Indispensable: Toronto's Illegal Weed Shops And The End Of The War On Drugs.
On my eighteenth birthday, I bought my first (and last) Playboy at 7/11. I rolled it up and tucked it carefully into my hoodie so that nobody could judge me as I made my way home.
My first ever trip to a marijuana dispensary feels similarly naughty - and more than a little bit liberating. That I can buy my favourite illegal thing out of a storefront in broad daylight still seems fanciful.
Eighteen-year-old me bought his weed the same way as everyone since the dawn of time: from some guy named Chad who lives in a basement apartment and plays bass for a cover band with a pun in its name. But twenty-six year old me is ready to start doing this like an adult.
Ever since the Canadian government announced that it would legalize marijuana by the end of 2017, pot shops have begun popping up all over Toronto, capitalizing both on political ambiguity and general antipathy toward Canadas half-hearted war on drugs.
Theyve picked the right place to try their luck. Toronto is the kind of town where affluent commuters blithely ignore homeless guys smoking up outside a subway station at nine in the morning.
Weed isnt newly available here, just newly gentrified. Indeed, I almost walk past the dispensary, so seamlessly does it blend in with the other trendy Queen West boutiques that lure passersby with everything from camisoles to roller blades.
Inside, it would be tough to guess what they sell here but for that faint, delicious, tell-tale aroma. The counters and walls are sleek and white - this could easily be some kind of minimalist art gallery.
The staff consists of everyone who was too cool to hang out with me in high school. Not the popular kids; the ones who were actually cool because they didn't try to be.
I tell the girl behind the counter that I'd like to buy some weed. First I need a membership. Do I have a note from my family doctor? Please. I don't even have a family doctor. I'm a rebel.
Rebel or not, she informs me I'll need to talk to their doctor before they can sell me anything. Like many other dispensaries, this establishment is affiliated with somebody who has the letters MD at the end of their name. Unfortunately, he won't be free to see me for another hour.
This is more than I bargained for; my friend, who recommended the place, told me they serve people no questions asked. But that was before our mayor decided to crack down on these entrepreneurs who had the audacity to sell what everyone in Toronto was already buying.
Lately, dispensaries are getting bombarded with raids from Toronto Police. Those who oppose the unregulated sale of marijuana - most of whom are on the political right - cite concerns that dispensaries threaten quality of life. Theyre also concerned about the proximity to civic buildings frequented by minors, such as schools, libraries, and rec centres.
Ultimately, theyre worried that a harmful drug will work its way into the hands of children if dispensaries are allowed to proliferate. No doubt theyre equally concerned about the easy access to alcohol enjoyed by minors, and are therefore as concerned about the number of liquor stores in this city as I am.
But I do agree - it would be a disaster for young people in Toronto if weed could be sold legally and openly. In that case, kids might actually have to go to the trouble of getting fake IDs; unlike high school drug dealers, dispensaries card.
With an hour to kill before I can see the dispensary doctor, I cross the street to 7/11 where I buy a pack of cigars. They don't ask me to show my drivers licence, they dont insist that I talk to a doctor. Lucky thing, because any doctor can tell you - this shit is deadly.
I pass the next forty-five minutes in a park, chain-smoking. Two police officers ride by on bicycles and pay me no mind. Why the hell are they wearing Kevlar vests? It's ninety degrees out here.
Finally, it's time for me to see the doctor. Back at the dispensary, the girl ushers me into a small room that's cordoned off with a curtain. Nobody can see the doctor, not nobody, not nohow.
Inside, it's like one of those booths at the mall where teenagers pay to take pictures of themselves making out. On a small table, there's an iPad. On the iPad, there's a doctor. He asks a few questions.
What brings me here today? I'm... having sleep troubles.
This is true, strictly speaking, although it would be more accurate to say I'm having trouble not sleeping. Nevertheless, he seems satisfied and sends me on my way.
Of course, the appointment is really just for show. But whos in the audience? The mayor? The police? The children? Doctor or no, phony plastic members card or no, this is still illegal. The only thing protecting the people who work here is the devout hope that nobody gives enough of a shit to bother locking them away.
To make a long story short, I walked out with what I came for and I sampled it as soon as I got home. I was not disappointed.
But one thing still gets me: adults shouldn't have to hide their Playboys.
Special thanks to: Shylan Ghoujeghi.
Header image: credit to Mjpresson
Racism is an insidious, and unfortunately prevalent, force in all of our daily lives. Maybe we're on the receiving end of it, being treated differently and losing opportunities because of others' preconceived notions.
Or maybe we're on the other side of things. Even those who aren't actively racist or discriminatory still have to process the world through the filters of the things they've been told about people who are different.