’t cover the cost of cannabis because it costs more, when it turns out that it’s actually cheaper than opioids. That’s very strange. That’s what I wrote to Stephen Donnelly as well, that it’s actually gonna cost them less now that I have a prescription for cannabis, than it was gonna cost for hospital stays and medications. But again, I haven’t got a reply.

Are you planning on staying put in Spain for the foreseeable future, for pain management? Yeah, I’d say we will. The thing is, my husband’s doing a PhD as well and he’s almost finished, so he obviously would like to be back home to finish that and I’d love to be back home in the University, doing my work there too. Of course. It’s so hard doing it away from home and being away from everybody as well. I’ve never been away from home for as long, so that bit is really hard. But I think we’re gonna stay till next year at least, because if I go home now the prescription is useless, ‘cause the sativa drives my heart crazy. It doesn’t work for the pain, so I’d be buying it off somebody on the street again. I’d prefer to be growing my own, but we all know what happens then! Mm-hmm.

So, we’re gonna just stay. I was lucky enough. During the pandemic, on the 13th of March, all the cannabis clubs closed. So I was like, “Oh my God, what am I gonna do?” I had one day, so I could go in and stock up. But you’re only allowed buy three grams a day in the club. So my husband joined. He got three grams, I got three grams. I probably had about three grams at home. They were closed for three months and all I had was six grams at the start, but somebody put me in touch with a medical cannabis clinic in Spain. Thank goodness for that, ‘cause I’d say you were tryna make that last! Oh, I was absolutely terrified of running out! The cannabis clinic took me on, on a discretionary basis. They told me I couldn’t tell people the name of the clinic if they took me on. I sent them my licence to prove that I had it, but the licence is only to import into Ireland. So my Doctor sent them my prescription as well, just to say that it was twenty grams of indica a month. And they posted it to me, they post it every month. So it’s much better than at home. It’s amazing, someone in a different country is willing to help you more than your own government. It’s absurd. 

It’s everywhere in California. They have their issues with the taxes and fees they have to pay to run legal cannabis businesses. But there’s no shortage of it over there and you can get it for a whole host of conditions, it really makes you wonder why our government is taking so long to implement and expand upon MCAP. It puts us to shame, really. It does. It’s been nearly five years since 6Vera Twomey walking to Dublin was in the media in Ireland, and still nothing. Is there anything you’d like to say on a final note to the government, or to other people in Ireland that might have a similar situation to yourself? Without sounding too pessimistic…I don’t think MCAP, even if it is commenced, is working. It’s not broad enough to include enough people. It’s only for three conditions – epilepsy, MS, or nausea and vomiting with chemotherapy. Simon Harris asked the HPRA (Health Products Regulatory Authority) to conduct a report to see if they should bring in the Medical Cannabis Access Programme, so they were the people that recommended it for three conditions. In that 7report (published in 2017), they actually acknowledge that there’s good evidence for cannabis for chronic pain.

There’s more evidence for cannabis working for chronic pain than there is for it working for epilepsy. But they said the reason that they didn’t want to include chronic pain was because… There were lots of reasons. They said it could be psychological, there’s loads of different factors that affect chronic pain. And they said there’s loads of other treatments out there for people with chronic pain such as physiotherapy, seeing a psychologist…

They didn’t include it for policy reasons, which is absolutely ridiculous. And then afterwards, Simon Harris said that if more evidence became available, they would keep it in mind and that they could potentially add chronic pain. But they know that the evidence is already there, you know? 

As you pointed out before, that’s similar to the guidance from the NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) 8draft report on chronic primary pain in the UK. They recommended not to use opioids, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, benzodiazepines and all of that. They recommended things like antidepressants and CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), but they still didn’t recommend cannabis. That was it. They’re taking all the stuff away from people that are in chronic pain, but they’re not leaving them with a solution really. I mean, antidepressants for chronic pain. I tried them. They just didn’t work. Not to mention that a lot of opioids are highly addictive. Just look at the opiate epidemic in the United States. They’re trying to get away from opioids, but they’re just not giving any other solutions. It’s sad really. It is. Especially when you see how damaging opioids can be. 

It was awful trying to come off them, it was horrendous. I’d never ever want to do it again. ‘cause it took me a long time to come off them as well. They can give people severe withdrawals, you hear horror stories. I was on five medications, four of them were opioids. I think it took about nine months to come off them all and that was actually too fast to do it. But it was withdrawals the whole time, and I had withdrawals up to a couple of months ago with them. And since you began to use a vape pen in 2019, the ones you were taking were down from initial prescriptions of over thirty medications, including opiates. I was taking thirty tablets a day. And I first tried the vape pen in November 2018. I started coming off the tablets straight away and I was fully off them by June 2019. So that’s nearly nine months, but the effects still last for way longer than that. But I think the cannabis probably helped with the withdrawal symptoms as well. I suppose we’ll leave it at that Alicia! All the best to you and your husband with the PhDs. I really hope that you get word back from Stephen Donnelly and fingers crossed the government will truly get to work with MCAP. It was lovely talking to you. You too! Thanks Alicia. No bother at all. Bye!

References:

1 More information about MRSA can be found here: https://www.cdc.gov/mrsa/community/index.html 

2 The Irish Examiner covered Alicia’s chronic pain in more detail in this interview:

https://www.irishexaminer.com/news/arid-30926278.html

3 Check out Kenny Tynan‘s interview with us at this link:

https://greenlensblog.com/2021/01/14/kenny-tynan-6pm-07-01-2021/

4 The Cannabis Patient Podcast can be found at: https://anchor.fm/thecannabispatient 

5 Pamela Fowler’s GoFundMe page from April of this year, which describes her son Ryan’s chronic pain

condition and their difficulties getting him medical cannabis with current government policies in place:

https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-to-get-ryan-3-months-of-his-medical-cannabis  

6 The HPRA’s report can be accessed at this link: https://bit.ly/3yZdzFy

7 Check out Vera Twomey‘s interview with us at this link:

https://greenlensblog.com/2020/11/25/vera-twomey-cork-21-11-2020/

8 The NICE draft report can be found here:

https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/gid-ng10069/documents/draft-guideline 

Cannabis & The Gateway Drug Narrative

Nicholas examines a common barrier which stifles the debate on marijuana reform. 

The discussion of cannabis legislation is shrouded in untruths and misconceptions on the effects the drug has when recreationally used.  One of these untruths is the theory that marijuana is a gateway drug that precedes harsher drug use.  This myth is used to facilitate a certain discourse on marijuana use, where a false narrative is created regarding the effects of recreational use, influencing further fear-mongering on the issue.  This is, of course, the gateway myth. A belief that recreational marijuana use triggers an urge to experiment with harder and more stimulating drugs.  While this quarrel is virtually exclusive to political debates, it is in politics where the discussion of decriminalisation and legalisation of cannabis is brought to a halt, as this myth continues to breed ignorance on the subject.

In the United States, marijuana reform has swept the nation.  Many states have medical dispensaries where medical card owners can acquire cannabis to alleviate certain conditions and disorders.  In the wake of this came many benefits, some of which were the effects it had on crime rates and the taxation of the drug, where each state flourished from the massive spike in taxes.1 

The myth struggled to create a divide in these states and it proved its detriment as it became apparent the argument only held validity as long as marijuana was illegal.  That is the only area where the myth holds weight, the area of legality.  Because the only way to acquire it is through the black market, the core root of the myth emerges. 

