As I make my way down Shaw St. and turn onto Dundas St. W. in downtown Toronto, I find myself confused. There’s supposed to be a pop-up Green Market for cannabis products around here, but I see only serene streets, a few people running errands before the masses flood out of work for the day.
Then I spot her. An emerald-haired siren in a floor length mermaid gown covered in marijuana leaves. We’ve only met once before, but instinctively I know this is Lisa Campbell.
Positioned outside as bait alongside co-conspirator Sarah Gilles, Campbell tells me the two invented Toronto’s Green Market due to the scarcity of edibles in Toronto. They wanted to create a safe space where vendors could sell without fear of police. They try to ensure safety by constantly switching up the location of their pop up shops, and announcing the location on the day of - or not at all.
“We’re doing this in all sorts of spaces in order to normalize cannabis, and also to normalize edibles, which currently are illegal under the new [Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations] that just came into effect [Wednesday],” Campbell says. “We need to go beyond just the right to grow.”
The current laws don’t allow for the retail sale of edibles. LPs can supply the raw materials to make them, after a 2015 Supreme Court decision that said it was unconstitutional to prohibit patients from ingesting cannabis through oil and edibles.
Many of Toronto’s unregulated dispensaries would have sold them but they’re hard to find, especially after the police department’s Project Claudia raids.
“For pain especially, having edibles, extracts and tinctures is so important,” says Campbell. “Even topicals. You can’t buy a topical cream from a licensed producer, and you can’t buy a cannabis suppository. There’s such high demand for those they’ve gone viral.”
While plenty of self-medicating people have concerns about the new regulations and a new era of so-called Big Marijuana, the Green Market is proof that cannabis users are not backing down.
Inside the three storey building is a cannabis consumer’s utopia. The first person who Lisa speaks to is someone with the vape retailer, Alair. Next to the vape distributor is a gentle spa oasis of cannabis-laced lotions, sprays, masks and balms. They’re made by Mary Jane’s Touch, and they smell like wild lavender and courage and nothing at all like cannabis.
Retailers persevere, even in the black market
Despite the current laws, vendors carry on, mostly unperturbed. Names do remain conspicuously absent from business cards though.
I wander upstairs and find what looks like rainbow Rice Krispie squares spread out on a plate next to some gummy bears. I say hi to the people running the booth, who seem kind of nervous and ask that I not publish their names. One of them is well-known already in cannabis-themed online trading and discussion groups.
He runs Fritz’s Cannabis Company, a small business currently operating only at small-scale, relatively safe marketplaces. He’s not yet out to his family about his work, and doesn’t want to be until the industry is fully legal next year.
“Let’s just say I have a lawyer on speed dial,” is the answer I get when I ask if he is, indeed, concerned about being here.
At the same time, he’s not optimistic the Liberal government’s new regulations are a sign that the the legal, regulated market to be unveiled next year will favour of those who run small cannabis-based businesses - often the ones who have been pushing for legalization in the first place.
“If you look at it, the ACMPR is going to squeeze out small businesses,” he says, lamenting that it’s likely Shopper’s Drug Mart or Loblaw's will end up with a monopoly. “I’m not as optimistic about the laws as other people are.”
Back outside, Gilles insists that the current regulations are unconstitutional. Police say that dispensary operators can expect more raids at any time, since all dispensaries are still illegal.
Campbell, though, believes in the spirit of the community. She says consumers, ultimately, will be responsible for shaping the regulations in the end.
“The government has made this a black market,” she says. “We need to make it a green one.”
Banner photo: Lisa Campbell and Sarah Gilles outside the Green Market in downtown Toronto. (Sarah Ratchford photo)