John Vergados is editor in chief of Skunk Magazine, an emblematic cannabis culture publication based in Canada.

-Tell us some words about yourself and your Greek roots.

Let me begin by saying that I am incredibly pleased and honored to participate in your first issue. I wish you nothing but success. Everybody I have met from your magazine seems like a great person with great ideals.

I was born in Montreal, Canada, in 1967. My parents, Spyro and Panagiota had to leave Greece in the late 50s as there wasn’t much opportunity in the country after the wars. They never received much of an education but still accomplished so much, far away from their little village in Agoriani, Sparta. They ended up building two homes in Greece and they loved returning every year.

I myself have two amazing boys, men now. Spyro and Modesto. They’re on a path towards becoming good people and I’m very proud. Although I’m no longer with their mother, she did an incredible job raising them and I am very thankful to still call her a friend.

It was always my parents’ dream that we would return to Greece as a whole family some day but sadly it never happened as my father passed away last year and returning his body to his homeland was one of the few times we ever travelled together. He was a great man and I miss him every day.

I got to spend a few days in Greece last year with two of my best friends who helped me during the difficult time when I was on trial for importing cannabis seeds into Canada. We were there to attend the Balkannabis Expo where I was presenting a talk and also to see the progress with regard to the cannabis industry. I was impressed with both the event and the passion many Greek attendees had for the cannabis culture but I ways also disappointed to witness a lot of stigma concerning this beneficial plant. The plant is our friend, we don’t need protection from it; it needs protection from us.

I love all music, well, all except disco, so it’s very difficult for me to pick a favorite song, musician or genre. I am also a musician myself and wrote a song a few year’s ago for a beautiful little girl from the United States, Mykayla. She was suffering from leukemia and her parents took the courageous step of healing her with cannabis oil. The song was written to share her story and raise some funds for her family and Parents 4 Pot, a group that every Christmas buys presents for children whose parents are in prison for cannabis offenses. I was lucky to perform a couple of times with this amazing little girl who I’m happy to say is doing amazingly well, years after.

Greek music is also very beautiful. I tell my non-Greek friends that a bouzouki is like listening to a drunk guitar. Lately I’ve been listening to Giannis Haroulis, classic Cretan music fused with modern playing.

If I could choose one performance to listen to while reading this interview it would have to be a video of Deep Purple playing with the London Philharmonic Orchestra during the 60s. You can find it on YouTube. Two incredibly different genres sounding amazing together. It symbolizes to me, both the duality that we all possess as well as the harmony that can be achieved despite the differences if the parties have a good common goal.

I have always considered myself as much Greek as Canadian, and enjoyed the country and hope to visit more often now that there are serious discussions about cannabis taking place. Despite the economic problems facing Greece and other European nations recently, there seems to be a freedom and a love for life that is disappearing in North America.

• What is really happening in Canada nowadays regarding the cannabis legalization? Is this just a beginning of a new dream or the end of an old one?

This is a very difficult question to answer. I know a few people who switched over onto the legal side and I am happy for them. This is what we fought for, to give people the truth about cannabis and to be able to participate in a legal world where we don’t have to hide. At the same time, the way the government has gone about it has been extremely self-serving and hostile towards the people who created this industry. I know a lot of good people who can never hope to participate in the legal future unless these idiotic regulations change. Government has erected huge barriers towards participation by the people who know the plant best and it shows in the results. Bad and expensive product and an incredible amount of criminal activity from those who were supposed to keep out the criminals. Instead of creating an efficient and fair model, they decided to reward family and friends. The amount of former politicians and former law enforcement officials now having a stake in Canada’s cannabis industry is staggering and damning. Instead of treating it like plutonium they could have established a central testing agency and allowed anybody who could provide good, clean medicine to participate. There is still a lot of fighting to be done.

In the end I am proud to have helped change the hearts and minds of people even if I don’t really like the end results. Sometimes I forget how far we’ve really come.

• Ok, are you happy? Are you having parties?

The parties will have to wait for a bit. The last five years have been especially difficult as fighting the government in court was expensive and hard on my psyche. I wanted to walk away from the industry many times but there is still work to be done.

• Was this an easy way or a hard one, till the time you came to the result of legality?

Millions of people were hurt during prohibition and we can’t forget that there are still thousands who are still in jail and others who have had their lives destroyed because they fought the system. There are so many activists who played a vital role and who I consider true heroes. It is our duty to keep their stories alive before the new players try to make them disappear.

• What are the first conclusions about the “black market” and the minors-teens use?

The black market or free market as it should be called is ridiculing how badly the government has handled legalization. Most consumers still prefer buying from their friends where they find a better selection, lower prices and higher quality. Again, this stems from the ridiculous governmental regulations that make the Canadian legal providers inefficient and uncompetitive. Soon we will also see this on the global stage as more countries move towards legalization. Canada has been a world leader in cannabis for quite some time, namely because of our medical program which enabled thousands of growers to perfect their craft. However the government made entry into the new program difficult for these people and being deprived of their expertise has hurt the legal side. Although Canada had a huge head start, legalization, has been set up to fail.

On the surface teen and child use might seem controversial but science says otherwise. In North American there is an epidemic occurring among children who are being prescribed harmful drugs like Ritalin at an alarming rate. Doctors and pharmaceutical companies are creating future addicts solely for the sake of greed. Cannabis is a much safer and effective choice. In any case, prohibition has never deferred experimentation by youths with regard to cannabis and other substances. Legalization won’t change that and studies in Holland reveal a very low usage rate among their teens. The removal of taboo often makes it less attractive.

• We knew that cannabis was always inseparable with the culture of love, happiness and liberty. From anti-Vietnam war movements and the hippies culture to reggae and the Rastafari culture, always cannabis had an emblematic role. Today “who is cannabis” and “who is talking cannabis”? The big multinational companies, the pharmaceuticals, the stock market, the technocrats, the artists? The patients ?

Even though the culture is under attack by the “Green Rush,”. It is my belief that it will survive. I have been to so many cannabis festivals and have witnessed millions of beautiful people gathered and displaying the spiritual side of the plant and teaching how it heals and unifies is. While there has always been a commercial side to cannabis and prohibition made it extremely profitable there have also always been people who understood what the plant had to say. It’s important that magazines like yours keep their stories and spirit alive.

I always thought legalization would take place once politicians and big business discovered how much money they could potentially make. Sadly we are experiencing this in Canada where they have used the stock market, speculation and hype to create instant millionaires. All of them are losing millions and in one case billions and are burning through their money extremely fast. Many of them won’t survive because they will have to start showing profits soon and that doesn’t seem realistic. In the meantime, very few got very rich on the hype. Who will eventually win, the corporations or the culture? History has shown that money usually comes out on top but then again cannabis is like no other product. We’ll have to wait and see.

• What is your dream about Greece concerning cannabis?

My hope is that they create an equitable and fair system that allows all people to have meaningful participation. I saw so many dying villages during my last trip which can be revived by switching to cannabis. It would eclipse Greek olive oil in sales. Be careful about the promises that the big companies are making. Often their participation is mainly about inflating their stocks by making announcements. I doubt that much of the money they have promised to invest will ever reach Greece. Even if they do, the money won’t stay in the country and Greece is no better off than it was before they arrived. Encourage local craft farms instead of huge plantations.

I also hope that the Greek politicians understand the impact of canna tourism could have on the country. Imagine a climate and culture like Greece’s commoners with cannabis. Who would ever want to go to Amsterdam if they could get that experience in Paradise.