Drug dealing in Ireland is a multi-billion-euro enterprise that sees all its revenue untaxed and secured in the depths of Ireland’s criminal underbelly, with the cannabis market in 2019 pulling revenue of 11.6bn across the E.U.3 Most if not all dealers specialise in an array of drugs of various classes, as a means of maximising potential revenue by offering the buyer more choice. 

It is here where the gateway myth finds its footing.  While many adolescents begin experimenting with softer drugs, it is the source of their newfound experimentation that services as the gateway towards more illicit substances.  The source is an enterprise which only factors their profit margins and the only way to secure more revenue is by offering everything available.  It may begin with a free sample when purchasing their usual amount of cannabis, at which point the link has been made and the gates threaten to open.

What was originally a source of marijuana has now become a Pandora’s box of options, ranging from Valium, to cocaine, to heroin.  The harder the drug, the harder the sentence and with that comes a more strenuous culture surrounding Class A and B drugs.  To maximise the yield and provide the dealer with more quantities to sell, many of these substances are “cut” with dangerous chemicals you can find in under the sink products.4

In the black market, there is very little room for concern in terms of the effects that these cutting agents will have on the buyer.  All that matters to the dealer is making a sale and if that means selling heavily tainted substances, then the transaction will be made. 

Quoted in the Edmonton Sun, December 12th, 2002, Pierre Claude Nolin [Senator and Chairman of the Special Senate Committee on Illegal Drugs in Canada] said:

“It [marijuana] is not a gateway drug. There is nothing in the substance that leads to other drugs.  The gateway is not the substance. It’s the black market.” 5

Recreational marijuana use, which can tumble into experimentation with illicit drugs, is not the result of tolerance building or a particular interest in something stronger.  It is an example of how people are products of their environment. The current legal state of marijuana puts smokers in situations where risky choices are available and they are encouraged to be explored.  Choices which can prove hazardous to the wellbeing of those involved.  Choices made readily available because of the criminalisation of marijuana, among other factors.

Experiences of marijuana users from across the country attest to this, as well as research into the drug itself.  Studies have yet to claim this myth as fact. On the contrary, studies have disproven the link between marijuana and wider drug use.  There is a growing body of research showing that medicinal marijuana use has served as a substitute for alternative substances, such as tobacco and alcohol, two addictive drugs which are commonly abused across society.7

CBD oil alone has been medically proven to help with conditions such as epilepsy, autism, and arthritis.  In cases where medicinal marijuana was legalised, the usage of often heavily-abused prescription medications, such as opioids, was reduced significantly.8  In a press release discussing his study published in the U.K. Journal of Addiction, (December 2nd, 2002) researcher Andrew Morral, Ph.D said:

“We’ve shown that the marijuana gateway effect is not the best explanation for the link between marijuana use and the use of harder drugs.  An alternative, simpler and more compelling explanation accounts for the pattern of drug use you see in this country, without resorting to any gateway effects. While the gateway theory has enjoyed popular acceptance, scientists have always had their doubts. Our study shows that these doubts are justified.” 9

An individual’s environmental circumstances have been identified as one of the root causes of illicit substance abuse, further dismissing the belief that marijuana use precedes this behaviour.10  A 2012 study on the common liability to addiction and the gateway hypothesis found that 83.2% of recreational substance users in Japan, a country where cannabis isn’t generally accessible,  had not used marijuana first:

“It’s also important to remember that there are many factors that can lead to someone forming a substance use disorder, including personal, social, genetic, and environmental factors.” 11

As more comprehensive research is carried out on the effects of cannabis legislation and the drug itself, we find ourselves etching towards a society more open to the idea of decriminalisation and taxation. 

These misconceptions are not spread across all generations though, as over 65s are more likely to support keeping marijuana illegal.12

As younger generations push social issues forward  in politics, perhaps one day we could hope for a rational and cohesive dialogue on the legalisation of cannabis.  Until then, information disputing these presumptions can help older generations to view the debate from a more knowledgeable perspective.  A key fear many older generations have is of legalisation empowering illegal market activity. Despite this fear, American states such as Colorado which regulate medical and recreational cannabis have made strides in decreasing the size of the illegal market, with 70% of total sales being confined to their legal markets.13  Marijuana’s current legal state leaves Irish consumers seeking out the black market, as attitudes toward cannabis continue to curtail prohibition, and demand refuses to be eliminated.

References: 1 https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/07418825.2019.1666903

2 https://www.washingtonpost.com/video/video/onbackground/the-tax-benefits-of-legal-marijuana/2013/11/05/ab3a7868-464a-11e3-bf0c-cebf37c6f484_video.html

3 https://www.irishexaminer.com/news/arid-30966841.html

4 http://www.drugs.ie/news/article/Irish_cocaine_cut_with_deadly_toxins

5 https://medicalmarijuana.procon.org/questions/is-marijuana-a-gateway-or-stepping-stone-drug/

6 https://americanaddictioncenters.org/the-real-gateway-drug

7 https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Comparative-Epidemiology-of-Dependence-on-Tobacco-%2C-Anthony-Warner/aa41b0bd3b697be62f7eeca4d93d41c7b70544ef?p2df

8 https://reason.org/wp-content/uploads/does-legalizing-marijuana-reduce-crime.pdf

9 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12472629/

10 https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/full/10.1176/ajp.2006.163.12.2134

11 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3600369/

12 https://www.iwf.org/2019/03/11/millennials-overwhelmingly-favor-legalizing-weed-while-baby-boomers-just-say-no/

13 https://www.economist.com/briefing/2016/02/13/reeferegulatory-challenge

Sienna Moodie | Palm Springs, California | 18.09.2020

Sienna Moodie is an Oakland native who (under normal circumstances) works as a yoga instructor in Oakland, San Francisco and Los Angeles. She incorporates cannabis into her yoga sessions and uses it personally on a daily basis. Since this interview took place, she launched her online five-week Live Your Yoga course, where one can “learn to deepen your practice, effectively set intentions and speak about the philosophy and spirituality of yoga”.

Instagram: @yogawsienna / Website: https://www.yogawithsienna.com/

Hello Sienna! Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background in yoga. 

Well, I was a dancer for a really long time and kind of over-did it dancing and hurt my body a lot. So, when I started practicing yoga it was like a way for me to still feel like I could move my body and achieve the same feeling that I got from dancing. Dancing was always my thing. It just brought me lots of happiness and joy. But it was really a bummer when my body hurt me and I just couldn’t really dance any more. So, yoga was there for me when I was going through all my feelings from that. I was feeling like I was old and broken, which is hilarious because I’m not even old now and that was a long time ago! You had a few years left in you I think! Right, exactly. So I turned to yoga, not even for that reason originally. A friend of mine was just like: “Oh, why don’t you take this yoga class? ‘cause we need to get in shape.” So I was like, “Okay, let’s do it” and I thought: “Wow, this is so awesome”. It felt like a dance class to me and it just ended up being way more than I thought it was and it helped me to get really clear in my mind, not like, about any one particular thing.

