Intention / Knowledge / Artistry in Action

Pioneers of the Canadian Cannabis Industry

They grow their own genetics. They grow with intention. And they’ve devoted their lives to cannabis. That’s what makes Kirk Tousaw and Mat Beren of Great Gardener Farms unique.  

Kirk and Mat are, for lack of a better term, stoners. They smoke weed pretty much every day. They love it and they have devoted their lives to it. They both started growing in their houses decades ago. Kirk’s first “grow” was a fluorescent light in the attic above his bedroom. Mat’s was a basement grow in his home in London, Ontario.

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In the early 2000s both Kirk and Mat came to British Columbia. Kirk came to BC to continue practicing law but with a new purpose: ending prohibition and helping medical patients and other victims of cannabis prohibition find justice. Mat came to BC to continue growing cannabis but with a new intention: helping people feel better when they consume it and spreading high-quality cannabis and genetics to medical patients. 

A few short years later these two paths would come together.

Kirk’s Path

While Kirk has loved the herb since he was a young man, his path was not the weed-growing path until relatively recently. Instead, he was on the political science and law path. But he always thought cannabis should be legal and was never shy about saying so. His first activism was hanging a “Legalize Marijuana Now” banner, printed on a dot matrix printer, in his high school when the Governor of Michigan was coming to make an anti-drug speech. Kirk was also busted a number of times in his teens for possession, and he thought it was deeply unjust. That’s why he eventually went to law school. Kirk was four years into a partnership track at a law firm in Detroit when he moved to Canada in 2002 looking for a change.

In BC, he got his Master’s in Law, with a focus on cannabis prohibition and the Charter of Rights. He wrote about the 2004 Supreme Court of Canada case in which three activists (Randy Caine, Chris Clay, and David Malmo-Levine) challenged the constitutionality of marijuana prohibition. They lost the case, but it was a very close decision. That year the Senate of Canada published a massive study about legalization, and Kirk wrote about the case and the Senate Report in the context of liberty and freedom. In 2004, Kirk also organized a large conference in Vancouver on cannabis legalization. The Mayor of Vancouver, Larry Campbell, was the keynote speaker and, as a surprise to everyone, came right out and said marijuana should be legal. It was the first time he had ever said that (though it wouldn’t be the last!) and the first time any big city mayor in Canada had ever advocated for the end of prohibition.

Mat’s Path

Mat grew weed in his London, Ontario, basement in the 90s while studying chemical engineering. His grow allowed him to be a professional raver for many years. Through his raving experience, and with the assistance of cannabis and many psychedelic experiences, Mat was eventually led to a local Shamanic drum circle with some older ladies that taught him ancient drum journeying and techniques. He joined the drum circle once a month for years. In these sessions, it was important to always set your intention before drumming. Mat’s intention was always the same: How can I grow weed better? Through that experience, he realized that he wanted to grow cannabis with the specific intention of making people feel better.

With that realization, Mat got in his car and drove to BC. Eventually he made it to Vancouver Island and found a place to live. He flew home to get all of his stuff, including his cannabis plants, and drove a moving truck cross-country back to the house.

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On Vancouver Island, Mat connected with Phillippe Lucas, the founder of the Vancouver Island Compassion Society (VICS), one of Canada’s first compassion clubs. At the time, Phillippe was in the middle of a court case because VICS had been robbed of a half pound of medicine, which the police recovered and then arrested Philippe for possessing! Philippe was found guilty but given no criminal conviction. During the ruling, the judge said he found no fault with what VICS was doing, supplying medical patients, but was disappointed that they were getting their supply from the black market.

This gave Mat an idea. He and a friend of his and the club, rented property and built the Vancouver Island Therapeutic Cannabis Research Institute (VITCRI), a 25 light indoor garden, in order to supply the VICS. In exchange each took a salary of $30,000 a year each to produce all of the cannabis that the facility would hold. Unfortunately, soon after the VITCRI fired up, the police showed up with warrants. While Mat had a legal license to grow 11 plants, he was actually growing 1,100 plants. The police had no idea what legal medical marijuana was, and they arrested Mat and charged him with production and possession for the purpose of trafficking. 

