Torontonians have always been familiar with that signature smell of marijuana wafting from alleyways, apartment building windows and other out of the way places around the city. The general population’s acceptance and even love of pot has given rise over the years to well-known smoke shops, paraphernalia stores and cannabis lounges, many of which are still doing good business.
As mary-jane continues its landmark legalization in Colorado, Washington State and soon to be other areas, here at home the marijuana issue is cloudier than a Toronto pot café at 4:20. Weed is an illegal substance, though it is rarely enforced by the police if you are not bothering anyone. Moreover, support for the legalization and regulation of pot has never been higher in Canada.
One of the ways Canadians have been able to have their pot and smoke it too has been through the creation of vapour lounges. To the non-users of marijuana, a vapour lounge sounds like a restaurant with a gas leak, but it is actually a café of sorts where pot smoking paraphernalia like bongs, pipes and vaporizers are at every table and available to be used by patrons of the establishment.
No sales of pot happen at any time on the premises and the cafés are strictly forbidden from selling any type of weed or weed by-product, but people are allowed to bring their own and use the facilities. After they are finished, there is usually a full menu of goodies that the toker can enjoy. Toronto now boasts seven vapour lounges in various different neighbourhoods, each with their own take on food, atmosphere and available facilities.
One such staple of Toronto’s cannabis community is Vapor Central at 667 Yonge Street. This longtime establishment started seven years ago amongst minor threats from police that they would be raided and customers would be arrested for possession. It is now many moons later and they’ve never had a problem with the police.
Dave Unrau, one of the owners of the establishment, says that society’s viewpoint of marijuana has changed in the years that he has been in business. “In terms of acceptance it definitely has [changed], a lot of people who come in here now, don’t even realize that weed is still illegal.” he says.
Dave is hopeful that Justin Trudeau and the Liberals will win the federal election so he can see some real changes with Canada’s marijuana policy. “[Legally] in the last seven years since we’ve opened, we haven’t seen much progress, at least with respect to legislation. Right now the culture is ahead of the laws.” he says.
It is also evident that the pot cafes in the city respect and even sometimes help each other. “We are certainly all friendly. We support all the lounges in the city as we’re all part of one movement so we try to help each other out, but different lounges are for different clientele.”
Unrau’s clientele consists of “college students to sixty-five year old retirees. We have lawyers, professionals and the stereotypical pot head with nothing to do. It’s a really cool mix because we are right at Yonge and Bloor.”
Another popular establishment over at 896 College Street is Vapour Social. Camille Salter and her business partner opened the place up two-and-a-half years ago. They boast snacks, video games, comfortable seating and a quiet environment. You can also bring in any old records you have and they will spin them on their turntable.
“We’re in the west end in Toronto’s Little Portugal, so we get a lot of people from this area.” Camille says. “Our age demographic is incredibly broad—anywhere from eighteen to my oldest member who is in his early sixties.”
When asked about the future of the marijuana movement in Toronto and Canada, Camille said that legalization and regulation here “is inevitable, there is no question. It won’t happen overnight, but it certainly is coming.”
On the west coast, Vancouver has its first very own marijuana vending machine, where you can purchase grade-a government regulated medical pot, the same way you buy a pack of Skittles—which is probably one vending machine over. Of course, it only works if you have a medical marijuana card.
Other countries in the global pot regulation business such as the U.S. and Uruguay are seemingly miles ahead of Toronto and Canada, but the industry of marijuana cultivation, harvest, sale and distribution is of interest to entrepreneurs everywhere. This has sparked a handful of industry trade shows showing up on to the scene to educate the public about taking advantage of this newly legal business sector.
One such trade show, known as Champs Canada, recently took place at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre and attracted large numbers both in attendees and sponsors. The show featured talks and demonstrations from lawyers, doctors who will sponsor you for a medical marijuana card, people in the cultivation and harvesting sectors, glass manufacturers and many more.
Only time will tell what the future will be in Canada for this long suffering plant and its promoters, but if events continue to unfold the way they have been, the ‘C’ in LCBO may soon stand for Cannabis.
Lead image courtesy of The Vapor Social.
Jonathan Hiltz is a contributor to Toronto Standard. Follow him on Twitter.