Pubdate: Thu, 16 Apr 2015
Source: NOW Magazine (CN ON)
Copyright: 2015 NOW Communications Inc.
Author: Matt Mernagh
Page: 12


Another 420 is around the corner, and T.O.'s profile as a hotbed of
weed culture continues to grow, but prohibition keeps us from putting
up plaques at historic sites

Denver doesn't have one. And pot is legal there. Ditto Portlandia. The
Toronto Hash Mob's ninth annual 420 marijuana legalization rally,
slated for Yonge-Dundas Square on Monday, April 20, has made T.O. the
epicentre of cannabis culture activism in North America. Cannabis
culture thrives in the big smoke - and always has - despite a harsh
political environment. We have a largely forgotten and fascinating
cannabis history, though prohibition prevents the erection of
historical markers to mark its sites.

To help fill that historical gap, attendees at the recent Canadian
Students for Sensible Drug Policy conference rode a bus while I did my
best to be a toker tour guide as part of a workshop.

We visited vapour lounges to learn about recent pot history. For many
on board, even 1997, when Toronto's small cannabis scene began
regrowing, was a long time ago.

But Toronto's weed story was writ long before that. How many people
walk by Huron and Bloor without realizing that the high-rise apartment
building on the southeast corner, a former student co-op built in
1968, was once the largest grass 'n' hash distribution hub in North

A few Rochdale College dealers bought and sold by the tonne. The
building's fire alarm was used as a warning system to alert dealers
when the cops from nearby 52 Division were coming. Stashes were hidden
or flushed, but dealers felt safe enough to host hotbox parties on the
roof. They'd throw hash on a hibachi and charge 5 bucks to sit and
inhale. Dealers would sell cannabis or hash to stoned customers on
their way out.

Rochdale is now the Senator D. Croll Apartments, renamed in 1978 by
Toronto Community Housing for Canada's first Jewish senator. But the
statue of the Unknown Student out front remains a great spot to smoke
pot. (Back then, residents referred to the sculpture as Auto-fellatio,
but even when weed's legal, I doubt that info would appear on a
historical plaque.)

A little east of Rochdale, Yorkville's BIA wants people to fall in
love with the area's historic charm but not to remember its smoky
hippie years. The nabe was a hotbed of the counterculture, T.O.'s
Haight-Ashbury, until a city-led remake.

Gandalf's, our first unofficial head shop, catered to the booming
trade, selling pipes and bongs to pot enthusiasts, going so far as to
tell customers that its wares were for getting high only! A
draft-dodging William Gibson, who went on to become a legendary sci-fi
writer, worked behind the counter.

Stranger than any fiction, we even have a true made-in-Toronto
cannabis conspiracy. In 1972, the Addiction Research Foundation (now
part of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) conducted a study
involving 20 Toronto women volunteers. Cut off from the world for 93
days, 10 of the women smoked weed nightly, and 10 did not. To compare
their productivity, all 20 participants wove belts. Doobie dosages
were gradually increased until participants collectively could take no

Initial findings from news reports suggest a fondness for leisure
activities but no loss of productivity or cooperation among
participants who smoked. ARF's full report on the pot experiment was
never released, but it's safe to say some knew in 72 that cannabis was
mostly harmless. Maybe that revelation was too explosive for the time.
Calls for legalization were slowly diminishing by then.

A 1980s U.S.-style war on drugs cleaned out Yonge Street's thriving
bong businesses. The stretch between Bloor and Queen had so many head
shops, it was impossible for the police morality unit to engage all of
them one-on-one.

Instead, cops sent letters to shop owners notifying them that their
businesses had become illegal under PM Brian Mulroney's "bong and
literature law." In 1988, Section (462.2) of the Criminal Code
outlawed "the manufacture, sale or promotion of instruments or
literature for illicit drug use."

Most don't know that bongs are still illegal. Only the literature ban
was repealed after a constitutional challenge led by Terry Parker, who
applied to an Ontario court to use marijuana as medicine for his epilepsy.

The court recognized marijuana's medicinal value when it accepted
Parker's explanation that he used cannabis to treat his seizure
disorder. Cracks in prohibition's wall began to widen, and they were
seized upon by a 10-something skateboarder.

Warren Hitzig delivered med doobies to people who could prove they had
an illness. His efforts led to the founding of the Toronto Compassion
Centre, and its waiting room continues to open people up to the
realization that they aren't alone in their fight for the right to
medicate with marijuana.

Cops have left our compassion clubs alone, but have shut down a
Beaches chapter of the Church of the Universe, which offered pot as a
"sacrament," and downtown's Kindred Cafe, which sold weed-infused 

These days, people without weed can turn to Craigslist, and T.O.
dealers will make downtown deliveries to your door within an hour.
Marketplace competitiveness has them sending texts confirming your
order, but call well in advance of Monday's 420. The event is sure to
put a dent in the supply.

I'm actually at a loss for words when I think that a half-dozen people
grew Yonge-Dundas Square's 420 into a gathering of 12,000 yearly.

We pride ourselves on civil disobedience and our style of protesting
the prohibition of pot. Call it stoner showmanship: if you're going to
get arrested, at least look good doing it.

Amazingly, 39 Canadian cities will have a 420 protest this

When Chris Goodwin and I started, there was only one other - in
Vancouver. They have weed-selling booths, but we have flair.

Eight years of rallies have meant protest numbers too big to ignore
any more, including by City Hall, which every year becomes more
accommodating on the required permits and fees - even if the guy in
the mayor's chair has become a little paternalistic about puffing.

Hard now to wrap your head around the toker tale recounted by John
Tory over 30 years ago in Osgoode Hall Law School's newspaper. He took
a bold position, arguing for lifting penalties on pot, even admitting
to driving stoned once.

Our current mayor also wrote about cruising Lake Simcoe in a boat with
friends with an amount of weed on board reportedly nowhere near
personal. Let's just say it was more than the two bags of grass Hunter
S. Thompson took on his trip to Vegas, according to a 2006 London Free
Press article. But once Tory became PC leader, that story became just
another footnote in a mostly forgotten chapter of Toronto's weed history.
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