But just to clear some of the clutter that was preventing me from being my real self, you know? And I feel like you were there when I first started doing my teacher training, weren’t you? Yeah. So, yeah, I was working my ass off. Working like, way too many shifts a week, just trying to save up the money so I could pay. Because I just got to the point where I was like, “I can’t work at a bar forever. There’s no way. My body already hurts from dancing and now I’m just gonna be a server for the rest of my life? I don’t think so.” So I just kind of.. Yoga was like, “This is what you’ve gotta do instead.” Sienna laughs So, you have #SitwithSienna on Tuesdays. You’ve got short guided meditation on Thursdays, with 33rd and Rising. I’m getting all your promo stuff out of the way. Laughter On Sundays, you do Cannabis enhanced vinyasa flow with 33rd and Rising. And you’re launching a new course, called Live Your Yoga. Yes! I suppose the course is probably what you’re most excited about right now, that’s starting soon. Yeah, we’re gonna start on October third. Excellent! I also saw something about a pop-up event, sponsored by Stone Road Farms, called Yin Yoga and Soundbath. Tell me a little about that.

Yeah, that’s actually… It’s like this little side-business that my friend 1Brandee and I started, we’re calling it Spaced Out. So yeah, socially-distanced yoga. It’s yin yoga, so it’s really gentle. You’re not going to break a sweat or really do anything too challenging. But more so just so that you can relax, catch a breath. And then my friend Brandee does sound healing, so she uses these really big quartz crystal singing bowls. Quartz crystal singing bowls. Yeah, they’re so cool and she has like seven of them. And she has this cool circle around herself and she just plays them all at different times while I’m teaching the yoga class so it’s awesome. I didn’t even know they had quartz crystal singing bowls. You learn something new every day. Me neither, until she told me. Stone Road is one of our sponsors, they’re a cannabis farm. And so they donated a bunch of pre-rolls for us, and matches and like, hemp wick. You know about hemp wick? People use it to light their joints with, instead of using a lighter, because of the chemicals. 

We have this other sponsor who’s called Kikoko, and they make weed-infused tea. So we made a weed ice tea for everyone and it was cardamom and rose. That sounds really good. It’s so good, I love it. What made you incorporate weed into yoga classes to begin with? Is it just certain classes where you tell people “Come and have a smoke”? How does it work? Well, right now I’m really only teaching the classes that you mentioned. So those are blatantly outlined “cannabis friendly”. To answer your first question, I started teaching it like “cannabis and yoga”, just because that’s how I practiced and it makes more sense for me to just be honest and be myself. And also to let other stoners know, “Look, this can actually help you with your yoga. You don’t have to stop smoking to be able to practice yoga.” I think there’s a stigma around yoga people that you have to be so healthy, or you have to be vegetarian, or you can’t smoke, but that’s not really the case. It’s more individual. Of course, it’s like anything.

Yeah. So I just feel like, since I am a stoner and yogi, it’s just like, I kind of carved out that niche for myself. Yeah. So, the way it works in the class is that I would invite everyone to bring their own. Since we’re not in person, it’s online now. So everyone brings their own weed, or like, if you have a weed tea like I mentioned, or some people use lotions or oils for their muscles that hurt. And then we’ll sit together for the first fifteen or twenty minutes of class and I’ll just give you suggestions of how to use it. If people have to step outside to smoke, ‘cause some people won’t smoke indoors, you know.. I give everyone the chance to do what they need to do and we’ll sit and talk. And then we’ll kind of start moving into the movement part of the class. And that’s pretty much it. I just show people how to incorporate the plant medicine into their practice in different ways. Have you had experiences with many people who were new to it, who started trying it out during yoga, or who maybe didn’t know how they felt about cannabis beforehand, who gradually came to like it?

Yeah, definitely. Sometimes people come to class and they’re like, “I don’t know how I feel about it. I don’t really smoke that much, is it okay?” Or they’re like, “Can I still come if I don’t smoke?” And I’m like: “Yeah, absolutely.” Some people opt to not smoke, or there’s also ways that you can balance out your high. So like, you know how THC and CBD balance each other out? Yeah. There are certain essential oils in other plants that you can use that act as CBD does. If you’re feeling too much of the psychoactive effect, you can bring yourself down. So, what I do when I teach in-person weed classes is I’ll bring, like… Black pepper essential oil is my go-to. And I’ll just put a little bit on my hands. Actually (at) an event I taught recently, someone was feeling too high after class and she was like, “I can’t leave yet ‘cause I feel like ‘Aaagh’”, so I put some black pepper oil on my hands and I just rubbed them together and kind of put my hands in front of her face so she could smell it. And then she levelled herself back out within a few minutes. So, I’ve got some tricks up my sleeve. Sienna Laughs

So, when did you first start using cannabis? I presume you started by smoking? Yeah, the first time I started smoking, I smoked out of an apple pipe. Sienna Laughs I was in college, you know, typical. With friends hanging out, doing nothing. And then I just sort of kept doing it. At first I just wanted to get high for fun, like teenagers do, and then eventually it just turned into something I incorporate into my daily life, my health. Like helping me manage my stress, manage my pain or whatever, like I used it for everything. Do you have any favourite strains you use recreationally, and for yoga? And do you have strains that you recommend to people in your class, for their yoga meditation? Good question. It depends on what my mood is and what I’m trying to do. During the day, right now, I’m hitting this oil pen. And it’s a sativa strain called Tangy, which just tastes citrus-y. I really like this one ‘cause it helps me stay focused if I’m working all day.

Plus, the CBD that’s in it just helps with pain management too, so like if I’m sitting… This is my work chair. Sienna points her camera at her wooden chair It’s not very comfortable. So I use this to help me stay focused and also to help me not be too physically uncomfortable on my seat all day, you know? But then when I’m ready to do yoga practice or to mellow myself out, I’ll use an indica. Which is a little bit heavier and more sleepy. And I like Purple Kush. That’s always my go-to. When people get weed in Ireland, there’s no choice of strains. They don’t know what they’re getting. The guy selling it is gonna say “I don’t know what I have, just take it”, so it’s in the Stone Age compared to California. If it’s a bad dealer, he could be mixing all kinds of stuff in with it. I remember that it was like that when I first started smoking weed ten years ago. It was highly illegal and in the State that I was in, it was a felony. And if you got caught for possession, you would be in jail for twenty-five years. So people had to be very, very sneaky about it.

And it’s like you said, you don’t know. The person you’re getting it from is probably hella sketchy, and you don’t know what kind of shit you’re getting. But yeah, we’ve come a long way. What’s your verdict on legalisation in California so far, do you think its worked well overall in the almost four years since 2Prop 64? I mean, it’s tough, it’s definitely controversial because.. sigh.. of so many reasons, but they’re making it so hard for people who have already been making a business out of it to continue to do so. So it’s all new people flooding the industry who already have money. And the other people who actually, are probably even better at harvesting their plants, and care more actually in their soul and love it more, are being pushed out. So that’s really awful. And then the fact that so many people are still in jail for possession of weed, that they’re giving no kind of effort towards getting them out, while all these other people who obviously were already rich if you can afford to just jump into this expensive-ass industry all of a sudden… You’re just getting now more rich, and it’s just creating this bigger and bigger divide between the rich and the poor, and the middle class is being obliterated.