That was the beginning of Mat’s six-year court battle, and also the point at which Kirk and Mat’s paths would intersect.

A New Journey

The VICS hired John Conroy, QC, a legendary cannabis lawyer in Canada, to represent Mat and his co-accused. Kirk had recently started practicing law again, and he had been working with John on cannabis cases and with Philippe on cannabis and drug policy reform activism. Two defendants meant two lawyers, and John and Kirk went to work on the Charter challenge.

That’s how Kirk and Mat first met. And over smoky strategy sessions after court in the back of the VICS, they became good friends.

The case ran for six years. All of the VICS patients had a physician’s approval for their medical cannabis use. The VICS kept meticulous records and was very socially active in the community. And Mat was breeding strains with specific input from the VICS’ members about what worked for their individual ailments as well as growing hemp to use as a placebo in research trials organized by Philippe. These facts, along with testimony from various experts including Senator Pierre Claude Nolin, the Chair of the Senate Committee that had recommended legalization, were put before the Court and, ultimately, the Justice ruled in their favor.

In her Charter decision she found Canada’s medical cannabis system to be unconstitutional and a violation of the Charter rights of medical patients. She also said really wonderful things about the VICS and Mat and expressed concern about this activity even being unlawful. 

Despite the ruling, Mat was found guilty because he had knowingly broken the law. Before sentencing, the judge took a recess to see if Mat was eligible for a discharge or not. At this point, Mat was really worried. If convicted of possessing more than 3 kilograms for the purpose of trafficking, Mat would not be eligible for a discharge and would instead face a maximum of 14 years in jail. Kirk argued, however, that because they had been growing hemp indoors for research, the Crown prosecutor did not prove how much cannabis was there versus hemp. The Court agreed and the Honourable Justice therefore deemed that it was under 3 kilograms of cannabis. Mat was discharged. The judge decided not to punish him, saying that she did not want him to have a criminal record so that, one day, he could grow legally. 

The Journey Continues

Mat and Kirk had become good friends over the course of the trial. Kirk got a license to grow legally for himself in about 2008, and Mat helped him set up a small two light grow in his basement. That taught him a little about how to grow cannabis, and he’s been growing for himself ever since. 

After the court case, Mat continued growing for the VICS, as he had been doing throughout the trial. The VITCRI facility ran for another 10 years. During that time, Mat expanded to work with several more dispensaries around Canada and decided to make seeds of his genetics. The idea was that if a patient learned that Barbara Bud, for example, worked well for them, they could buy the Barbara Bud seeds. This could give the patient extra comfort in knowing how to deal with their ailments if they could not access Barbara Bud at the dispensary. That was how the idea of the seed company The House of the Great Gardener germinated. That seed would eventually grow into an international multi-award winning legacy brand.

They began expanding the phenotyping projects for the members of the clubs. Mat designed a card listing various phenos and a place to note their characteristics, such as appearance, smell, taste, effects, and burnability. These cards went out to members of the clubs. The deal was that if the member would smoke all of the varieties, fill out the card and turn it in, they would receive a free gram. People were stoked to be a part of the process of choosing a phenotype. Interestingly, the members often chose the phenos that Mat didn’t necessarily like for himself. That helped Mat realize that he as a breeder and recreational consumer didn’t necessarily know what the medical patients wanted, and this process allowed them to choose for themselves. 

In 2009, Mat and his girlfriend Sarah went to Spannabis (the world’s premier cannabis event, held annually in Barcelona Spain). They stayed in the same hotel as Soma, a legendary seed breeder, and the High Times Cannabis Cup crew and, of course, had many smoke sessions, prompting one of the crew to quip: “I can’t believe I came all the way to Spain, and the best hash I smoked was from that dude over there from Canada.” At that point, the High Times crew invited Mat to participate in the High Times Cup in Amsterdam – the world’s premier cannabis competition. 

