‘The Haymaker’ is Leafly Deputy Editor Bruce Barcott’s weekly column on cannabis politics and culture.
The radio alarm woke me this morning with news of Gordon Downie’s death. It was a pretty crap way to greet the day.
Even though everyone knew it was coming, the finality of Downie's death was still a shock.
We all knew The Tragically Hip frontman was dying, because he told us so. Downie announced it back in late May—inoperable brain cancer, sorry—and the band’s summer tour became a kind of national memorial service with the guest of honor alive to both host it and bask in the love. Everywhere they went—Victoria, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa—the crowds sang along and wept openly. Even though everyone knew it was coming, the finality of his death still arrived as a shock.
I don’t think I’m the only one who thought maybe, somehow, Downie could beat biology. Or he’d would be one of those who stretched a six-month cancer countdown into three or four years of stoppage time.
Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau shed tears as he spoke about the death of Gord Downie, the frontman for the band Tragically Hip whose songs about Canada lodged themselves deep into the nation’s consciousness. Trudeau spoke to reporters on Wednesday shortly after Downie’s family announced the singer had died Tuesday evening. He was 53. Downie, dubbed Canada’s unofficial poet laureate, had glioblastoma, an aggressive and incurable form of brain cancer. He died with his children and family close by, according to a statement from his family. “Gord was my friend,” said a visibly shaken Trudeau. “But Gord was everyone’s friend." (Photo: Adam Scotti/Prime Minister's Office via Reuters)
That hope seemed all the more reasonable because all things seem possible right now in Canada. Prince Charming currently serves as the nation’s Prime Minister. The Raptors and Blue Jays are perpetual playoff contenders, and the NHL’s most exciting hockey team and rising star reside in Edmonton. Toronto, one of the fastest growing cities in North America, just surpassed Chicago in population. While the US Attorney General fulminates about locking up medical marijuana patients, federal and provincial officials in Canada work diligently to implement responsible full adult-use cannabis legalization.
During a two-day stop in Toronto last week, I had a chance to live and breathe the fresh air of progress, True North style. It was delicious.
Tonight’s Top Story: Sears.
Instead of a constant flow of Trumpian tweets and psychotic nuclear threats, the CBC and The Globe and Mail offered up news about housing prices, Bitcoin values, and the closing of Canada’s few remaining Sears stores. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau happened to be meeting that day with President Trump, and the contrast was almost too much to bear. American past, meet Canadian future.
On Thursday, Leafly hosted an open house at our office a few blocks west of Rogers Centre. We threw open the doors, offered custom cocktails and nonstop amuse-bouche from chef Chris Brown, and in flowed an eclectic mix of Toronto editors, columnists, cultural influencers, government regulators, entrepreneurs, and cannabis activists.
Antuanette Gomez, head of Women Grow Toronto, talked up the Canadian cannabis startups her group is incubating. Fashion stylist Cary Tauben, who flashed a ring the size of a maple bar, dished on cannabis-influenced design. Writers for the CBC, Vice, Addicted, and the Winnipeg Free Press trolled for sources and story ideas. Officials with Advertising Standards Canada, the nonprofit self-regulating organization, spoke with me about cannabis advertising in Washington and Colorado.
When two members of the LCBO, the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, introduced themselves, I asked about the province’s plan to open government-owned cannabis storefronts.
“Is that really going to happen,” I said, “or is that just an idea you’re exploring?”
Their expressions indicated a kind of wonder at the obtuse nature of my mind.
“It is happening,” one of them said. “We are already in the design phase.”
Wow. When Canadians make a decision, ships sail. If Justin Trudeau had promised his voters a border wall, a battalion of bricklayers would be amassing tomorrow near Blaine.
About Those Arrests…
Things aren’t perfect in Toronto. The Toronto Police keep raiding medical marijuana dispensaries and arresting employees on a weekly, sometimes daily, basis. Are these dispensaries technically legal? No. But they are selling a product that will literally be peddled by the government in less than a year. When other retail storefronts are out of compliance with business license laws, cities generally opt to serve their owners with legal letters or, in extreme circumstances, shut down their utilities. They don’t send in the cops with handcuffs.
Those arrests aside (and it’s a big aside sostop doing it, Toronto), popping in on Canada these days feels a lot like visiting the future.
Gordon Downie and The Tragically Hip were supposed to be a part of that future. Just a few weeks after Downie revealed his cancer diagnosis last spring, The Hip announced that the band had entered into a business partnership with Newstrike, a licensed medical marijuana producer. This wasn’t just a one-off celebrity endorsement. The Hip were getting into cannabis as both entrepreneurs and advocates:
“Medicinal cannabis is legal in Canada, and it already greatly benefits the health and well being of many of our fellow Canadians.
There is a commitment from the Federal Government to legalize recreational use in just over a year, and with good reason. The harm wrought by the prohibition of marijuana has been thoroughly researched and documented.
This is a common-sense-policy and, in our opinion, is a change for the best.”
When news of Downie’s death came this morning, I thought first of his music and its meaning for 36 million Canadians. And then I thought about the brighter future that he played a part in making—and would not, sadly, be on hand to enjoy.
Carry on without him, Canada. And light one up in Gord’s honour on Canada Day, 2018.