There’s a big rich and poor divide in America, isn’t there? Not just in that industry. Not saying that we’re free of it in Ireland, but… No, it’s a lot.. And, on the other hand, I do enjoy going to a dispensary drive-through and getting CBD gummy bears and fuckin’.. a pre-rolled blunt, and riding off into the sunset. I enjoy that a lot, soooThat’s the best quote of the interview. I mean, that’s literally what I’d be doing so, am I complaining about that? That’s something some people in Ireland could only dream of! But, at what cost, you know? I care a lot about social injustice. And it’s tough, especially because statistically it skews towards fucking over people of colour and myself among them. And I feel fortunate that I’ve been able to be personally pretty unaffected. Like, I can buy weed. I’ve never gotten in trouble with the police for having weed on me or anything. But I know that it’s not like that for everybody else and it’s not cool. I feel like legalisation just exasperated that issue that was already there. Yeah, because the legal market’s not accessible for minorities. Right.

Some people had the idea that “Well, if we’re making it legal, then we’re decriminalising it, then less people of colour will be sent to jail”, and it’s like: “Okay, but what about all the people that are already in jail?” And now that the law has changed, we need to get them out! And nothing’s happening to get them out. I know there’s people out there like Bernie Sanders [independent U.S Senator and two-time Presidential candidate] and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez [U.S Representative for New York’s 14th congressional district, with the Democratic Party] talking about erasing previous convictions of people who were criminalised for possession of small amounts of weed and locked up.. Yeah, and then, you’re locked up for so long and there’s no way you’re going to get a job after that, or raise some kids. It ruins lives. Right. And now, the industry has changed. If you went to jail let’s say, in the ‘80s, for possession of weed. And got out now and tried to jump into the industry… First of all, you wouldn’t even fucking know where to start, its changed so much.

It’s so competitive, you’re not gonna have the money to get started. No-one’s gonna loan you any money, you just got out of fucking jail. 3Mikey Steinmetz, who runs a cannabis processing facility in 4The Emerald Triangle [a cannabis-growing region in Northern California], was saying that the industry has so much more cultivated and ready to sell than what they’re selling. Because it’s significantly more expensive than the black market and the black market is more popular. Up to 580% of cannabis sold in California is still through the black market. Yeah, because people can’t fucking afford the shit! Not to mention, many people that smoke weed, buy their weed from somebody who makes their living off of people buying it from them. What, did you think they were just gonna go get some minimum wage job at a dispensary now, just because the law changed? No. It was black market then, it’s still black market now. Nothing has changed for them, they still have loyal customers.

Are there any negative experiences you’ve had from cannabis? Is there a stand out time where it made you feel bad? One time comes to mind actually, now that I think about it. My brother [Indigo] had some fucking edibles. Some chocolate chip cookies that our dad made. And I was like, “What the fuck, he makes these?” And he was like, “Oh yeah, I was just visiting with him and apparently he makes weed butter now, and he made these cookies”. I was like, “What the fuck?”, and he was like: “Do you want one?” I said, “Well you know, weed cookies, really… I don’t know, they could go either way, I could get way too high, I don’t know if I should risk it.” And then he was like, “Come on” and I said: “Okay, well I’ll eat half of one and then see where I’m at, and if I want more, I can have more.” That’s the start of all of these stories… Yeah, and he said “Well I’m gonna have two. I’ve eaten them already. I’m gonna eat two and that’s fine for me. So you can handle a whole one. You don’t need to just take a bite. Come on, boss up, you got this.” So I was like, Sigh “..Alright.” So I ate a whole cookie. Mind you, I needed to borrow his truck to go run an errand.

And he said, “Okay, well I need you to give me a ride to school [college] then. Give me a ride to school and then pick me up after class if you have my fucking truck.” And so I was like, “Perfect, he’s gonna be in class for a couple of hours. That’s enough time for me to get my errands run.” Sienna giggles So I drop him off at school, we eat the cookies. I’m like, “Okay, this is the spot. I’ll see you back here at eight.” I was like, “I’m fucking so high.” So I went to my mom’s house and I just lay down and I did not feel good. My stomach hurt, I was like: “I don’t know if I’m gonna throw up, or if I’m gonna shit.” I just didn’t feel good. And I was texting my brother and I was like: “There is no way I can come and pick you up, I’m sorry. There’s no way I can get in your car and drive it to you right now. I’m fuckin’… I’m toast, I can’t.” Sienna giggles He was pissed texting me from school. He was like, “I fucking told you you could only borrow my truck if you come get me. What the fuck?”

He was like, “Just drink some water, you’re fine, relax! You’re being such a wimp about this.” And I was like, “No, you do not understand, I do not feel good. And then my mom came home, and I was like: “Oh my God, I don’t want her to see me like this.” So I hid in the bathroom, and I was pretending like I got food poisoning, which, I pretty much did! Sienna laughs In a way. No no, it wasn’t that much of a lie, it was close enough. I was like: “I got food poisoning. I ate something and it did not agree with me. I really don’t feel good, but I borrowed Indigo’s truck, can you please go pick him up from school?” My brother was like “Oh, horrible… What the fuck? I don’t want her to pick me up, because I don’t want her to see me all high either!” Laughter And I was like, “Okay well.. I don’t know what to tell you! I can’t safely come pick you up, so you have to figure something else out.” I was like “Next time just let me eat half a cookie, what the fuck?Sienna giggles

You and I once worked together in a bar in San Francisco. A lot of people used to smoke before, during and after a work shift. And that was alongside some shots here and there, a few beers at the end of the night… “Some shots here and there?” Laughter That’s putting it.. politely. Yeah, depending on the manager. Very free-flowing bars there. Do you think most people had a healthy relationship with weed and booze, that they kept it in check okay? Do you think it affected people at work much, or that people really screwed up their shifts now and again? I don’t think the weed was ever an issue. I think the people that smoked weed were different to the people that drank during a work shift, for the most part. There were some people that smoked, but the people who were stoners weren’t usually the ones that were getting drunk. Or they might do one cheeky [a small shot], or taste the market cocktail at line up [the special cocktail that night, during the pre-shift meeting] and maybe have a beer after the shift, just to be social.

But for the most part, I think the smokers were separate than the drinkers and I think the drinkers certainly had shifts that got messed up from that and certainly didn’t have their habits in check and didn’t take care of themselves. Sienna laughs Without naming names. Right, and certainly some smokers too can fall into that, but I think with that particular group of people, less so. Obviously it depends on the mentality of each person and the stuff going on in their lives. Right. And you know, the security guards were the ones who would smoke a blunt in their car on their break ‘cause they’re just fucking standing there all night. Like, of course you’re going to smoke a blunt, makes sense. But the people who are running around, or making drinks or serving drinks, or hosting. Those are the people that would get drunk and it’s more like, “We’re moving fast, we’re doing stuff.” Like, you don’t want to be stoned for that. But, especially when I started doing yoga, I would smoke before my shift.

Actually, I always did, but I would smoke more on my break too, ‘cause I didn’t wanna feel so “going, going, gone” and just ground myself. And it was nice making that transition. Would you say a lot of people in California smoke on the job? Or do you reckon that was more of a unique trend where we worked, within the bar industry? It’s definitely an industry thing. In bars, you’re definitely gonna smoke and get drunk and do drugs and do all that. I think where we worked definitely over-did it, they definitely did it the most. And particularly when it comes to alcohol. But, across other industries, I think lots of people smoke before and during their shifts. I think in most industries, outside of bars and restaurants, it’s completely unacceptable to be drinking on the job. But I feel like it’s totally acceptable to smoke, even to go smoke on your break. Has cannabis changed your outlook on yoga? That’s a great question. I don’t think cannabis changed my outlook on yoga, because I always was a stoner before I even came to yoga.

