Toronto Trip: The Global Marijuana March, Vapor Central, and the Mernagh Case

Amazing photo by Al Graham from the 2012 GMM in Toronto. That's me on the right with the camera!Amazing photo by Al Graham from the 2012 GMM in Toronto. That’s me on the right with the camera!One of the great things about being a professional pot journalist (and believe me, there are many) is enjoying the opportunity to travel to foreign metropoleis to conspire with likeminded cannabis activists and sample fine strains of marijuana.

Of late, I’ve been lucky enough to spend a weekend or two each year in what has become one of my favorite cities on the planet: Toronto.

T-dot, home of The CN Tower, The Maple Leafs, and a fuckload of cement, is also home of the world’s largest chapter of the Global Marijuana March (GMM) and Canada’s biggest marijuana trade show, The Treating Yourself Expo.

The city is also home to a spirited and ever-growing contingent of Canada’s cannabis culture, comprised of dedicated pot-smokers and political activists who call numerous headshops and vapor lounges their respective home bases.

This year I paid a visit to Toronto on the weekend of May 5 for the 14th-Annual Global Marijuana March, the largest rally held in any of the 167 participating cities from 29 nations.

It was an excellent trip I shared with two wonderful travelling companions: my girlfriend Carina Gonzalez, and my boss and good friend Jodie Emery (the publisher of Cannabis Culture and wife of Prince of Pot Marc Emery).

Though we made several stops at various locations throughout the city, the vast majority of our time was spent at just a few regular spots and Main Events of activism.

Vapor Central

Our favorite place to play while in Toronto is undoubtedly Vapor Central, the city’s largest marijuana smoking lounge.

VC is located at 667 Yonge Street (near Charles) in the heart of downtown Toronto, next door to the marijuana superstore Toronto Hemp Company, and boasts what is probably one of the largest hot-boxes on the planet.

Volcano Vaporizers and very high patrons perpetually fill the tables, chairs and couches of the second-floor lounge, and on any given night music and movies play on large flatscreen TVs and a bass-bumping sound system. On other nights, local comedians take to the stage to squeeze laughs out of stoned-sideways audiences, who have access to bong and oil-rig rentals and a large selection of drinks and snacks.

Though it’s hard to NOT have a great time at Vapor Central, it isn’t all fun, fatties, and Frito-Lays for the hard-working team of activists who make the place tick. Manager Chris Goodwin and many of his staff are part of one of Toronto’s most prominent and prolific pot activist groups, The Hash Mob, and continually bust their asses on their own time to help to organize protest rallies and other forms of marijuana activism throughout the city.

Goodwin and his amazing team are more than just friends to me and many other Vancouver pot activists, they are family. On this trip, we visited Vapor Central every single day we were in town, to reunite with members of Toronto’s pot community and make sure we were highly medicated.

Vapor Central is also home to Pot TV’s Toronto Studios; that is, the lounge itself becomes the studio when hosts like Cannabis Champion Matt Mernagh take the stage and broadcast LIVE on the Pot TV Network.

I broadcast my show, Cannabis Culture News LIVE, from VC on the night of Friday, May 4 with Matt Mernagh as my co-host and GMM Organizer Gabe Simms as my guest.

The show was of a more controversial nature than usual. An almost-heated debate broke out between hosts and guest and there were some moments where you could cut the tension with a blowtorch.

We’ll get back to that in a second, but first a little background: For the last five years, organizers of the GMM hosted a simultaneous Toronto Freedom Festival (TFF) gathering in Queen’s Park as part of the GMM event. This festival, unlike the march, was permitted by the city to use the park space to set up vendor booths and stages for speeches and live music.

This year, the city of Toronto told organizers of the GMM/TFF they would not be allowed to host the TFF in Queen’s Park. After unsuccessfully searching for an alternative location, the organizers threw in the TFF towel (at least for this year) and decided to focus on just the GMM.

Simms and the official organizers of the GMM devised a plan for the march that saw protesters leave Queen’s Park at 12 Noon instead of the traditional 2 PM departure time, and disperse by 3 PM at a designated “dispersal point” instead of marching back to Queen’s Park (where the city had not started any construction) or another location like Yonge-Dundas Square for a 4:20 celebration.

Hash Mob activists including Matt Mernagh, who were not official organizers of the march, opposed the plan and said marchers should leave the park at the regular 2 PM departure time and be somewhere for 4:20.

I had to agree with Matt and couldn’t understand why organizers would want to disperse the crowd before the big moment at 4:20. I put forward a strong line of questioning but in the end didn’t receive much of a suitable explanation in my opinion. Watch the episode on Pot TV.

For the last hour of the show, Jodie Emery gave an rousing speech about the perils of Stephen Harper’s War on Marijuana and her husband’s fight for freedom for a packed Vapor Central. It was a great night.

The March

The next morning we were at Queen’s Park by 11 AM, attempting immediately to convince organizers to wait until 2 PM before marching, which would give the crowd time to grow much larger.

