Toronto Cannabis History Tour or The Cannabus Syllabus

It’s not as bad as the dark ages, but prohibition has had a huge effect on wiping out cannabis culture history. Until the internet most cannabis knowledge was passed directly to one another during a session or possibly read in a magazine. Prohibition creates a perfect storm for lost knowledge and losing our history prevents us from understanding our past. It also helps us avoid repeated mistakes and creates a solid foundation for our movement.

There’s little effort to preserve culturally significant Toronto spots of any kind and I didn’t think cannabis enthusiasts even cared about Toronto cannabis history. Afterall every day thousands of Toronto residents, many of whom are tokers, will walk pass significant spots people once smoked pot at and have no idea this was where the weed action once was.

Then I posted a Facebook status about planning a cannabis history workshop with my friend dispensary owner Amy Anonymous for Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy annual conference and the likes and requests to attend was impressive. Apparently I had greatly underestimated enthusiasts desire to learn more about Toronto’s cannabis history.

Tickets for registrants almost sold out instantly and the potential to do more tours for enthusiasts appears realistic.

Read My Cannabus Syllabus

In 1988 Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s government introduced laws to ban literature promoting cannabis and bongs. Mulroney was friends with President Ronald Reagan and this legislation was aimed to create a Canadian made US style War on Drugs. Niagara Falls MP Rob Nicholson is a staunch god fearing prohibitionist (including booze btw) and he is most likely responsible for this piece of legislation – he was vice chair of the justice committee at the time.

Nicholson religious views have played a huge role in shaping Canada’s cannabis laws. He was recently responsible for passing legislation on mandatory marijuana jail sentences. However, back in 1988 he was only creeping towards this ultimate goal by banning literature and bongs.

The literature ban was overturned by Marc Emery – who will be on the bus. However, it’s the bong ban that continues to pose problems for potheads. Just a few weeks ago Ontario Provincial Police raided a shop The Tripping Daisy and took all their smoking gear and laid a charge.

Back before the law, Toronto had approximately 200 head shops on four city block stretch of Yonge St. Many were located in a flea market at what is now Yonge and Dundas Square – where we protest annually on 4/20 – but this stretch was government gentrified and all but a few shops on Yonge St. have closed.

Recognizing it’d be a manpower challenge to close all the headshops, Toronto Police Service simply sent letters to owners demanding they close or they would raid them under criminal code 462.2. Notorious for their heavy handedness few owners resisted Toronto Police Service 52nd Division demands for closure.  

Now cheap glass is being sold at corner stores, but it’s possible the fed’s will lower the boom on bongs again. Ontario Safety League is using their lobbying powers on provincial legislature to reignite the bong ban.

We visit Borohead Glass Gallery to learn about the legal history of bongs, glass culture and the resurgence Canadian glassblowers.

Did 2003 summer of legalization save Toronto from SARS?

In 2003 Toronto suffered from an outbreak of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), but overshadowing this event was you could smoke marijuana legally. The law against possession was struck down by the court because the government failed to enact a medical marijuana program and the consequence was no marijuana law for the feds. Essentially if you possessed pot you could smoke it in a park and the cops couldn’t charge you, but there are instances where they did.

Kensington Market has a great park to puff pot in, but the bike cops are always on patrol. Recognizing opportunity, Abbi Roach turned the backyard space of her headshop into ‘potio’ and invited people to come toke for a fee. The rules were simple; no asking, no fishing, no mooching, no selling. If you had pot on you – you could smoke it.

Known as bring your own bud shops or vapor lounges – these venues have sprung up in other parts of Toronto, but Hotbox Cafe was the first. The laws changed and police could lay possession charges, but they haven’t.

Are they demonstrating restraint? Sensible policing?  

When city of Toronto staff poked around to figure out what was happening here, their study Review of Businesses Operating as Vapour Lounges and a Discussion of the Status of Medical Marihuana determined were necessary because medical patients use them.

Toronto Tourism was suffering from SARS outbreak, but did the opportunity to smoke marijuana publicly prevent Toronto tourism from tanking in 2003? Some people think so.

We visit Hotbox Cafe to learn about bring your own bud cafes and do a hands on tutorial on marijuana vaporization.

It’s Too Cold To Stop But We’ll Drive By

1. Queens Park – home to the Global Marijuana March. Cannabis prohibition is a federal offence, but that hasn’t stopped the provincial government from cracking down on grow-ops.

2. Statue of the Unknown Student. This is what is left of Rochdale – an experiment in communal living and education gone ganja. This seventeen story apartment building became the largest marijuana distribution warehouse in North America. There’s no historical marker to alert people to this epic spot in Canada’s cannabis history. Why? Pot TV High Society Rochdale College Part 1 Pot TV High Society Rochdale College Part 2

3. 33 Russell Ave is home to the cannabis experiments on willing women. Think television show Big Brother, but include marijuana. The study was never release because the results were too pot positive? Will the provincial Liberals ever release this report? Results of 1972 marijuana study still not public.

4. Yorkville Ave (not to be confused with Yorkville Mall) is now Toronto’s trendiest shopping strip, but in ‘60s it was hippie heaven. Canada’s first head shop was located in Yorkville, but the buildings have changed that the owner couldn’t tell you where exactly it was now. See a photo archive of Yorkvile Ave collected by York University.

Celebrate 420 at Activist Hub Vapor Central

We wrap up at Vapor Central because it gives us an opportunity to use their awesome multimedia setup to take questions and show videos. It just happens to be, in my opinion, the best spot to celebrate 420 in Toronto. There’s plenty of opportunity to relax while we review new material and use videos to hammer home material we spoke about.

While this workshop’s seating was limited do to bus space, Vapor Central manager Chris Goodwin will demonstrate his Livestream skills by webcasting the whole event on Pot TV. Begins 2pm EST.

Matt Mernagh
Matt Mernagh

Matt Mernagh is author of Marijuana Smoker's Guidebook The Easy Way To Identify and Enjoy Marijuana Strains ( by Green Candy Press and hosts a weekly weedy webcast The Menahuana Zone on Pot.TV every Tuesday. The Mernagh Ruling is a test case of Canada's cannabis laws and was spearheaded by Mernagh, lawyer Paul Lewin and 22 witnesses from across Canada.