Has it helped develop your skills as a yogi and a teacher? I feel like it has certainly helped me develop my practice for sure. And it helps me more quickly come into the frame of mind I need to be in to do more deeply spiritual work, as opposed to just a physical exercise. The physical movements can get you to the mind state but it takes far longer. So if you smoke first and also do the physical it’s like “Phew, I’m there already” and you can get a lot more out of it. You can go deeper, faster. I would imagine it helping a lot to get your mind in the right flow state for deeper meditation. Mm-hmm. For meditation sometimes it’s a little difficult if you’re doing a seated, holding still type meditation. But if I’m doing a moving meditation like I do while I’m practising yoga, it feels good. It’s hard to sit still after you smoke, you know? ‘Cause you can kind of go either way. All the thoughts can come to you, or all the thoughts can leave. And it depends on what you do with your body. And I just find, when you smoke weed and then move, all the thoughts leave you, and that’s how you’re able to level up your consciousness.

As opposed to, if you smoke and then sit still, you’re left with nothing but your thoughts. And so then you’re having to do all this work to fight just being high and paranoid and thinking about everything, you know? Are there many other yoga practitioners in San Francisco and California who incorporate it into their meditation? I don’t know if there’s a lot of teachers per say that incorporate it. I personally have become connected with a few of them this year, over social media and stuff. But I feel like that’s just natural networking, of course we’re gonna find each other you know? But that group is really small, and I think people are still learning that it can be really beneficial to practice yoga with cannabis. But I do know that a lot of my friends incorporate their cannabis into their regular, daily lives, just like I do. Like, I might wake up, have a cup of weed tea, then do my yoga flow. Then make breakfast. And then I’ll be working all day, using my weed pen. And then when I’m ready to chill, I’ll smoke a blunt. Sienna laughs And it all has to do with how I wanna feel.

And I know a lot of people use weed the same way. My friend is here and is looking for an apartment and she’s been calling a bunch of places, trying to find out if she can go check out my yoga classes and so we’re gonna trade, I can’t wait. When you say you’re gonna trade, what do you mean? She’s gonna past life regress-me and I’m gonna do a private yoga session for her. She does past life regressions at 33rd and Rising. Is that a more recently established studio space? It’s been a couple of years now. I’ve been there for a year and a half, almost two years. And before that I think her studio was open for a year or so before I got there, so it must be three years old. Am I right in thinking that it’s a black or minority-owned business? It’s one woman who owns it. Her name is Chanel and she’s half-black and half-Filipino. She’s from the Bay Area. She’s awesome. She’s also a business coach. She’s a yoga teacher. She doesn’t teach you yoga, but she’s certified and she’s running the whole studio. 

There’s all these different types of services that they offer and everything is donation-based. So she’s running all of that, trying to get donations from other companies. And then, we also take care of the homeless people. I don’t know if she’s done it much lately. But, in Oakland there’s a whole bunch of people who just live on the streets, it’s intense. There’ll be a whole street of block after block with just tent after tent after tent and people just living outside. So, even worse than the Tenderloin in San Francisco. Yeah. And San Francisco’s gotten a lot worse too. Because a lot of people are losing their homes. So it’s just crazy. There was a street like that really close to our studio when we did have an in-person studio. And so we would go out there and we would bring food, we would bring feminine products, water, band-aids, first aid kit type things. Toothbrushes. Stuff like that. So, it’s really like a community-based centre where she’s just trying to get everybody to come together, heal each other and help out the community.

It’s important to have places like that. Yeah, and specifically she tries to hire as many people of colour as possible. And like.. not just black people, but all different ethnicities. Just so that everybody can feel seen and know that they have a space where they can come and heal and not feel like they’re the token black person. Or, you know, “I came to this thing for people of colour, but I’m the only latina in here.” So we try and get a really diverse group. And also, everybody that works there is all people that can see the vision as well, and like we’re not making any money doing this. Yeah, but it’s very important though, nonetheless. Exactly. And so, it takes a certain type of person to pour your heart and soul into this for very little financial return, you know? So, all the people that make the place what it is are just really awesome and special and we care about each other a lot. Christmas time last year, the owner took us all out for dinner. We all got Chinese food and it was so good.

And she gave all of us a personal, hand-written card and went around the table and told everyone what she loved about each of us as individuals and so we were like, all crying. It was just like, so sweet. Laughter So, she gave us all a gift certificate to either go and get a massage at the spa nearby, or you could go and have a session at the hot tub and so I was like, “This is the fucking best.” Wow, quite a lady. Right? It’s just great. Everyone just cares about each other so much. That’s the way it should be. Right? How have the Wildfires affected people around the Bay Area? Has it been a real threat to many people in San Francisco, is it very close to the city? It’s honestly really hard to keep up, ‘cause there’s fires in the North and fires in the South and there’s just fires everywhere. It’s really bad and I was in San Francisco last weekend and when I was there it was getting better, but the smoke was really bad. Me and my friend were hanging out. We were trying to sit outside to enjoy a meal, but the smoke hanging in the air is so thick, you get a headache if you’re outside for even a little while.

First of all, you can’t go outside without wearing a mask anyway, because of Covid 19. But then the air is just not breathable, so it’s giving a lot of people heightened anxiety. it’s wreaking a lot of havoc on people’s mental health more than anything, I’d say. Of course, ‘cause it was already bad enough with the pandemic. Right. And people are losing their jobs, people are sick, people are dying. People are losing their homes, and then now the fire is physically taking people’s homes away and then the smoke just looming over in the neighbouring areas is making it so hard to breathe that you’re having a headache. Our friend Jess had to leave work early ‘cause she was getting nauseous because of the smoke and she had to go home and drink a bunch of water. Poor Jess! Tell her I said “Hi” if you see her. I will! I told her that you’re doing this project too and she’s so excited. [Hi, Jess!] And my grandma, she was saying it was hard for her to breathe. Her chest was hurting and her eyes were burning ‘cause of the smoke. She lives in Berkeley, so that’s a little bit closer, ‘cause the fires are more East.

I had some friends up in Fairfield, in the North-East, and they had to evacuate their homes ‘cause the fires were coming towards them so fast. Oh my God. Everyone that I know has been able to go back home and be safe, but it’s very scary. We’re actually donating some of the money that we make next week at our event, towards helping people that are displaced from their homes because of the fires, because it’s just so crazy. That’s great. And it’s not much, but at least people can… We’re gonna call around and see how best we can help. We’ll be like, “Okay, we raised $400. Is it more helpful if we go and buy some supplies for you, or is it more helpful if we just give you the money?” Yeah. That’s fantastic that you’re doing that. Is that that same place, 33rd and Rising? No, this is me and my friend Brandee’s project, Spaced Out. And is that in San Francisco, or in L.A? That is both. So, we just do pop-up events ‘cause I’m down here in Palm Springs, so I’m only two hours away from L.A. And I’ve just been down here for most of this year, so it’s easy for me to do that. 