After discussions with Toronto Police, who didn’t seem to mind the idea, Simms switched the time back to 2 PM and we waiting for a massive crowd to gather.

When marchers hit the pavement at 2 PM, there must have been 20,000 people gathered in the park. The sea of bodies streamed through the city streets leaving only a thick cloud of cannabis smoke behind. The march included several floats and vehicles like a large flatbed 16-wheeler that acted as a stage for bands and dancing mascots. Jodie Emery and the NORML Women’s Alliance led the march, which seemed to sprawl forever into the distance behind.

See photos from the Global Marijuana March 2012 on Cannabis Culture:

During the march, protesters sparked fat joints as they walked by police officers who didn’t move from their posted positions or make any arrests.

As I took photos and video with multiple cameras for Cannabis Culture, activist Matt Oliver presented a LIVE broadcast of the march on the Pot TV Network using a 4G modem and a mini laptop. We were just two of hundreds of photographers who swarmed the crowd, documenting the day’s activities on their digital devices.

Watch the video I made for Pot TV with the footage I shot:

Watch more video of the 2012 GMM shot and edited by Mik Mann, host of Pot TV’s Opus LIVE.

Turning a couple corners and eventually making a big loop, marchers headed back to Queen’s Park in huge numbers for the gigantic 4:20 smokeshow. All was well with the cannabis cosmos.

Though it didn’t include a TFF, this year’s GMM was likely the biggest yet, and received attention from most of the major media companies. One, CP24, even had a vehicle in the march. Read a collection of mainstream news stories about the 2012 GMM.

The Wedding

Newlyweds Chris and Erin Goodwin.Newlyweds Chris and Erin Goodwin.On the night of May 5, Carina, Jodie and I – and many of our friends and fellow activists – were invited to a most excellent and weedy wedding. It was the union of two Hash Mob activists, VC manager Chris Goodwin and his lovely fiancé Erin Gorman.

The bride looked gorgeous in her dress and and groom was glowing as he gave firm handshakes to his friends and family. The ceremony was beautiful and the entire production top-notch, and hilarious thanks to comedians Bryan O’Gorman and Hunter Collins (who are regulars at VC comedy nights – see some of their hilarious shit on YouTube).

The wedding included Jewish elements I had never seen in person before, like the breaking of the glass with a shout of “Mazel tov”. At one point the bride and groom, still sitting in their chairs, were hoisted into the air by family members as guests danced around the action.

We all had an enjoyable night and consumed a ridiculous amount of booze. Thankfully everything turned out golden, aside from some brutal hangovers the next day.

Many thanks and best wishes to Chris and Erin!

Matt Mernagh in Court

On Monday morning we visited the Ontario Court of Appeal to see Matt Mernagh fighting a government appeal of the judge’s verdict in his recent medical marijuana case.

Cannabis Champion Matt Mernagh at the GMM.Cannabis Champion Matt Mernagh at the GMM.Matt, a medical marijuana patient who suffers from numerous serious aliments including fibromyalgia, scoliosis, and seizures, was not able to find a doctor willing to sign the paperwork allowing him legal access to his medicine. Matt was busted growing 32 pot plants on his balcony and arrested. With his lawyer Paul Lewin, he challenged the constitutionality of a system that would see a disabled medical patient put behind bars for attempting to make himself better. The judge agreed with his argument.

In his decision, Justice Donald Taliano found that the MMAR and “the prohibitions against the possession and production of cannabis (marihuana) contained in sections 4 and 7 respectively of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act” are “constitutionally invalid and of no force and effect.”

He also said Canadian doctors’ “overwhelming refusal to participate in the medicinal marijuana program completely undermines the effectiveness of the program” and that “the requirement for a medical doctor’s declaration has rendered the MMAR unconstitutional.”

The government appealed the decision, so Matt and his lawyer – and an army of attorneys intervening on behalf of various groups including the Canadian Civil Liberties Association – were back in court for two days.

Jodie and I sat in for the morning session to see the government prosecutor take a beating from the three judges on the stand. It was almost hard to watch as he stuttered and asked if he could “get back” to the judges “after lunch” on one of their questions. Hopefully that will work in Matt’s favor come verdict time (which could be days or months).

During a break for lunch, Matt spoke to the cameras outside of the courtroom about the ongoing case. Watch the video on Pot TV:

Read a detailed account of the two-day proceedings by Ontario Freedom Party Leader Paul McKeever on CC.

Matt will join my show, Cannabis Culture News LIVE today at 4 PM Pacific to discuss the details of his case and the successful GMM 2012 in Toronto.

As we left the courtroom and made our way for the plane back to Vancouver, I felt a little sad we were leaving such good memories and friends behind. Then I remembered we’d be back in just a few weeks for the Treating Yourself Expo from May 25 – 27 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

T-dot, here we come!

Jeremiah Vandermeer
Jeremiah Vandermeer

Jeremiah Vandermeer is Cannabis Culture Chief of Operations and Editor of Cannabis Culture Magazine & Pot TV.