Portrait of a weed reporter. Photos by Jesse Milns/Leafly (left) and Sasha Kalra
I’m standing in a cordoned off outdoor area of King Street West in Toronto, nestled in between a poke restaurant and a gym with an intimidatingly fit clientele. There are a few heaters, stacks of firewood, and faux bonfires around which people are seated on wooden benches roasting marshmallows. Servers walk around handing out ingredients for the s'mores, which come in dark, milk, and white chocolate.
Behind me, someone is playing with a set of giant Jenga.A voice speaking into a microphone says, “It’s not all the time you get to say ‘I live through this moment. I was there when it happened.’ Enjoy it, enjoy being a part of it.”The voice belongs to Sam Roberts of the Sam Roberts Band—who is playing an acoustic set of classics including Brother Down—and the moment to which he’s referring is Canada’s legalization of recreational weed. Sam Roberts, one of Canada’s biggest acts throughout the aughts, is playing for a room that fits about 50 people.
You may be thinking, what do Sam Roberts and s'mores have to do with weed? Well, the company behind the event is Fireside Cannabis—a recreational weed brand launched by licensed producer ABcann. It actually took me a little while to find that information, because as of this writing, their website simply says, “Fireside means good moments with good company.”I’m here as part of mission to explore what the new culture around cannabis is going to be, post-legalization.Somewhat ironically, it’s boozy.There’s a bar in the corner of the Fireside event serving free hot chocolate, cider, mulled wine, and dark and stormys.It’s also clever, and a little sneaky. Due to the deluge of strict regulations set out by various levels of government, cannabis companies have to be pretty creative about how they market their products. One of the main issues is they can’t actually have any weed at their events.
I’m told the three flavours of chocolate for the s'mores represent the three different THC products that will be offered by the brand—FIRESIDE Black: a high THC product; FIRESIDE Red: a medium THC product; and FIRESIDE Gold: a THC/CBD product. There’s swag abound—everyone leaves with a goodie bag that contains a campfire mug, red and black toques, and a bright yellow blanket, all branded with Fireside’s flame logo.
It all feels very bougie and I can’t help but think of how far we’ve come from the days when I was a teenager in Vancouver, smoking weed in an alleyway beside the movie theatre hoping not to get busted (not that Vancouver was ever super anal about weed.)As a cannabis reporter, I get bombarded with invitations to parties, many of which on the surface seem to have very little to do with the substance itself. Though things like a night of “energy healing, aura readings, curated crystal sessions” or a “lively lumberjack show” on Toronto Island sound fun, I often end up declining these invites because I’m busy, tired, or just don’t feel up for something promotional. Plus, I hate networking.But a couple of weeks ago, I changed my mind. I decided to start going to everything I was invited to in an effort to determine how cannabis companies were branding themselves, what kind of money they were spending on marketing, who was in attendance, and mainly: what is the cannabis scene going to look like now that rec weed is legal. The short answer is, there are a lot more options than the hazy, glass bong, stoner culture I grew up around on the West Coast. Whether you’re into “wellness”, hipster campfire vibes, street art, or consider yourself an “influencer” there’s probably a weed company for you.
Here are my observations on this strange new world.
On the day I decide to lean into weed events, I’m invited to something called the Cannabis Society Dinner of Influence, hosted by The Cannabis Society.My invite says the group is “building an exciting community of Cannabis entrepreneurs & enthusiasts locally (Toronto) and internationally” and I’m told I can waive the $99 ticket price by using my first name as a promo code. To get a ticket, I have to fill out what sector I represent, so I choose “social media influencer” because there is no category for journalists, at which point I am prompted to indicate how many followers I have online. It feels a bit weird, but I’m trying to keep an open mind.
