Pubdate: Thu, 01 Jan 2009
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2009 The Toronto Star
Author: Paola Loriggio, Staff Writer
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)


Marijuana activist Matt Mernagh likes to show off Toronto's cannabis
community, which he considers one of its untapped tourist attractions

When police raided the Kindred Cafe Nov. 20 for allegedly trafficking
marijuana, it shone a spotlight on one of the city's biggest open secrets.

There are places where you can smoke weed with relative impunity,
provided you don't make a scene.

With a couple of well-known pot cafes and a smattering of private
smokers' clubs - not to mention a thriving network of bong shops and
hemp stores - Toronto's marijuana scene rivals Vancouver's, according
to some herb aficionados.

Most of the action centres on "Yongesterdam," a strip of Yonge St.
near Wellesley St. nicknamed after pot-friendly Amsterdam.

Each summer, pot activist Matt Mernagh leads a weekly tour of the
area's cannabis community, showing off what he considers one of the
city's untapped tourist attractions.

The tour starts at Vapor Central, a vaporizer store and "tester
lounge," then on to various seed and hemp stores. If the group feels
particularly energetic, Mernagh says, they'll hit the Hot Box Cafe in
Kensington Market, famous for its backyard "potio."

The cafe is among a handful of establishments in the city that allow
customers to smoke weed, though owner Abi Roach stresses they don't
sell it in any form.

Another is the Kindred, on Breadalbane St., which reopened days after
its owner, Dominic Cramer, turned himself in to police on Nov. 24.
Cramer is scheduled to appear in court Jan. 13.

Both the Hot Box and the Kindred regulate pot smoking on the premises,
limiting it to adults in specific areas. But despite the Kindred's
official mission to host medicinal marijuana use, neither venue
requires customers to show their government-issued licences.

Which makes it technically illegal, as indicated in the cafes and on
their websites. So how come they still exist?

Police rely heavily on complaints, so if no one complains about a
particular spot, it may never be discovered, said Det. Sgt. Paul
MacIntyre of the Toronto Police drug squad.

Once officers become aware of such a place, they have to investigate -
and arrest anyone found to possess marijuana, he said. But that
doesn't mean the venue will close.

"If the people who own the business aren't involved in the sale or
distribution of drugs, they won't be charged," MacIntyre said. At the
homey three-year-old Kindred, business has fallen by about a third
since the raid, said spokesperson Chad Cooke.

Its main floor, where marijuana smoking is not permitted, was empty
early on a recent Friday evening. So was its stylish second-floor
private room, appointed with flat-screen TVs, DVDs and vaporizers.

On its tented rooftop third floor, where smokers can congregate for a
fee of $5 - $2.50 for people with medical exemptions - three patrons
sat quietly on the folding chairs Cooke bought after the police took
the cafe's furniture. "We're not quite as busy as we were before," he
said. "I'm sure some people are a little apprehensive about coming,
not knowing exactly what the climate's going to be or if the police
are going to come back."

Lawyer Alan Young, who represents Cramer and the Kindred, says police
often turn a blind eye when it comes to recreational tokers.

"The sole reason these cafes can operate with some degree of impunity
is that marijuana possession is one of the lowest priorities with
police," Young said.

Though federal law doesn't specify where licensed users can and can't
light up, they receive an information package warning them not to
smoke in a public place or expose others to second-hand smoke, Heath
Canada spokesperson Philippe Laroche said in an email.

But there's little health inspectors can do, since the province's
smoking ban applies only to tobacco products, said Rob Colvin,
spokesperson for Toronto Public Health.

Mernagh says tourists are often shocked and amazed to see others
openly flouting marijuana laws inside a coffee shop or store.

"People like us because we're so out of the cannabis closet."
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