Volume 94, Issue 75

Tuesday, February 6, 2001


Growing against the grain: one man's war
The Organic Traveler plants cannabis in the political arena

Growing against the grain:
one man's war

The Organic Traveler plants cannabis in the political arena

By Molly Duignan
Gazette Staff

You really like something and you feel strongly about issues surrounding that some thing. But would you be willing to take your passion and turn it into your lifestyle?

Meet the man with the head shop.

Pete Young, owner of The Organic Traveler, contributing photographer for High Times magazine, co-founder of the London Compassion Centre and dominant voice in the ongoing marijuana movement, takes a passion for marijuana to new highs.

As London's organic traveller, Young first arrived as a student at Fanshawe College, where he graduated with a diploma in photography and digital imaging. Instead of being cooped in an office in front of a computer which Young says "wasn't my thing," he found an outlet that would combine his education and his extra-curricular activities.

Having smoked pot since the 70s, Young said his entry into the industry came naturally. "It's just always been my lifestyle; one thing just flowed into another. I was an avid cannabis user. I was a grower at the time, photographing my flowers and selling my prints at the shop."

Previously the Great Canadian Hemporium and Hemp Nation, Young took over ownership and the shop became The Organic Traveler four years ago. With the business, Young is now considered Canada's expert on cannabis cultivation. This, and the other "fringe" benefits of his business have allowed Young to see the marijuana movement evolve internationally.

"I was just in the Swiss Alps for three and a half months, at an outdoor research facility where they were growing pot for aroma therapy, crossing different genetics. They weren't even smoking the pot we were growing."

But of all the places to wage the war for drugs, Young chooses to stay in London.

"I've been travelling, and I've had a lot of time to look at London while being in other cities. I think the cannabis in London is far superior to a lot of places I've travelled. It is just that people are losing sight of the real purpose in order to make money."

Molly Duignan/Gazette

The problem with a loss of focus in London is the lack of focus in the first place. Young's focus in his movement right now is on the recreational side of cannabis use.

"Since we've opened, we've obtained commercial uses of cannabis through the legalization of hemp, but that's still pot. Industrial cannabis? Legal. Medical cannabis? We've got our foot in the door – actually we've got half our body through."

Now Young is looking to the youth to advance his plight. "We'd like to see these kids look away from alcohol and see pot. I ask everyone who smokes pot to start openly using cannabis. That is what is going to change the laws and that's what shows people you're not ashamed of what you do.

"I realize you're breaking the law, but look at the laws you are breaking – they're archaic."

His final goal is the full legalization of pot, to decriminalize it to the point where people can grow small amounts of cannabis. But can, or does London accommodate such a goal?

"The marijuana movement started in London, and I would like to see it end here." But the biggest opposition has appeared to be the institutions and events that physically surround Young's shop.

"Alcohol-related crime is what really keeps me in the movement and in London. We have 13 bars in [two downtown blocks]. Marijuana does not induce crime, alcohol does. Marijuana is not addicting, it doesn't cause you to break laws in order to obtain money to buy it," he explained.

Young thinks society's biggest problem is ignorance. People need to see that despite popular assumption, cannabis is not the stepping-stone drug it is viewed as. People should instead be pointing the finger at addictive drugs, like alcohol and tobacco that are in their very nature stepping-stone drugs.

So education is key to reducing our ignorance.

"Education is going to change the laws. I want to supply customers with what they want [smoking accessories and products in the shop] so in return, it supports the education."

The Organic Traveler prides itself on the extensive library and museum it houses which is 100 per cent non-profit. Young wants people to understand that, in his view, marijuana is a victimless crime.

But until that day, compromise is a key word for Young in his business. "There is a fine line between pushing law. I've learned what the law is willing to put up with and what they're not – and I've abided by that. In exchange, I get to educate the community. We would be making money if we were in the business of selling seeds and cuttings, but we had to compromise. We are in the movement, not in the industry for the retail side of it."

Young doesn't pay his employees, so the assumption of "rich by association" can't be applied when working with him, who is not a rich man either. "I've never had money, so I have never had to get used to how it is to have a lot of it. I've seen people [in the same industry] with lots of money, but maybe they don't have the same focus as me. For me, this industry breaks even."

The concept of a vision and a goal, no money attached is what we tend to lose sight of, but Pete Young doesn't see things the way "most people" do.

"I'm getting harassed as to why I'm still in this town because of the fact we've made so many people money. If it's selling them a grow guide and literally showing them how to grow pot, then they can go out and make money doing that. So they're making money, and I'm not."

But it is not the money that keeps Young or forces him to leave. "London is the beginning, the front line. If I leave, what do people have?"

Young says he considers himself a voice. "I believe what I'm doing is being the next step."

The steps, however, get harder and harder to take in a place as unsympathetic as London's struggling downtown.

"I'm going through turmoils of leaving London because the downtown is ridiculous – it is getting disgusting. The City is purposely suffocating the downtown. They're building walls around the city so people don't have to come downtown. I think they are ashamed of it because they have let this city get so unrespectable. I love the location we are in, but the environment around us is gross. You've heard of Richmond Row, well this is Richmond Low."

Young said he is happy with what has gone on in London in the past, he just hopes society can refocus. In Young's eyes is a spark of stubborn determination and in his voice a tone of confidence that could convince anyone to at least hear his point of view, if not to share it with him.

"We don't advocate the abuse of anything: alcohol, tobacco, even aspirin. But the use of anything should be legal if it is not causing harm to yourself or anyone around you."

His answer starts with the students. "We would like to see students growing their own cannabis, not to sell, just to use."

As a leader in a controversial field, if you don't agree with Pete Young's ideas and lifestyle, you'd at least have to respect the man who has what everyone wants: a job he loves.

Photos by

Molly Duignan/Gazette

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