September 26—Cannabis Society Dinner of Influence
The event is being held at Figures restaurant in Yorkville, a part of town that’s way too posh for me to frequent. I arrive at the event, sponsored by licensed producer WeedMD, and immediately start asking people about Ontario’s new policy around cannabis retail shops, which dropped earlier in the day.Dr. Jonas Vanderzwan, a tall, attractive primary care doctor who is medical director for WeedMD, tells me he’s surprised to learn that of the Progressive Conservative government’s decision to only allow LPs one retail outlet each in the province. Vanderzwan—who people seem to simply refer to as “Dr. Jonas”, like he’s a TV doctor—is placed next to me at dinner. But before we eat, everyone has to go around and say who they are and what they hope to get out of the night. There’s an interesting mix—people who work for LPs, a head shop owner, a patient who travels from New Jersey to Canada just to get medical weed, and a bunch of people who refer to themselves as social media influencers without a shred of irony. Many say they are here because they want to see the stigma around cannabis reduced—the head shop owner, Robin Ellins of the Friendly Stranger, says we should replace the term “cannabis user” with “cannabis consumer” because “user” carries a negative connotation.
When my turn comes, I say that I’m a reporter here for the scoops.Dr. Jonas hosts a short q + a talking about the challenges surrounding medical weed, including resistance within the medical community and federal government’s strict new laws against impaired driving, which could criminalize patients who medicate daily.Dinner is a tasty buffet with fried chicken and salmon as main dishes and really fucking good donuts with what tastes like banana cream filling for dessert. There is also an open bar serving palomas.After dinner, there’s an educational session on edibles, including tips about microdosing. I oblige a request for an on-camera interview about what I took away from the evening, but stop short of posing with WeedMD merch because of obvious reasons.There’s some time set aside for “deal making” and then myself, organizer Billy Hennessey, and Dr. Jonas head to Patria, a tapas bar on King West, for an after party being held for Elevate, a tech conference taking place in Toronto this week. After some finessing, Billy gets us all in and we chat with one of his friends who seems to have met Wyclef Jean earlier in the day. I down my tequila and leave thinking about how old I feel.
AltaVie is a “premium cannabis brand designed with the higher-end, wellness-focused consumer in mind.” I learn this from a press release because again their website has no information.The company is an offering by LP MedReleaf and claims it will have a full roster of strains suited to its wellness-focused consumers in time for legalization. AltaVie invites me to two sessions hosted at its pop-up lounge on Queen West—”a relaxing sound bath led by sound healer and performance artist The Only Alexandria” or a mindfulness session with health coach Julian Brass.
September 27—Mindfulness session by AltaVie Lounge
I decide to attend the mindfulness session. I have tried mindfulness and cognitive behaviour therapy in the past to deal with a pain condition, and I hated it. I was just very bad at shutting off my brain and found meditation to be painfully boring. But I absolutely see the value in it, so I am interested in trying it again.
I arrive at the lounge, which is serving a variety of teas as well as red and white Jackson-Triggs wine; I gladly down a couple glasses of white, even though I’m a bit surprised that there’s booze at a mindfulness event. The space is bright and earthy, with white walls, plants and plant-themed wallpaper, and a lot of geometric shelves and signage. On the walls, there’s basic information about cannabis, including the differences between THC and CBD, and indica versus sativa.Upstairs, there are rows of chairs and what I can only describe as pods to sit down on. Each chair has a box of water on it. This is where the mindfulness session with Brass is taking place.Brass has us start by putting our hands on two strangers and saying, “Congrats you’re awesome for being here.”He talks about founding Notable.ca, an online lifestyle brand, and about the crippling anxiety that accompanied his success in the startup world.He’s overwhelmingly positive.“I believe that we’re all put on this earth to share light and to share love,” he says, noting we can walk away from this session with “life-enhancing” tools.
He walks us through several exercises involving breathing, concentration, and at one point asks us to look into a partner’s eyes. He tells us we can use anxiety as a tool, if we learn to master it, but seems to imply that we’re weak if we are unable to do that. It strikes me as a questionable theory and I want to challenge it but I also want to leave.I’m getting antsy. I have to attend a Halloween party at Casa Loma right after and I’m thinking about what time I have to get there. To distract myself, I down three cartons of the free water. I pee and check my makeup. Then, before the session is over, I excuse myself. I get downstairs and down one more glass of wine before rushing off. I guess I still haven’t figured out mindfulness.
