Nothing screams “happy birthday” like a free stash of weed. So when I heard the rumour that several dispensaries on Vancouver’s Main Street have been known to dish out a complimentary dose of the good stuff on your special day, of course I had to put this to the test. So, my generous birthday present to my friend was dragging her along for a rainy Monday morning weed sleuth up and down the street to see what green bounty we could find.
With Vancouver’s weed policies changing in the summer I thought it quite good timing to have one final hurrah and make the most of Vancouver's lawless weed culture that surely, once legalized, won’t have any free birthday weed in sight. With the legalisation of cannabis approaching so too potentially ends the Vancouver dispensary as we know it—with shops having to seek new licenses and government-approved producers, as more and more regulations apply to the sale of cannabis in the city. So with the imminent end of the Vancouver kinda-legal-but-not-not-illegal weed party I wanted to get out there and make the most of the probably-flawed policies surrounding freebies.
Lotusland Cannabis Club
My friend Shannon and I met at Main street station on a depressing Monday morning and once anointed with her new birthday badge made from an old poster tube lid we hatched our plan to hit several dispensaries up Main Street all with the common goal: to score as much free weed as possible. Our first stop on our quest was E 16th Avenue to Lotusland, a fairly lowkey dispensary nestled between a Fido and a dental practise. I chose to let Shannon take this one on her own, so in she went and I was left curb side, side eyeing Shannon through the window so as not to draw attention to our scheme. Now there was something a little sketch about waiting on the street in the rain whilst my friend tried to score free weed inside but it still didn't feel anywhere near as uncomfortable as scoring drugs anywhere else in the world. If my memory serves correct the first time I picked up drugs in the UK I put on my seatbelt when I got in my dealer's car and he asked me if I was “going somewhere.” The memory still makes me shrivel inwardly. So thank you Vancouver for making your weed culture so much less excruciating than buckling up in a jeep with the 18-year-old big dog of West London weed dealings.
Shannon was inside all of three minutes which was the time it took for the girl behind the desk to reach into the birthday joint jar and hand her a free joint. “Was she nice about it?” I asked Shannon when she came out brandishing her birthday doink. “She didn’t wish me a happy birthday, but maybe the birthday stash does that for her,” she responded. I sensed Shannon was becoming a bit of a birthday diva—free weed and birthday wishes is maybe too many niceties even for Vancouver.
The verdict: It’s a yes, they even have a ‘birthday stash’ ready and waiting.
Greatful Med Cannabis Society
Across the street from Lotusland also on E 16th is Greatful Med. We knew it was a dispensary because in the window of the store was a 60+ year old lady rolling joints—I immediately felt a deep respect for this woman; one, for being old and two for oozing these drug den-mother vibes like she could give us everything we wanted and more. She was like a happy weed yielding Cerberus guarding the gates of Hades and she welcomed us in with gusto. Inside was less like Hades; unless in Hades they offer free birthday joints on the regs.
“It’s my birthday!” Shannon said as she pointed at the poster lid pinned to her top that had “it’s my birthday” written on it in sharpie; I immediately regretted forcing this onto her. The guy behind the desk informed us sadly that they no longer offer birthday giveaways. “We stopped that at the end of February,” he said, “but happy birthday,” he added. It was my turn to point at the badge. “Sorry, you’re one month too late,” he said. I think the DIY birthday badge was making him sad and he gave us an awkward shrug. A last plea to the sweet grandmother of the ganja in the corner and we conceded defeat—rules are rules.
We paused outside the shop to take a sad photo and after about 30 seconds were followed out by the guy at the front desk who I assume now was working upon orders from the shop’s Mary J matriarch. “We feel bad” he said proffering a hand to Shannon holding out a joint “happy birthday—have a good one.” Our prayers were answered. Thank you Greatful Med for taking pity on Shannon’s birthday badge that I made that morning on the Skytrain and thank you to whoever’s grandmother it is that guards the gates of this lovely little dispensary.
The verdict: Yes, but only if you’re nice.
