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Destigmatizing Cannabis Consumers: An Interview With Botanical Society

October 24, 2018

With cannabis now legal in Canada, people still face social stigma for consuming the plant. One Ontario photographer hopes to end the shame surrounding medicinal and recreational use of cannabis by photographing everyday people and their personal weed rituals.

Niv Shimshon, a 40-year-old married father of two is a wedding photographer and cannabis user based in Hamilton, Ontario.

He and his wife moved to Canada from Tel Aviv, Israel in 2013. After establishing a successful photography business, Shimshon wanted to work on a fun, personal project. He started Botanical Society as a way to combine his passion for photography and desire to destigmatize everyday cannabis users.

What’s the inspiration behind the name ‘Botanical Society’?

Botanical Society: I didn’t want to do a name that was a play on words like ‘high’ or ‘green’. I thought if I called it ‘botanical’ then cannabis could fall under it while being approachable to more people. My goal is for someone to see a photo of say an elderly person using CBD and to think ‘I can maybe tell my grandma about it now and help her’.

I didn’t want to do something that would push away people who aren’t necessarily cannabis users or are new to cannabis.

‘Society’ is not about me doing a project but about people. […] I want to show people as they are in their own environment.


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What’s your favourite part of shooting everyday cannabis consumers?

Botanical Society: I’m meeting all of these super interesting people who are true to themselves.

In the wedding industry, […] people will dress and behave a certain way in the wedding environment because that’s what’s expected of them. Here, I just come to someone’s home and every person I’ve shot isn’t trying to be someone they’re not.

I see everyone’s different style. Every person consumes cannabis different. Everyone rolls joints differently. Someone will have a pipe and someone else will have a bong.

It’s nice to see that there are so many ways to consume cannabis because I know my own way and then I get to meet other people with different rituals.








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How do you hope this photo series will help destigmatize cannabis?

Botanical Society: Even here in Canada, […] society still portrays people who consume cannabis as super unproductive stoners who sit on their couches all day playing video games.

When you look at the photos and future photos to come, you see normal people.

My hope with legalization is that more people will come forward and not feel scared to expose themselves.

This week, I had two weddings, one family portrait and one headshot. With my back problems, I just wouldn’t be able to do it all without cannabis. For me, it’s pure magic. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not shooting high. I use non-psychoactive CBD drops to help me with pain. When I go home after a long day, I know I can consume a strain with higher THC and feel great.

My hope with legalization is that more people will come forward and not feel scared to expose themselves by participating in my project.

I’ve done fifteen or so portraits and my project is growing. You see so many different kinds of people and you don’t see the stigma attached to them.


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What’s been one of your favourite moments during this photo series?

Botanical Society: I shot a couple who are muay thai boxers and the girlfriend owns an edible company.

When I look at their photos, the first thing that comes to mind wouldn’t be that they’re cannabis users. They just appear as professional athletes.

For professional athletes, with drugs, substances or cannabis, there’s always an issue. The one thing that all athletes are afraid of is getting injured and taking time off to heal. But they can microdose CBD for anti-inflammation and maintain their bodies without worrying about the consequences.








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How will destigmatizing cannabis affect your own life?

Botanical Society: I’m a father. Smoking cannabis is part of my life. I’m not going to hide parts of my life from my kids or other people. People don’t hide the fact that they drink from their kids. There’s no shame in either.

Being a parent who consumes cannabis adds extra problems. If my kid’s friends come over with their parents for a barbecue, I’ll ask ‘Hey. Would you like a can of beer? Would you like a glass of wine?’. Kids are playing. Everything’s cool. But when you want to consume cannabis then it’s not as normal. […] I shouldn’t have to feel like I’m less of a father for consuming cannabis.

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I used to take pills for my back pain which didn’t help. There was a long period of time when I’d go with my daughter to the playground and she would want me to play with her but it was hard.

Once I started consuming medical cannabis, everything changed. Now, my back pain isn’t a problem. I feel that once more fathers, mothers and parents come forward, it will be easier. I hope it’ll be more socially accepted.

Follow Botanical Society on Instagram to see portraits and interviews with everyday cannabis consumers.

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Deidre Olsen

Deidre Olsen is an award-nominated writer living in Berlin.

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