CANNABIS CULTURE – Toronto city councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam has written a letter of support for the HashMob annual 4/20 Smoke Out at Yonge-Dundas Square.
The letter saves over four thousands dollars in city space rental fees, which can now be put back into the rally.
Councilor Wong-Tam writes in her letter, the annual marijuana prohibition protest “puts into action the democratic principles cherished by Torontonians.”
The letter continues, “In show a of support for Toronto’s cannabis culture … I feel it would be appropriate gesture to waive the fee for the rental of space at Yonge and Dundas Square.”
This is a huge advancement for 4/20, which last year paid the rental fees. For city and insurance reasons only, 4/20 Smoke Out on paperwork is referred to as 4/20 Comedy Festival. City staff are aware puffing happens and it was their suggestion to slightly change the day’s name to make it more palatable.
Y&D Square is located at Canada’s busiest intersection and is an odd marriage of public and private interests to capitalize on 20,000 people per hour passing by. Picture toking in Time Square, Red Square, or Piccadilly Circus on 4/20 with thousands of people participating and thousands more watching.
On April 20, 2007 a half dozen activists marched out of Vapor Central armed with joints, a megaphone and cannabis flags and headed down the sidewalk to blaze publicly at Y&D Square. The media and police were waiting, but contrary to ‘cannabis community’ fearmongering no arrests were made.
Having planted the anti-prohibition seeds, 4/20 has grown from a toker turf-fight between cops and cannabis enthusiasts to giving the city plenty of money to throw a protest-themed festival. Last year a cannabis plant took centre stage!
The councillor represents a diverse neighborhood that including the largest cluster of cannabis businesses in Canada. Numerous medical marihuana dispensaries, vapor lounges, seed shops and hemp retailers are located in this stretch.
Cannabis Culture had the opportunity to discuss 4/20 with Toronto City Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam in a recent interview:
How aware are you of the cannabis culture in your ward? Often referred to as Yongesterdam.
In 2009, I read the profile of this area of Yonge Street, featured in Toronto Life magazine that highlighted the variety of retailers that cater to cannabis users. Since being elected to City Council, I have met with a number of the vapour lounge owners to hear their concerns about proposed licensing changes that would affect their establishments. After years of living and working in the Church Wellesley Village, just steps from Yonge Street, I have seen the impact that HIV/AIDS has had on the LGBTQ community. Many of the cannabis retailers have been providing compassionate service to those struggling with this debilitating disease.
Was this awareness what prompted your letter for 4/20 Comedy Festival? What brought it about?
One of the mandates of Yonge-Dundas Square is to provide a space for public gathering and community events. As the local councillor and a member of the Yonge-Dundas Square Board, I am often asked to submit letters of support for community events so that the registration fee can be waived and regularly support a range of community events held in Yonge-Dundas Square. This year I received a letter from the organizers of the 4/20 Comedy Festival asking for a letter of support and I was pleased to be able to support the event.
In your words explain to international readers – how important is Y&D Square to Toronto?
Last year, Yonge-Dundas Square celebrated its 10th anniversary. The south east corner of Yonge-Dundas is unrecognizable from what it was 20 years ago. The vision to create a premier public square has been surpassed. Yonge-Dundas Square has become a destination in itself for Toronto. Its known as a place to meet up; a place to see a free concert; a place for events; a place to protest; and a place of community.
The rally has morphed from a handful of activists into a great event – are Toronto residents becoming more comfortable with cannabis?
With the legalization of cannabis in American cities, I believe that across North America, the views on marijuana use are changing. From the 4/20 Comedy Festival, to the Freedom Festival and Global Marijuana March, the interest in cannabis culture across the GTA seems to be growing.
How many residents protesting will it take to have Toronto City Council create an Amsterdam-style green light district? Do you see this happening?
I see the debate on marijuana and cannabis legalization is taking place mainly on the federal level right now. I don’t see residents of Toronto demanding to have a particular geographic area designated for cannabis use, but there seems to be a growing population that is more comfortable with cannabis use and as the debate evolves at the federal level, time will tell how Toronto retailers will respond to address the interest and demand.
Matt Mernagh is a regular contributor to Cannabis Culture and author of “Marijuana Smoker’s Guidebook: The Easy Way To Identify and Enjoy Marijuana Strains” from Amazon.