Opposite Greatful Med is Eggs Canna. The first three locations had been a 10 second walk from each other and it was proving to be a mighty convenient excursion. Eggs Canna has three locations throughout Vancouver and probably has the most structured giveaway policy. They weren’t surprised or offended when Shannon asked about the birthday freeby situation. They explained that with any purchase of $5 or over Shannon would get a free gram.
I appreciated the ease of this policy but couldn't help but miss the wholesome vibe of Greatful Med. Sadly there was no omniscient matriarchy in this place but it was bright and clean and smelled good—but if they don't have a grandma rolling the joints here will they be as delicious?
With a $5 purchase Shannon was given a whole free gram of Cherry Pie though and that’s a fairly sizeable giveaway. They didn't ask for her preference but I’m sure if we’d done a little schmooze we could have charmed our way to our crop of choice.
After leaving we checked the clock; we had been sleuthing for only seven minutes and already had quite the birthday bounty—I can’t see a better way to spend seven minutes of your birthday tbh.
The verdict: one gram of free birthday weed with any $5 purchase.
The Soap Dispensary
The verdict: Do not type “dispensary” into Google Maps—this place only sells soap.
We did try to get some freebies though. We were unsuccessful.
Green Cross Society of BC
After three successes we were becoming insatiable and, once our headaches from all the soap sniffing had subsided, the several block walk to Green Cross Society at E 26th Avenue had us confident that we would yield more treasures as our adventure continued. I guess our entitlement showed on our faces because it was an immediate no from the dude behind the counter; an exasperated one like he got that question all the time.
“We don’t do that anymore” he told us. I sensed there was a dark history here by his tone. “Did people take advantage?” I asked him. “People tried,” he replied. How mysterious. I continued to probe but he didn’t wish to divulge much else. The pain behind his eyes plus his curtness to discuss it any further told me their old weed giveaways may have ended in tears. What birthday tomfoolery had this poor dispensary worker witnessed?!
After our brief and cryptic conversation they offered Shannon a birthday discount on a purchase should she want one, but that wasn't on our radar at all. Paying for weed?! No thank you.
The verdict: No freebies but willing to negotiate a “hefty discount”—as long as you don’t bring up the past.
Leaves of Zazie
This place has a whale on the window which I guess is fun but denied any flirtations towards free weed. They did wish Shannon a happy birthday though, as well as encouraging the rest of the customers in the shop to do so also—at least that’s something.
Unlike the other dispensaries Leaves of Zazie didn’t seem to have ever had a birthday policy—but maybe if enough people ask they’ll be forced to adopt one? Let’s hope so. This kind of positivity didn’t help Shannon and I though and we had to begrudgingly abandon the shop, none the richer. We took to the street for one final visit.
The verdict: No b-day weed in sight.
By this point the greed had set in and all we wanted was more. Shannon had a handful of treats now—and you know what they say; any more than a handful of free weed is just plain greedy—right? Wrong. Shannon was intent on making this birthday a two-fistfuls kinda birthday. So, on her insistence we decided to hit up one last dispensary in Gastown.
They were happy to give a birthday joint—of course they were. And they wanted to—who wouldn’t?! But they had run out. Tragic. After the initial crushing disappointment we had to remind ourselves that this morning Shannon had no free weed and an hour later she had lots of free weed—and if that isn't a good way to qualify a successful birthday morning I don’t know what is.
The verdict: Free b-day joints, as long as they don’t run out.
We wrapped things up after an hour walking in the rain with four out of six of the dispensaries willing to share their stash with the birthday girl. And after all that, Shannon refused to share. I think all the free birthday bartering got into her head a bit, she may even still be clutching at her pile of freebies Gollum-style in her house a week later.
What this little journey revealed to me was how lucky we are to have access to this laid-back cannabis culture across the entire city and how much we will potentially have to say goodbye to come the end of July. If the government takeover of weed distribution means the end of free b-day bud will Vancouver be a happier place post-legalization? Though I can’t say for sure, I do advise anyone with a birthday coming up to walk down Main street and take advantage while you still can.
Sign up for the VICE Canada Newsletter to get the best of VICE Canada delivered to your inbox daily.