Kirk, Mat, and Sarah and a crew from the VICS  went in 2011, and they won second place in the Seed Company Hash Cup with “hydrahash,” a blend of 90% Warlock and 10% Haoma, a Purps x Afghani cross that Mat bred. From then on, it is epic story after epic story, leading to 65 trophies on four continents over the course of the next decade.

Changing The Law

Meanwhile, Kirk continued practicing law. The decision in Mat’s court case became one of a handful of bedrock cannabis decisions that eventually changed the entire legal landscape around medical cannabis. Kirk used it and the other leading cases to win many major court decisions including allowing patients the right to grow for themselves and, with a unanimous decision in the Supreme Court of Canada, legalizing edibles and derivatives for medical patients. 

Kirk would also use Mat’s sentencing decision countless times to keep medical growers from having any criminal records. After these wins, Kirk would call Mat to let him know he had used his case again: “Another grower, 600 plants, 40 pounds, no criminal record!” Mat loved getting those calls. In part these decisions, and others involving compassionate access to cannabis, led to hundreds of compassion clubs proliferating all over the country. This in turn demonstrated that cannabis could be safely sold in retail environments and was a building block toward recreational legalization. 

Finally, in 2018, Canada legalized cannabis. Kirk retired from his law practice. He and Mat founded Great Gardener Farms together, and they became licensed for recreational micro-cultivation in Canada. What makes GGF stand out is that it breeds and develops all of its own unique genetics, derived from years of work in the legacy community.

GGF’s Unique Genetics

GGF has genetics that are decades old. Genetics that were specifically bred for the medical community that they are now bringing into the recreational community. These are genetics that they bred. Genetics that they’ve stabilized in seed form. Genetics that they love themselves. And genetics that have won awards all over the world. Because GGF has put in the time and the work to get it right.

Breeding and stabilizing seeds, when done properly, is a long and time-consuming process. When breeding, you look for plants to use as the breeding pair that have the characteristics you want. These characteristics include how it looks, grows, tastes, and smokes. You have to know what your intentions are, and then you have to go find plants that match those intentions. You breed them together and harvest the seeds. Then you have to go looking for what you want. Up to this point, the process is reasonably quick and many seed breeders get here, they have seeds from two great parents. But those seeds may not produce great plants because the genetic variability is too wide. In order to get seeds that reliably reproduce the traits of the parents that you are looking for, you need to have a breeding program. You have to work with the genetics to stabilize the traits in the seed. This is where the real work, and magic, happens. 

And this is what sets GGF apart from most other seed companies. They’ve done the work. They put in the years needed. And that’s why you can be confident that if you buy their seeds you are getting what you expect.

Take Barbara Bud, for example. The Barb is their best hashmaking strain. Mat created it by crossing a Canadian classic, the Shishkaberry, with an Afghani #1 for structure. Barb was the result of looking for the perfect combination of the Shishkaberry flower, its fruity taste and uplifting smoke, and the strong growth structure from the Afghani #1. Mat has been breeding with and stabilizing the Barb for more than a decade. She’s won more than 20 international awards and you can find Barbara Bud hash on the menu of cannabis coffeeshops all over Spain and Amsterdam.

There are very few Canadian cultivators growing their own in-house genetics. There are definitely no other companies that have genetics that they bred that have won awards all over the world for the last 15 years. 

Grow With Intention

Great Gardener Farms grows with the intention to cultivate a product that makes people feel good when they consume it. GGF believes that intention plus attention equals manifestation. GGF has a deep level of experience, and they know what they’re doing. They only grow cannabis that they want to smoke. And they only put out seeds of plants that they enjoy growing.

Mat and Kirk are Canadian pioneers—in growing, hashmaking, medical access, and legalization. They set out on their paths with the intention of legalizing cannabis and growing incredible genetics and they are incredibly excited to see what the rest of the journey brings.