My Cannabis Summer in Canada
I grew up in Toronto. Some of my family and many of my childhood friends still live there, and now my business is centered there. So escaping the blistering Israeli August heat in exchange for the more moderate Canadian climate, taking my kids to visit old haunts such as Center Island and the Science Center, while also spending quality time with my business partner Sarah was a no-brainer.
This was my first trip to Canada post-legalization. But knowing it’s legal, and experiencing it firsthand are two very different things. Toronto has always been a weed-friendly city, so the smell of weed permeating the downtown area after work hours didn’t surprise me, but I decided to look deeper.
While most legal cannabis in Canada is still purchased online, there are 25 brick and mortar dispensaries in Toronto. So I took my beloved TTC subway and headed downtown to The Hunny Pot. The first thing I noticed was the security guard checking ID. In Israel, a security guard outside a private establishment is pretty standard, but in Toronto? Yup, that’s unusual. Once I showed my ID I was directed to two lines - one for repeat consumers - people who had bought there before, were familiar with the menu and know what they want. The second line was for newbies like me. After a 5-minute wait I was ushered into a beautifully laid out space that smelled like...well... Weed. A helpful ‘budtender’ holding a tablet asked me some leading questions to help me find the strain relevant for the experience I was looking for. Did I want something for the weekend or for every day? Was I sharing with friends or was I looking to enjoy some quiet down time alone. Did I want to laugh or did I want to sleep?
I let my dedicated budtender know that I was just browsing, released him to continue servicing the room full of consumers milling about and started sniffing the sniff jars.
Laid out on small bar tables were little heavy-duty plastic containers with a variety of strains to be sniffed. Each had a little card outlining the name and type of strain - Sativa / Indica / Hybrid. Soothing, earthy, inspiring... These were just some of the terms used on each card.
I was especially amused to find the calibration stations around the dispensary... Post of coffee beans used to calibrate your olfactory palate after sniffing too many pots (pun intended). The coffee grounds you (yes, pun intended) so you can move on and smell each fresh strain as though it was your first. Good idea for perfume stands in pharmacies, if you ask me.
Interestingly, there were very few accessories and delivery systems for sale at the dispensary (only those approved by Health Canada). I was told to go to the head shop across the street for those goodies (more on that next time).
While the focus was clearly raw flower, softgel capsules and pre-rolls were also on the menu. There were a few oral sprays on display, demonstrating the limitations of marketing and advertising in terms of branding cannabis in Canada.
I left without making a purchase only to find that a line had formed around the block outside, as consumers waited patiently in line to buy their weekend stash. Apparently this was the norm and I was lucky that it was only a 5-minute wait for me to get in.
Bottom line? In Israel, adult cannabis use is popular and has been decriminalized but is still not legal. Purchasing is done via well-organized but subversive whatsapp groups, which have over 300,000 members. Just this week, police arrested 42 operators - 39 in Israel and three abroad - including Telegrass founder and manager Amos Dov Silver, a US resident.
Legal cannabis in a weed-friendly community feels so normal. It’s a pleasant consumer experience with professional staff who may not be marijuana experts but have enough knowledge to help a mainstream consumer find what they need. I wonder, however, how long it will be until we see my other homeland, Israel, embrace this new normal.