All photos by Allison Elkin
In the future, when marijuana legalization is finally here, stoners who lived through prohibition will think back to a moment (or several) when we finally realized the end was in sight. A moment that made us reflect on how far we’d come from the days of crawling into the backseat of a Honda Civic in a Canadian Tire parking lot to purchase a dime bag of shake.
For me that moment came last Saturday, when I attended a cannabis-themed ball in downtown Toronto.
Marketed as “Canada’s first vapour gala,” the Go Greene Winter Gala was held at a “private upscale location” made known to ticketholders the day of. Go Greene is an advocacy group that promotes diversity within the cannabis community. It was founded former Alaska-based TV journalist Charlo Greene, who quit her job on air to become a full-time activist.
I arrived at the downtown address—a giant brick warehouse with peeling white paint—only to discover I’d been there before for another, less formal, weed-focused outing. The time previous, I’d greened out after doing my first dab, which might explain why I hadn’t managed to take in the fascinating interior decor. Hallways featured eclectic wall “hangings” including a pitchfork from a child’s halloween costume and a rubber chicken, as well as the occasional hole. While snapping shots of it, our photographer stumbled backward into a sheet of scrap metal and stacks of styrofoam. Needless to say, the organizers took liberties with the term “upscale location,” but that was kind of a relief. I’m not quite ready for stoners to be hosting their parties at the same bottle service clubs Drake hangs out at/owns.
A table outside the door of the party room was stacked with goodies like THC-infused soda, cookies and candy. I passed, and by that I mean I stuffed them into my purse, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to interview people baked. Once outfitted with green wristbands, we headed into what was akin to a massive hotbox. There was green lighting, gold balloons that spelled out “Go Greene,” and a green carpet that was made of felt or something very similar to felt and was secured to the floor with visible packing tape.
The 80 or so guests were instructed to dress to impress, and many of them obliged, wearing gowns, tuxedos and random head gear. (I put on a grey dress that I wear to work all the time because I’m lazy.) They posed for photos in front of a backdrop branded with the names of different cannabis industry sponsors—the kind normally reserved for film festivals and obnoxious clubs.
“We got to dress up and we get to go dancing on Saturday night. It’s really nice to see all these guys dressed for something besides court,” said longtime patients’ advocate Tracy Curley, known as Weed Woman Canada, who donned a flowy, bright green frock and matching spectacles that contrasted sharply with her red hair.
Despite most of her remarks being punctuated by giggles, Curley told me she’s concerned about news that former Toronto police chief Bill Blair will be managing the Liberals’ legalization scheme.
“I hear Bill Blair and I hear ‘G20’ but then I also [think], at least he went after Rob Ford,” she said. “It’s scary because he’s consulting with the prohibitionist side of things but I’m really hoping Trudeau and the Liberals are paying attention to our side as well.”
About halfway into the night, Greene gave a speech about all the work that still needs to be accomplished on the legalization front. Wearing a mint-green ballgown, her purple hair flowing, she didn’t mince words when she told me prohibition is a form of slavery.
“Prohibition and mass incarceration go hand and when you have a dollar on every person that comes into a prison system… and you have police that have a vested interest in locking up these same people again and again and again… that’s when we get into people being traded as commodities,” she said.
Part of Go Greene’s mission is to help people who’ve been saddled with criminal records due to the War on Drugs.
“When they leave jail with one of these cannabis crimes, it’s not like everything is a clean slate. You don’t get to go to school, you don’t get to live in certain places. You are a second class citizen.”
Despite the heaviness, though, the event itself, a hybrid concert/smoke session/networking opportunity, was mostly upbeat.
Caterers made their way around the room carrying trays of prosciutto-wrapped melon and black bean cakes, while hip-hop artists and DJs performed on a slightly elevated stage. The bar was manned by two dabtenders with blowtorches. (There was no booze on premise, which is probably for the best.)
Sarah Gilles, who works at promotions/events company The High Five, was serving up weed juice shots and giving away swag bags filled with her cannabis-infused beauty products like body butter and a scrub. She told me weed is responsible for her glowing “420 face” (think nice skin, not someone who is having an allergic reaction to a cat) and that people who suffer from skin conditions and pain should consider using it.
“For someone who’s not a 420 smoker it’s a nice gateway to learn about it and see the benefits without getting high.”
Brian Kierans, 30, whose day job is in TV production and who recently launched Dovercourt Bakery, was pimping his cookies. He’s always been a baker and is a longtime medical marijuana patient, so about a year ago he decided to merge the two passions. When asked about backlash facing edibles—Vancouver has banned them on the grounds that they’re too appealing to kids—he said it’s all about common sense.
“We have a chance in Ontario to show BC and the rest of Canada how to regulate edibles properly,” he said. “Proper dosing, proper packaging… No one lets their children near medication.”
I heard reports that members of the finance and real estate industries were floating around in the hopes of connecting with potential clients, though I never bumped into any myself.
Our photographer and I were separated briefly until I found her sitting alone on a bright red dentist’s chair beside the bathroom, hair tousled and eyes glazed.
“I did dabs,” she said, as if that explained everything. It did. “I seriously actually can’t feel my face right now.” Her words convinced me to do one, after which we posted on a couch in the loft discussing all the times we’d ghosted on events because we were too high. Then we did exactly that.
In hindsight, I realized the weed ball was novel for more than just its atmosphere; there seemed to be no fear of being busted by cops and, for the first time in my experience reporting on drugs, no one hesitated to give me their name.
But the party is only a small reflection of movements taking place across the country. Pot shops (including a recreational one with a dab bar), already well-established on the West Coast, are making their way east. Judges have beencalling bullshit on possession-related cases due to the “ridiculous” laws they hinge on, and politicians are vocalizing their visions for having cannabis sold in liquor stores. Dealers are even hosting holiday sales.
So while pragmatists will tell you legalization is a long way from being reality, in some ways it seems it’s already here.