I didn’t know you’d moved out of San Francisco… Well, we still have our apartment there, so that’s why I was there this weekend. ‘Cause we went home to check our mail and… make sure our house didn’t burn down. Sienna laughs Yeah, yeah… It didn’t. Good. So you’ve been living in Palm Springs for some months now, okay. Would you say that many people we both worked with and knew through work back in the day moved out of San Francisco, or even out of California, since then? Yeah, there’s like a mass exodus going on. Everyone’s leaving. It’s so bizarre to be in San Francisco, there’s no-one there. I would hate to see the centre of San Francisco empty. There’s no people. Because, first of all, most people that were in San Francisco every day don’t live there. So, all the people that commute in are just working from home, wherever the fuck their homes are. Far away, not in San Francisco. We don’t have any tourism anymore, so that’s thousands of people that are just not there. We don’t need all those Uber drivers anymore, that also all came from elsewhere. We have like, you know, less than half the fleet of Uber drivers that we normally would need.

So, it’s just the techies and homeless people now basically, is what you’re saying. No, because all the techies are actually from like, the fucking Mid-West, and so they all moved back home with their families. The fucking Mid-West. Richard laughs Yeah. All the fucking techies went back to their goddamn Mid-West, where they belong. Laughter So all the locals finally have some space to fucking breathe, and now we’re covered in smoke. So, it’s an awful issue. Sienna giggles I saw some of those photos online. The orange and red skies first thing in the morning. That was only one day, but people were losing it. It was crazy, because we weren’t there. We were in Palm Springs. We drove up the very next day and it was over. I mean, it was very smokey and grey, but it didn’t look orange at all. So we were kinda like, “Aw, we missed it.” Laughter How weird to have missed it, that’s such a historical.. Everybody was so affected by that. I feel like a traitor almost, that I wasn’t there, you know?

My grandma was cracking up, she was like: “No, it was terrifying, don’t worry.” Laughter So they could see it in Berkeley as well… Yeah, I guess so. Actually, that’s the first I found out about it, was from her. ‘Cause I woke up and I’m in like a group email from my grandma, my mom and my brother, and I’m like: “Oh shit, what’s happening? Why is grandma emailing at 8 a.m?” And she’s like, “The fuckin’ sky is red outside, it’s so alarming, I can’t breathe. My eyes are burning me.” She lives by herself. And she was like “I’m fucking scared”. She was like, “People are calling it the apocalypse.” I was like, “Oh my God. Don’t call it the apocalypse, you’re gonna scare the shit out of my Grandma, she’s after losing it!” So we drove up there the very next day to make sure she was alright. One last question and then I’m gonna say “Goodbye”, ‘cause you’ve got things to do. You’ve got a life outside, you know? I was like, “I’ve got plenty of time, but I actually totally have things to do.” Sienna laughs

Would you say a lot of older people around California, New York, etc. still attach stigma to cannabis, when they think about it? Or do you think a lot more of them nowadays are embracing it? I think a lot of people are embracing it, but also I think a lot of people, especially my grandma’s generation and where she’s from, are the people that are driving the legalisation fight in the first place. My grandma has been smoking weed my entire life. She’s only in her 60s. So, her generation is Bernie [Sanders]… she’s Bernie’s number one fan. Richard laughs When I think about people in my grandma’s generation, that’s who I think of. So, the idea of them having to be “warmed up” to it is just so foreign to me, personally. Sienna laughs There’s definitely the older people in the middle of the country in particular that are more close-minded about it. But, I do feel like a lot of people just don’t wanna break the law and they don’t wanna get in trouble. So, once the laws change, they’re like: “Okay now I feel I’m free to explore, but, at my age, do I give a fuck?”

And then, there’s the people that are like: “I actually am having this chronic pain. My home girl said she tried weed and it’s legal now, and it’s helping her. Fuck it, I’m gonna try it.” Because we have a health crisis in America. And people are in chronic pain all the time. So it’s more and more enticing. All the Doctors are doing is feeding us drugs, and they’re like: “Okay well there’s this new drug. Let me try it.” And it’s actually not a new drug, people have been using it for centuries. For thousands of years, in some cases. Exactly! But now it’s legal, so they’re like: “Okay, I’ma try this.” So definitely, I feel the trend is more towards people that are warming up. But, you know of course there’s always gonna be the people that are like, “You are never gonna change my mind”… and fuck them. Sienna stifles a laugh

Alright I guess that’s everything, I’ll let ya go! It’s been really nice to talk to you again! Likewise, have a great night. You too, see you Sienna! Bye!

References:

1 Brandee Hewlett‘s interview can be found here – https://greenlensblog.com/2020/12/08/brandee-hewlett-13-11-2020/

2 Proposition 64, AKA ‘Prop 64’ or the ‘Adult Use of Marijuana Act’, is the title of the legislation voted in by 57.13% of Californians in 2016 to legalise the recreational use of cannabis.

https://ballotpedia.org/California_Proposition_64,_Marijuana_Legalization_(2016)

3 CBS article, featuring Mikey Steinmetz.

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/marijuana-in-california-black-market-weed-buzzkills-for-california-legal-weed-industry-60-minutes-2020-08-02/

4 The Emerald Triangle is the nickname for the Northern Californian cannabis-producing region comprising three counties – Humboldt, Trinity and Mendocino. https://weedmaps.com/learn/the-plant/emerald-triangle

5 As per this LA Times article from 2019, a study by New Frontier Data found that up to 80% of cannabis sold in California is sold through the black market.

https://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-ca-gavin-newsom-crackdown-pot-black-market-20190219-story.html

* Check out Sienna‘s website, https://www.yogawithsienna.com/

Barry | 17.09.2020

Barry is a Cork native who has been an advocate of cannabis for many years. In this conversation, he tells us about his letter-sending campaign which began on the 14th of July, as well as his experience of the Cork Canna Expo at Fitzgerald Park on August 8th, where he collected signatures for the letters to be sent to The Department of the Taoiseach.

It’s great to meet you Barry. Tell me a bit about your engagement in activism. I signed my first petition outside Cash’s on Patrick Street [AKA Brown Thomas], you know, 20-odd years ago. And I went to a couple of marches here and there over the years. But it was Covid that kind of got the fire under me. Sometimes you try to square away certain things in certain ways, you know what I mean? But there’s always something that holds you back. And I was always kind of thinking: “Well, if I ever get caught, I might do my activism then”, you know? Which is kind of.. it’s a cowardly way out like, and it sat with me a lot recently. At the Cork Canna Expo there was a patient speaking. I can’t remember who it was, ‘cause I was busy getting these ¹letters signed, so I was mad distracted by that, but I think it might’ve been John Tierney. I’m open to being corrected. 

And one of the things he said that really kind of sat with me is that we can’t leave the patients fight these battles. People who are sick and who are also protesting and trying to get the law changed, and trying to put in all this work. When you think of ²Vera Twomey, getting out and walking to Dublin for her daughter. It was a great day though. Everyone panicked and ran like, there was no need for that at all! It was hilarious actually. I heard about the Gardaí coming in the van! I’m still not sure they knew what they were turning up to, you know what I mean? There had been talks early in the day that people had been stopped on the pedestrian bridge and searched. But when they rocked up, they said it was because it was in breach of Covid regulations. Not to mind the waft of clouds everywhere! And there was this P.A. speaker that they made a big hullabaloo about. Like, they could’ve thought it was some kind of rave going on, where people were rowdy and drunk or something. They rock up to a bunch of stoners in a park and they all leg it, you know? And start picking up the rubbish after themselves! 

