The late Sam Mellace was one of Canada’s earliest and most intrepid cannabis activists. From a wayward youth that included crime and punishment (and a five-year stint in prison), Sam emerged onto a path of redemption only to find himself fighting for his life after a terrible car accident. His ensuing struggle to regain his physical and mental health included bouts of depression, an addiction to opioid painkillers, liver failure, and a brush with cancer. In a pivotal moment, Sam turned to cannabis and found hope in the community of others like him who fought for the right to access a safe, reliable medicine.
Meanwhile, the story of cannabis traced a similar arc of sin and redemption over the past hundred years, gradually emerging from the racism and stigma of “Reefer Madness” and the “War on Drugs” to decriminalization and so-called “medical marijuana.” But well into the 21st century, the stigma remained, and despite changing policies and perceptions, Sam and thousands of other Canadians found themselves in a constant battle for their rights.
Sam led the fight to grant licensed patients the right to grow their own cannabis (and not rely on that skunky government-grown grass), and by 2011 he was licensed to grow a record 292 plants to treat himself and others. In 2010, he famously smoked a joint in the House of Commons to protest the gaps in Health Canada’s licensing system, which were forcing patients to turn to the black market—and to choose between their health and their freedom. In 2012 he allowed the RCMP to confiscate a shipment of his legally grown medicine to protest the fact that, while patients were permitted to possess and use cannabis, they weren’t allowed to transport it across provincial borders.
While fighting battles in court and on the street, Sam also pioneered techniques of cannabis oil extraction and alternatives to smoking, and provided medicine and counselling to hundreds of cancer and other patients (technically illegally) as a form of civil disobedience.
As Canada moved closer to legalization in 2017, Sam realized there was something rotten at the core of the government’s plan, and that “legal weed” might not be any better (or more accessible) for patients than black-market bud. So he started the last great fight of his life, and fought all the way to his final breath, hoping to inspire others and fulfill, at long last, a promise he’d made to his mother when, as a young man, he’d held her as she died in his arms.
Part memoir, part narrative journalism, part adventure tale, The Great Cannabis Conspiracy is a fascinating story of people caught between health and freedom in the struggle for the world’s most powerful weed.