RIFF is a cannabis brand that falls under the LP Aphria. It describes itself as a “lifestyle x cannabis brand co-created by the Co.LAB, a collective of creators and artists who love a good joint effort.”I’m invited to a party for Nuit Blanche, an annual event in Toronto during which art installations are set all over the city and people explore them/party all night.The party is held at a venue on Ossington Avenue called Coterie, that has an industrial, converted-garage feel to it. As always, there’s free booze. There are artists finishing up large scale street art depicting things like a primate skeleton on the walls. I’m into the vibe but to be honest, I’m already pretty buzzed when I arrive, having dipped into a Harry Potter-themed bar just before. So I end up having a long conversation with a couple of the organizers about what tattoo I should get next. After getting their advice, I down a beer and leave.
September 29—RIFF presents NOIR, a Nuit Blanche party
It’s a bit of a shame because I actually feel like this brand is most in line with my personal taste. It feels cool but not pretentious.
Finally! A launch for a product where you can actually see and touch the product! This event, held in a space on the east end of the city, is for a new ceramic vaporizer from Vapium, a Canadian company that purportedly sells the “iPhone” of vapes in 20 countries. The Lite, a portable vape, is for dried bud and costs $100.There are also a couple other products on display including a medical grade vaporizer—with versions for bud and extract—and a $350 dab rig that looks like it came straight out of Silicon Valley.
October 2—Launch of Vapium's LITE vaporizer
Lining the staircase that leads upstairs are framed accolades for Vapium’s products from outlets like GQ, Maxim, and The Cannabist. Promotional videos featuring vaporizers in outdoor settings play on screens.The snacks—Korean spring rolls, crostini, mac and cheese balls—are my favourite of all the parties I’ve attended so far. There’s also free wine but I decline because I feel sorry for my body. Vapium co-founder Lisa Harun, who runs the company with her husband, is fun to chat with—you can tell she’s savvy af, but she’s also not overly serious. She warns me not to pull an “Irish goodbye”—which I lowkey was considering—because every guest is getting a free Vapium Lite.Tummy full, I collect my vape and leave. So far I have no complaints with it.
I went into pretty great detail about this event already so all I will add is that I can’t stop listening to Sam Roberts now.
October 11—FIRESIDE Lodge pop-up
It’s the eve of legalization and I am tired. My inbox is flooded with pitches, I’m stressed about the stories I have to file, and boxes of weed swag are piling over at my desk. But I decide to rally for one last event, Leafly’s Bud Drop party, which is like New Year’s Eve in Times Square, but it’s held at the Mod Club in Toronto and instead of a ball, a giant bud sculpture descends from the ceiling at midnight.I show up as cover band Dwayne Gretzky is playing Bobcaygeon by the Tragically Hip, which is even more Canadian than the Sam Roberts bonfire party. I am surprised that something can be more Canadian than a Sam Roberts bonfire party.
October 16—Leafly Bud Drop
I actually arrive just before midnight, and my eye is immediately drawn to the giant green bud of cannabis dangling from the ceiling. It’s oddly beautiful—it looks like there is backlit glass woven into it. There’s weed trivia playing on screens around me.“We have 10 more minutes of being criminals everybody,” shouts someone from the band. In my head, I’m thinking technically there is no legal recreational weed available in Ontario at midnight so everyone blazing—aside from medical patients—will still be doing so illegally. But no one wants to hear that shit.The crowd is eclectic. I’m on a platform to the right of the stage and an older woman is rocking out hard next to a man in brown overalls. I easily make my way to the front because people are baked and the crowd is not even remotely aggressive. The ball drops as the band plays Wake Up by Arcade Fire and even though I’m tired, the energy from everyone around me in that moment is a little infectious. I post a sick Insta story.
I haul ass into a corner and log onto the Ontario Cannabis Store to order a couple grams of Indica and check out how well the site is functioning. Then I leave. On the sidewalk outside, I run into Jonathan Hirsh, a cannabis educator. He is doing a dab of rosin because he brought his dab rig with him. “Merry Weedmas!” he says to his friend.
I chat with him for a bit and then grab an Uber home, relieved that I’m done with my seemingly endless foray into Big Weed parties. Until I realize that when I wake up it’ll be “C-Day” and I have four more celebrations to attend, including a party by VICE and Tweed at the Drake.Follow Manisha Krishnan on Twitter.Sign up for the VICE Canada Newsletter to get the best of VICE Canada delivered to your inbox.