I heard there was a bit of a stampede. There was yeah. The way they rocked up, it was like something out of an ad for the Guards or something. A show of force. They made a big hullabaloo about this P.A. speaker, you know? “Who owns this? This is lost and found. This is this, that and the other.” And like five foot away, a cannabis plant stood there. And people were like: “He hasn’t seen the plant”. Was that a raffle prize? Somebody didn’t just bring a plant along, “for the craic”.

I heard somebody mention that it was, so I’m not sure if it was real or not. But they did say they’d give it away as a raffle prize, which would’ve been hilarious. Somebody walking through town with it. The Guards walking out with it was funny, and they were laughing away themselves like, you know? So they weren’t all serious? They were a bit serious I suppose, but all of a sudden everybody was gone. They told people to clear, people started clearing and it’s like… “Okay then, what do we do now? Nothing.”

So they were alright, you know what I mean? Most Cork Guards over the years are sound, city Guards a lot of the time. I know more people that have been left off with little bits and pieces than have been done for it. To my knowledge, the first time you get caught with a small amount they’ll let you off and the second time it’s at their discretion if they want to. Well, at the end of the day, it’s always at their discretion. I remember there was a Guard (who) had a thing up on Reddit before, where he was like: “Serving member, ask me anything”. People were asking everything from traffic violations, to this, to that, to the other. But most people were asking about cannabis. And his opinion was that if you’ve grown up in the city, or if you’ve gone to college before joining the Guards, you probably wouldn’t care much about it. But if you grew up in the country, maybe with stricter parents or something, and you went straight into Templemore [Garda training college], hearing this borderline propaganda some of the time, then that could be another story.

How secretive do you think cannabis enthusiasts are, do you reckon they’re scared of sharing their experiences openly? Some people, very much so, yeah. I’ve reached out to people here and there about different things and offered to help out, but unfortunately there’s often little that comes back. But I’ve met a few people over the last couple of months, during Covid or whatever. I went over to Support Don’t Punish when they were doing a little thing down on Grand Parade [on June 25th], and after that was the first ³Martin’s World one, down in the park. You know the Cork Canna Expo? It was before that, on July 11th. There’s a group called the Major Group for Cannabis Reform, who arrange protests [Major Smoke Up events]. I think Martin took inspiration from them and set up his own one. I went to the first one and just chilled out and I hoped to introduce myself and talk about ideas I had, wanting to help out. I’m happy to help people, but I don’t think I have the capacity to do something like that on my own, like Martin is doing. 

I could do what Martin is doing if I had two or three people working for me! Fair play to him. He’s been fighting his cause a long time now. I’ve met Martin and I think he’s sound, and I appreciate what he’s doing in a big way, and… I think more people could do with his “indomitable spirit” in a way, you know what I mean? If you believe something is unjust, regardless of the consequences, you stand up for it. Now, it’s also unfortunate that he was kind of sent down this path in a way, by getting caught when he was seventeen. There’s many other seventeen year olds who never got caught, who went on to achieve great success. With a lot of people as well, I think that it’s something to hold them back. If you find something that you like, or that gives you a better quality of life if you’re using it medicinally, then why not? But, you also think to yourself: “Right, there’s certain things that maybe I shouldn’t chance, because if I do get caught, it’s all wasted effort”, because they can take all that away from you. 

This blog is a good idea, it’s something I’ve thought of myself over the years. The idea of people telling their stories. Because there’s great things that can come from just listening to peoples experiences. We’re too quick to put our morals over other people. Don’t judge people without walking a day in their shoes. Something has to give. We just have to allow people the comfort to be able to speak, and I think that’s happening more and more. You wouldn’t realise the people that smoke really. I know people from all walks of life, all different kinds of back stories, people of all ages. People who know the benefits of these things should speak up for it and we have to speak for truth. Going back to the Expo. Were you aware of any attendees getting in trouble with the Gardaí? No. (The Gardaí) said it was in breach of Covid regulations. Roughly how many people showed up? I honestly thought there was about 300. But I’m really bad at calculating numbers, and I was getting letters signed and stuff. 

Martin organised it with the Cork Cannabis Activist Network. There were some really nice people down there. Guys from The Funky Skunk were down there, they were really sound. I think it got sponsorship as well from some other businesses, like maybe Deep Roots and Get Up And Grow. 

Did you have any interesting experiences at it? I’d met with people I wanted to network with and I said to these people, “Look, we can do a letter protest, that’s something.” Nobody got back to me anyway and I got impatient. It had been a month. People I’d met who had barely met each other, friends of friends. And people have busy lives, people are trying to hold down jobs and run businesses and all these other things that are more of a priority to them. So, basically the letter was just to get the ball rolling. I set a personal goal of a thousand for myself.

The last time I did it was for Irish as a European language, so I got close to a thousand signed that time and sent (them) off to Bertie Ahern [Taoiseach of Ireland from 1997-2008]

So, I had gotten on to a friend of mine. She has a Masters in English, so I thought: “Who better to ask?” And it was only a quickly thrown-together thing, it took us about an hour or two maybe. And I was going cold-calling door to door, asking for signatures. If people wanted to cross out a bit they could, some people added their own part. One guy wrote a whole essay across the front of his one, that began with: “Micheál, you’re a plonker.” But basically it looked at proposals that had been made over the years, and the most recent one from The Green Party. And people were giving out about some of the choices of words and whatever, but I think they kind of missed the point. It gets the message across. 

The point wasn’t to focus on the letter, it was to just get people going. I encourage people to write their own letters. What has the ultimate impact is a personal, hand-written letter. Most people aren’t going to do that, but it would obviously support the cause. I got a thousand signatures, each one of those people gave me a euro for a stamp, that’s all I asked for. I covered the envelopes and the printing myself. There were some friends and others who threw in an extra couple of euro here and there. But it ended up costing about €200 there or there abouts, you know? I’d print them out, I’d put them in envelopes. I’d buy maybe fifty stamps at a time in the post office. And then I’d call to people. Every Saturday then I’d do it in town. And I did all the social distancing stuff, I’d say: “Are you cocooning or quarantining?”, and if they said: “No, you’re alright” then I’d give them the spiel. But I’d always keep distance, I had hand sanitiser with me. And nobody had a problem with that. 

Within walking distance of my house, it’s a predominantly older area. In terms of acceptance of it, there was maybe a bit of a lull with people in their late 50s, early 60s. But above that, they were all for it. “I wish I had it for my arthritis, I wish I had it for this, my friend uses it for this.” I met one guy, I can’t remember was he 80 or 84. But he said he grew one plant, once a year, down the back, for his wife. And she used to smoke a pinner every second night and she’s on half the amount of painkillers. Now I know this is just an anecdotal story, but these are the kinds of stories I’m hearing from people. And the reception at the door was 80-90% positive reactions from people. There was one person I met who said, “I wouldn’t support it and I think the penalties should be harsher”. But that was it. In terms of stigma, there were some people who didn’t sign it, but wanted one sent on their behalf. Those people who were afraid of signing it were teachers and nurses, people working government jobs. They feel they have to protect that. Like, you’re basically fucking sending a letter to your boss, saying you support something illegal. 

Some people would be exact about their details, put down their exact address, their exact name. Some people would just say: “Johnny, Douglas”, as an example. 

