When Jesse Lavoie filed the paperwork to overturn Manitoba’s ban on homegrown cannabis he didn’t realize how stubborn his opponents would be.
“With Quebec’s ban being overturned in court in September 2019 and the strong case we’ve built against the Manitoba Government’s outdated arguments I honestly thought they were going to surrender,” Lavoie says. “From the start it’s been a huge learning curve. It’s the first time I’ve ever done any legal challenge or been in court.”
As a former correctional officer Lavoie is familiar with the justice system. He knew about Quebec’s ban on homegrown cannabis being struck down. Since the only difference between their law and Manitoba’s was the size of the fine (at $2,542 Manitoba’s is ten times higher) Lavoie thought the government would take one look at his application and fold.
He may have underestimated the government’s willingness to dig in but so too did they misjudge the young man from St. Andrews. After what Lavoie calls a “life-altering” incident as a correctional officer he took time off to recover and pivoted professionally towards the cannabis industry. His first move involved an e-commerce strategy he pitched to the CEO of Namaste Technologies.
“I called like crazy. I would not leave him alone,” Lavoie says. “I had an idea to utilize computer bots to post ads on Craigslist and Kijiji and just be honest in these ads. Tell people who we are and what we are selling and see what the response is like.”
The strategy worked, increasing sales and earning him a promotion as the head of their Global Wholesale Department. He kept pitching ideas to his bosses and eventually they tapped him to be Business Development Manager and Head of Operations at Namaste MD.
“I got a crash course in supply agreements, international networking and cannabis regulations globally, ” Lavoie says, “all of which help me in the fight against this unconstitutional ban in Manitoba.”
The clinics Lavoie oversaw for Namaste processed roughly 200 patients a day and eventually Canopy Growth head hunted him to help with North American operations for Volcano vaporizers and Martha Stewart’s CBD line. Sometimes Lavoie catches flak because he worked for Canopy while also fighting a ban some might see as benefiting the company. Canopy was aware of Lavoie’s efforts while he worked with them but did not support him in any way.
Fighting an unconstitutional ban is expensive. Lavoie pegs the cost of his legal fees around $45,000. Some of that cost is from collecting and presenting evidence for the case. This evidence mostly takes the form of affidavits — sworn statements — from experts. If something isn’t added as part of an affidavit it cannot be used in court as evidence. Lavoie’s submitted affidavits, much like the rest of his professional career, are impressive. Several prominent criminal justice academics, entrepreneurs and internationally renown cannabis industry professionals have all contributed arguments against the ban.
For Lavoie though it comes down to freedom of access. In his own affidavit he discusses the benefits of medicinal cannabis and the prohibitive cost of legal recreational cannabis. Ultimately the ban limits his ability to enjoy the act of growing cannabis as a hobby.
“It is my experience,” Lavoie’s affidavit states, “that cannabis cultivation results in community-building and increased social interactions between members of our society.”
Between a GoFundMe page and merch sales at tobagrown.com Lavoie has raised over $10,000 towards his legal bills. He uses Youtube and Instagram to interact with his supporters and educate a wider audience. Beyond support from business owners, industry professionals, academics and community leaders both the Liberal and Green Parties of Manitoba have come out in support of Lavoie’s case.
“I want to help end the stigma,” he says. “This might be the first of multiple legal challenges I get involved with. I already have another one in mind.”
No, he hasn’t told us what that next legal case is but as soon as we know so will you. In the meantime, why not head over to tobagrown.com and grab a slick hoodie? Let’s help him win this case first before we get him on to the next one.