Heroic Hippies & Canada’s New Cannabis Regime: An Interview With Master Grower Pete Young

Published on June 19, 2018 · Last updated July 28, 2020

The Canadian cannabis industry is being inundated by suits and ties that formerly served in law enforcement and the political realm. Gone are the days of Birkenstocks and dreadlocks coming together to run a nascent industry. But if Pete Young—co-founder and master grower at Canadian commercial licensed producer Indiva—has his way, those that helped create the industry in past decades would be running the show.

“I’m the master grower for Indiva and I have to have a 'responsible person in charge' follow me everywhere I go.”

Leafly recently talked to Young about his personal journey with cannabis, his opening of a cannabis compassion club in the bad old prohibition days, and the onerous security clearance Health Canada requires for key personnel in commercial cannabis settings. (He also had a bit to say about the suits and ties seemingly invading the industry.)

LEAFLY: How did you first come to cannabis?

PETE YOUNG: I started smoking cannabis really early in my adolescence. I was probably about 9 or 10 years old the first time I smoked a joint. I grew up in New York, where you kind of get introduced things a little bit earlier. By the time I got to about 15 or 16, I was a fairly regular user.

How did you make the leap from user to grower?

Back then, you had to go to East Rockaway to score a dime bag. They all had seeds in them—a third of the weight was probably seed—so we thought we’d plant some of the seeds and see what happens.

I literally planted my seed in the cannabis industry back in the mid-‘80s, in a bucket of soil that I dug up in my backyard. My roommate and I just didn’t see the point of paying for pot when we could grow it ourselves.

The next year we found an old abandoned fridge, gutted it, lined it with tinfoil, put in some florescent lights, made it look like the old Phototron—one of the first grow systems advertised in High Times in the ‘80s—and started growing indoors. This evolved into a closet and gradually grew into Health Canada’s personal production program.

Of course you eventually became part of Canada’s famous “compassion club” scene.    

I’m the founding director of the LCS, the London Compassion Society. We opened in 1995. Back then there was me, Hilary Black in Vancouver with the British Columbia Compassion Club Society, Neev at Toronto’s Cannabis as Living Medicine, and Dom at Toronto Compassion Centre. We each had our own way of doing it. Neev was meeting people in parks, I was on my bike doing home deliveries, and Hilary was the first brick-and mortar compassion centre in Canada.

“When I look at what we are achieving today, I have to pay homage to the forefathers—the Chris Clays and the Hilary Blacks.”

Everything that’s happening in Canadian cannabis, we owe it all to a few certain people. Hilary Black is key figure in this movement. Chris Clay, who started the Great Canadian Hemporium which had Canada’s first cannabis seedbank, is another one. When I look at what we are achieving today, I have to pay homage to the forefathers—the Chris Clays and the Hilary Blacks. It was people like that really wedged this door open. The door is open now.

What inspired you to start growing for medical patients?

I was working at Hemporium with Chris Clay. I was what they called the “Minister of Agriculture”—I took care of all the cultivation and the seeds and consulting. I saw all these sick people coming in to buy seeds to grow their own. So I said ‘listen, I’m a good grower, I can plug in a few lights.’ I realized that I could produce enough pot to cover all the Hemporium families, so they didn’t have to go on the black market.

Speaking of avoiding the black market, key personnel of licensed producers need to get security clearance from the government to manage the production. That’s often hard to get with past charges, and I read you pled guilty to cannabis-related offences after a 2007 raid at the London Compassion Society. How was it getting your security clearance?

I can’t get it. I’m the master grower for Indiva and I have to have a “responsible-person in charge” follow me everywhere I go. We’re told that’s going to change and master growers are going to have to get security clearance, too. We’re thinking of challenging that, because the people that know how to grow cannabis most likely have a disqualifying criminal charge related to it.

“The experienced MMAR gardeners are not getting the 'master grower' positions, they’re getting the introductory $17-an-hour jobs.”

What are your thoughts on the business types and members of the law-enforcement community now taking part in the cannabis market?

All these douchebags with their shiny shoes were on the other side of the law fighting us for years and years. Now, all of a sudden, they see a way of making money. They jump ship and come on our side and are trying to push out all the people that paved the way. All of the MMAR gardeners are not getting the “master grower” positions, they’re getting the introductory $17-an-hour jobs. And then the LPs hire some kid with fancy letters behind their name as a master grower that knows not a goddamn thing about pot. So that kind of pisses me off. When I do talks at cannabis conferences and see all these suits and ties sitting there, all they want to know is “How much are you yielding?” and “How much are you getting per square meter?” and “How much you selling that per gram?” It’s fucking crazy. If you went to cannabis conferences a few years ago, it was all fucking dreadlocks. It was all these guys with Berks on hugging each other. They’re not shaking hands and giving out business cards and saying “Hey, how are you going to help me better my fucking portfolio.” Fuck that.

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Any closing thoughts on this historic moment?

We know we have to help guide our government—they’re doing the best they can, but they’re kind of fuck-ups. We know that and that’s ok—because the door’s open. They’re not going to get it right off the bat and we can’t expect them to. But what we can do is to not let these suits and ties dictate the path that this movement goes.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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Harrison Jordan
Harrison Jordan
Harrison Jordan is a graduate of Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto and enjoys reading and writing about the regulatory affairs of cannabis in Canada and around the world.
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