All photos via Becca Lemire
Toronto residents who don't routinely collect bounties on lost cats, and don't get their information about current events from telephone poles, probably missed the posters for the High Park marijuana scavenger hunt. The ads were simple: Text a number, get a map, and hunt for weed.
They began appearing months ago, crediting an organization known as the “MIB," or Marijuana Info Bureau, which allegedly dispenses free weed prizes daily. While the group’s borrowed logo from the 1997 Will Smith classic Men in Black, a sufficient amount of pot leaves decorating its colorless photocopied flyer, and the hashtag #FreeWeed all indicate the work of fully functioning stoners, the likelihood that a public weed scavenger hunt would actually take place seemed highly implausible.
Despite the apparent sketchiness of the whole operation, however, Chris, the man behind MIB, was incredibly easy to find.
After his secretary passed him his cell phone, Chris was able to offer a bit of an understanding as to how this all works. Firstly, for legal reasons, there's no actual pot at these events. Instead, participants scavenge vouchers for a total of $25,000 worth of weed paraphernalia like free bongs, pipes, rolling papers, vaporizers, and edibles, as well as coupons for discounted weed. In order to get the pot you do need medical clearance, but as Chris explained, this is actually easier to obtain than most people think.
“People are still confused about what they need to qualify. Most people think they need cancer or serious illness, but under the new program you can qualify with trouble eating, trouble sleeping, migraines, menstrual cramps, stress. Just plain old anxiety will get you qualified for a prescription.”
These two stoners won as big as they dressed.
So if all it takes is a stubbed toe or a serious case of FOMO to get a medical marijuana prescription, what's stopping everyone from exploiting the system? “It is up to doctors,” Chris offers. “You will get an evaluation, so if they feel like your symptoms aren’t real you won't get one. Realistically, though, people can qualify for many minor reasons.” But if your doctor’s being a narc about it, Chris is all too happy to refer you to his own doctor, who has helped many patients get their scripts.
Chris—who can be seen in full medical marijuana fairy mode in
this video from a hunt at Christie Pitts Park—receives medical pot himself for a blood-cell deficiency known as cytosis. He funds these events with the profits from the Toronto Friends of Marijuana, a compassion club that offers various strains of cannabis from licensed dispensaries in Vancouver, for purchase to those with a membership and a doctor-approved diagnosis.
Many of the MIB weed hunt's attendees showed up in their Sunday's best.
These compassion clubs are not part of the federal medical cannabis program, and their role within the marijuana-distribution system is still being debated—and you can watch our short documentary piece on a particularly rowdy compassion club that was raided by Vancouver Police in the summer of this year. These clubs operate in a strange, lawless gray zone in which they offer services for cheaper-than-licensed producer prices (i.e., the legal weed factories that the government authorizes to grow for patients).
“The whole purpose of doing these treasure hunts is to raise awareness about compassion clubs,” Chris says.
Whatever the cause, the event went ahead as promised. Participants came out on a sunny Sunday afternoon to scour the park for one of the many hidden prizes. As groups of stoner-chic teens drifted past me with their treasure maps in hand, I got the feeling that they weren’t learning anything about compassion clubs that day—but at least they were out of the house.
All of the park's greenery makes it hard to find the good stuff.
The disparate teams of chronic-hunters, which I would estimate in number between 50 and 100, seemed in good spirits, and without any organizers or rallying points set up, it would have been impossible to tell that anything of this nature was even taking place. When I came across two dudes poking into a recycling bin, I asked how their search was going. One somberly explained that someone had come first thing in the morning and found most of the prizes. But they weren’t going home empty handed—and flashed me a stack of MIB cards that entitled them to weed lollipops and cookies.
While these two pals were more inclined to find a chill place to hang out and smoke their own easily accessible weeds that day, I began to realize that the real treasure lay not in hidden black envelopes but in the bonding experience we'd all just shared. Redeeming the prizes was another mission in itself, as you have to once again text a provided number and arrange a meet-up. You may be better off just texting your dealer, but still, these hunts offer a higher chance of free weed and paraphernalia than most days at the park do.
Since quitting his job at a long-distance phone-call provider for the no-brainer choice of organizing events like stoned dodgeball, Chris has made running weed hunts and MIB in general his full-time occupation: “Half the weeks I'm happy if I break even,” he told me. “But this feels like the best work I've ever done.”
With more events planned for fall, including a Halloween hunt at Canada's Wonderland, the organization will continue its mission of bleeding money and spreading the accessibility of medical weed.