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High-profile Alberta horticulturalist Jim Hole does his bit to make cannabis cultivation respectable

Alberta horticulturist Jim Hole (Photo: David Climenhaga)

O Cannabis!

Even a couple of city councillors showed up Wednesday morning for horticulturist Jim Hole's news conference at Hole's Greenhouses and Gardens here in the Botanic City, as the Edmonton-area bedroom suburb of St. Albert styles itself. You can't get much more respectable than that, now, can you?

The newser didn't actually seem to be about much that we hadn't already been told, though.

Hole, co-owner of the venerable family greenhouse business, answered a few questions from reporters and showed off a home pot-growing set-up he'll soon be selling. Disappointingly, the tent-like structure housed only a couple of azaleas, pot not being quite legal yet hereabouts, despite the third reading given Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act, in the House of Commons Tuesday.

Hole will be director of cultivation for Edmonton-based Atlas Growers Ltd., the privately held corporation that is building a large legal medical and recreational marijuana growing facility in nearby Lac Ste. Anne County. The company says it expects to harvest its first crop of legal recreational marijuana in the second half of next year.

Hole did most of the talking Wednesday, but Atlas President and CEO Sheldon Croome stepped up to the microphone to promise to "redefine production standards within the cannabis industry."

Hiring Hole, he said in a news release, was "a major step forward in our efforts to legitimize and standardize the Canadian cannabis market." Fair enough, hiring a professional horticulturalist and media figure with deep roots in Alberta as the public face of a pot-growing company does send a message of respectability about an industry that is still highly controversial.

A horticulture expert regularly heard on the CBC certainly comes across as more decorous than hiring a former police chief or justice minister who used to send pot users to jail, as some folks in the marijuana industry have recently done. If you ask me, using former cops to market pot is the definition of bad optics.

Hole of course, is the son of the late Lois Hole, founder of the greenhouse business, gardening guru, author and beloved lieutenant governor of Alberta. Asked by a reporter if his mother would have approved, Hole responded: "Mom would be happy. She loved helping people."

I don't think Hole was entirely blowing smoke. I have no doubt Lois Hole would be happy. She was, after all, a shrewd and tough-minded businesswoman, and legal marijuana looks to soon be a multi-billion-dollar horticultural business in Canada, which is getting into it as an entire country before anyone else in the industrialized world.

As for the real or imagined therapeutic benefits of the hardy weed that Hole seemed to be referring to, I'll leave that to the medical experts.

But the new cannabis era that Canada is entering at a dizzying pace under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal government is having a faintly disorienting effect on a lot of us -- even if we were part of that tiny group of Canadians who never thought marijuana should be outlawed.

By that I don't mean the pungent smell of the burning herb now common every lunch hour on the streets of downtown Edmonton, even though formal legalization isn't expected to take place until Cannabis Day, I mean Canada Day, next summer.

No, I have in mind the entirely legitimate concern of many Canadians we're not moving to legalization and full marketization of this drug quite the right way.

Overnight, a substance that could net a seller or even a user a long prison sentence, is turning into a full-blown legal recreational product pushed by major corporations with virtually no controls on how they advertise or sell the stuff other than an age limit for buyers.

Seriously, should we really be letting large private corporations market marijuana like Big Tobacco through corner-store outlets with near-zero accountability? What could possibly go wrong?

Handing the marketing and profits to the private sector as the Alberta NDP plan to do while socializing the risks seems like going about this in a bass-ackwards way.

Of course, not everyone who worries about legal marijuana is worried about the same stuff.

Take Ron Orr, for example, the United Conservative Party's culture and tourism critic, who thinks legalizing marijuana will spark a Communist revolution in Canada.

By now all of Canada knows that the MLA for Lacombe-Ponoka told the Alberta Legislature on Wednesday the "human tragedy of what's going to happen with this is yet to be revealed," which might just be true, and that "nobody's taken a moment to think about it," which almost certainly is.

He went on, however, to argue there are historical parallels between Canada's imminent Horticultural Revolution and China's Cultural Revolution under the Communist Party of Mao Zedong.

Orr told the House he believes use of opium in China contributed to the rise of Communism there, so the use of pot in Canada could obviously lead to a Communist revolution in Canada.

This suggests the former Wildroser doesn't really have a strong handle on either history or cause and effect. Still, if you apply a little good old 19th-century Marxist analysis, you might come up with an argument he's right just the same.

After all, opium in China was pushed by the British as part of their imperial project, and the eventual reaction to imperialism in China was communism. Still, something tells me this isn't what Orr had in mind.

Give him a little time. He's the tourism critic, after all. With marketing advice from folks like Jim Hole, the UCP will soon be demanding the government support Bud & Breakfast bus tours through the high Rockies of Alberta.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Photo: David Climenhaga

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