Did you get a government response? Did any TD respond? I heard of one letter. One person got a response, that’s all I know of. I’m not really good with social media. I can’t stand it to be honest, it’s a fucking cesspit. Did you ask the letter signers to let you know if they got word back? Did any of them update you afterwards? One person got on to Martin, from Martin’s World. They’d gotten a response. “We’ve received your correspondence and it has been passed on to the Taoiseach.” Which is kind of cool! But next thing then, there was a thousand of them in the door, but that’s just what I sent. I got a thousand signatures and a thousand euro to post them. A euro for each stamp. I had the stamps with me, so I put them on the envelope, people could see that straight away. But sometimes people didn’t have the euro on them, so I’d just give them one and they’d send it off in their own time. 

So, in total I’d given out about 2,300. And lots of those people said that they were going to copy them for their friends. And where I was getting my photocopying done, every time I went back to them, they were saying: “Oh, there was another person in got fifty of ‘em! There was another person in got twenty of ‘em!”. Even my landlord’s daughter got thirty signed. I called to one house and he was like, “I’ve signed one of those in work already!” 

I called to another house: “I signed one of them out in the Southside!” So it did spread and people did take it on and start doing it themselves, you know? Did people ever take a bulk amount from you, or did they make their own copies of your letter template to give out? Well like I only tried to give one to people to try and save them, because it’s costing me money, you know? I don’t mind in a way, and I would like to continue it in a way, but it would take help and it would take finance. And I have been messing with different ideas to try and do that. I like the idea behind this blog and there is an important space for that and people appreciate that as well, especially younger generations now. They’ve a world of facts and information to take in, but they also have peoples experiences there on YouTube. And loads of people will just put up their own experiences of things. And I’ve listened to some of these peoples stories and you can take things from it if you’ve any empathy in you at all. You can take a lot from peoples experiences. Would you have been spending a lot of time per day going door to door? Yeah. It’d vary from day to day, but some days it was like a fucking job like. Some days I was wrecked after it, you know what I mean? 

Were you working at that time? No, I’m not working because of Covid. But the response from people is great. Are people becoming more accepting of weed overall? The people afflicted with reefer madness can be very against it. I called to a tiny little cul-de-sac with five houses on it when I was out canvassing. So I called to the first door, it was a young mother. She signed it. I called to the next door, it was an auld fella. He signed it. I called to the next door, there was this fella who wasn’t too old, but he was old-minded. He was like: “What? No, I wouldn’t sign something.. nobody around here would sign something like that!” He was convinced that nobody anywhere around there would sign it. And people get into this thing, where they think that because they believe something, that that’s representative of a majority of people. It couldn’t be so far from the truth. That’s why I hate things like identity politics and stuff, because you can’t label any group as anything really. Individuals are too unique and complex to just paint over them with a wide brush. It’s like the man who was telling me on Twitter that all cannabis users smell like piss!

Do you reckon it’s been harder for consumers to find cannabis in Ireland in the last few months? Yeah, I hear that it was the worst ever by a long shot. Nothing compares. When I was out doing my letters, loads of people were like: “Do you know where I could get any?” Barry Laughs “You didn’t bring a nodge for us, did you? I’ll sign it if you give me a nodge!” There were houses I called to as well where people were in the midst of smoking. One morning I’d only been out for maybe an hour and I called to this one house. Two girls answered the door and burst out laughing and one was like: “I’m just after rolling two joints, do you want one of ‘em?” And I was like: “Fuck yeah, why not?” But they were chatting for ages, they were lovely. And then we ended up talking… and obviously when you have a smoke, you end up unravelling the mysteries of the universe and you go out the back garden, over a cup of coffee like. When I went out then I was just so baked. I couldn’t handle it, like. Well, I obviously could. But I didn’t feel confident about calling to more people after that, shall we say. I just said I’d leave it off and that was the end of that day. But there’s nothing wrong with that, because if you had somebody else make a drink for you, you could end up in the same situation. 

What’s your perspective on how things are going with the legal status of cannabis in Ireland? How do you reckon the government are doing with that? They are not proactive at the moment. Micheál Martin spent a good bit of time hounding Simon Harris [Minister for Health, 2016-2020] about the Medical Cannabis Access Programme, and since it got in, it hasn’t had a word. Leo Varadkar [Tánaiste of Ireland] has admitted to using cannabis in the past. Stephen Donnelly [current Minister for Health] has admitted to using cannabis in the past. You can infer a lot of things from that that are not right. You’ve a lot of controversy lately with a Minister having to resign because he’d been caught drink driving years ago [Fianna Fáil TD and former Minister for Agriculture, Barry Cowen]. He’d have already paid the consequences. But he had to resign. And then you have the likes of Golf Gate recently. So, if we’re going to insist that Ministers or Commissioners resign for certain behaviour that’s illegal, why are we not expecting the same from Leo Varadkar and Stephen Donnelly?

Neither of them would be where they are today if they had gotten caught using cannabis. But people still get caught and have their whole lives turned upside-down. So there’s something not right with that. If you’re going to sit in your ivory tower and laugh about the time in college you smoked cannabis, as the Taoiseach of Ireland [Varadkar was Taoiseach, from 2017-2020], that’s disgraceful. There’s an awful lot of people out there who’ve got mad stories, who actually need it. People who use it medicinally are getting properly fucked. It’s a ridiculous situation that they legislate for something, but then they make people go to The Hague [in The Netherlands] to get their prescriptions filled. These are people on Ministerial licences who can’t go down their local chemist and get a prescription. They [the government] caved then during Covid, and they brought in couriers from there. The Department of Health paid for it and that cost a fortune.

But now they say there’s no more budget for it. But they’ll cover opiates for these people! I don’t understand the fear from them. One last question. Would you say you smoke recreationally, or as a therapeutic kind of thing? I reckon that if I was in a country where it was legal, that I could probably get it medicinally for some of the things it’s used for. I hate saying it in a way, but I’d be more along the therapeutic side of things. Thanks so much for your time Barry, its been a pleasure. Thanks, good luck!

* Correction: The Green Lens has been notified by an organiser of Cork Canna Expo of an inaccuracy in the above interview, as follows: The patient speaking at Cork Canna Expo, mentioned in the first answer, was an MS patient named Stephen Garland.

References:

¹ Barry’s letter was also distributed digitally. It is addressed to the Taoiseach, Micheál Martin.

Among other policies, it lists decriminalising possession and cultivation of cannabis for personal use and

removal of prior and ongoing convictions for possession of cannabis:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Y6Vwq6iGkyecYVc5kvsthhMkVXzPCZYn/view?usp=drivesdk

² Vera Twomey walked from Cork to Dublin to campaign for her daughter, Ava,

to be granted access to medical cannabis: https://bit.ly/2V8UQIf

³ Martin’s World is an online Irish cannabis show:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCs6XEXodxYGymYiijgKdvnA

Golf Gate involved 82 people, including prominent Irish political figures, attending a two-day golf

society event shortly after the Irish government had implemented new Covid-19 restrictions on large

gatherings: https://www.irishcentral.com/news/irish-golf-gate-scandal

An Introduction

The focus of The Green Lens is to highlight the perspectives of everyday people on cannabis, including our own. Hopefully this will encourage more thoughtful and open discussion about cannabis throughout Ireland. We wish to see an Ireland free of the stigma that has been attached to weed for decades. One where informed, responsible adults can legally purchase it via prescriptions for a wide range of medical purposes, or partake in it recreationally.

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