Dispensaries have come a long way since the Fight Club–like existence of Toronto's oldest dispensary CALM (Cannabis as Living Medicine)—a place discovered only by accident and never spoken about. Within the last year or so, we've seen dozens upon dozens of dispensaries pop up all across Toronto thanks to Justin Trudeau's plan to legalize, regulate, and restrict access to marijuana in Canada. Many of these new businesses seem to be operating under the idea that by the time charges against them are put through the court system, the laws will have changed. Toronto police have raided dozens of dispensaries, but there seems to be little rhyme or reason to their actions, and most dispensaries keep on selling.
Today, dispensaries are operating in a legal gray zone, and business is booming. According to the Toronto's Vital Signs Report of 2016, released by the Toronto Foundation, the percentage of Torontonians reporting dispensaries in their neighborhood doubled between March and May. It seems Toronto has overcome Vancouver as Canada's "cannabis capital."
The experience at these stores varies wildly from location to location, but most stores make it fairly easy to get a gram of weed these days. If you have legal ID, you can re-up with little issue. Given such rapid change, many weed smokers aren't quite accustomed to buying their dope at a shiny store instead of someone's basement. The interaction is most certainly different, and many customers have yet to get it right. We reached out to budtenders from around the city to ask about their worst customers.
VICE: What are some irritating things your customers do?
Samson*: Sometimes you get people in here who want to smell every jar. The jar-smellers are funny, until they are not so funny. There are a lot of people who come here and treat it like a candy store. Look at every strand just for fun. There's a time and a place for that. When it's busy? Maybe not.
Brian*: There are ways to research, like with Leafly and Weedmaps. If you're so passionate that I have to have a 45 minute conversation with you, then be that passionate when you're sitting behind your computer.
Sasha*: This whole setup has turned people into weed snobs. They come in, and they think they know a lot about weed because they smoked in a time when weed was not talked about. "Platinum? This isn't the same platinum as last week." Now that there are dispensaries and lots of variety, people are coming in like they are connoisseurs, and there's nothing I can say. That's annoying, especially when they are 23. You know, I've been smoking for 23 years.
Sean*: It's also pretty annoying when customers accuse you of ripping them off, like we are purposely keeping the 0.1 gram you think we scammed from you. They give us shit when there are only popcorn nugs left. They always want the big buds even though it's gonna be the same damn thing after it's ground up.
What are some other common misbehaviors?
Samson: If we are asking you to sign up, don't expect us to break the rules for you. "Look, man, I don't have my ID." I don't like being the guy on the other end shrugging and saying OK. I don't like breaking the rules.
Brian: As he stands in a pot shop.
Samson: If the cops come in here and see you without ID, that's another reason for them to shut us down. We can't push the envelope at the wrong time. We've always heard about undercovers being in the shop. Listening to what people are getting, what we're doing and selling.
Andrea*: We get people in their 50s saying, "Do I look like I'm 19 to you? Why the the fuck are you ID'ing me?" Literally, it's the only rule we have—we don't have a registration process, we don't need any prescription, we don't even keep your information. We just want to see that you have your ID with you, and people are so fucking weird about that.
Stoners being paranoid? Go figure. How sketchy does this job get?
Samson: Since we are in the medical marijuana industry and medical marijuana is still classified as a drug, it's like we have access to all the drugs now. We've been asked if we can get some coke. We've been asked if we could get some meth. "Do you have heroin?" A lot of people have asked that.
Brian: The meth head was a little bit surprised that we didn't.
Samson: This just isn't a gateway industry.
Sasha: I'm not an expert, I can't diagnose someone, but I would say you get your fair share of borderline personality disorders walking in here. If you got some anxiety issue and you don't know how to act with the world and some sativa helps you watch TV all afternoon and not be in my fucking face, then you should be able to access that sativa. Go medicate at home, do what you need to do to feel better, and don't bother me.
Have you ever felt unsafe?
Andrea: There was this one guy, I forget what the confrontation was about, but we politely asked him to leave because he was really obnoxious, and he went outside and was spitting on our window, threatening to meet our manager outside at the end of the night. You do get some scary people coming in.
Tim*: Tell him about the guy with the fucking knife.
Andrea: This guy comes in and stands in the corner, hidden underneath the cameras. I'm by myself budtending. He waited until Tim was in the back, and there was nobody there but me. He had his hands in his pants, he pulls out this knife, about half a foot long, and holds it behind his back. I see Tim, and I make a gesture. Tim walks right up to him, intimidating him, and just pushes him out the door. As he was walking out the door, you could see the guy second guessing himself and looking back. It was so scary.
This all seems like a hassle, why do you do it?
Samson: We're trying to change public perception. We'll always have people sticking up their noses. We're trying to treat it like a pharmacy. For us, it's a business, and we try to run it like that and keep the mentality that it is medicine.
Sasha: We like to help people. Some people come in here legit sick. They are buying Rick Simpson oil, and they are shaking when they are filling in their forms; I'm filling it in for them. So for that reason, I'm really happy we're here.
Sean: I love being able to help first time cannabis users with choosing a proper path to follow as far as picking out the proper products and consumption methods; then seeing them come back thanking you for making a difference.
I'm sure you also get some sweethearts in here too.
Matthew*: This 65-year-old English lady showed up once, and her son was signing up, and she was at the counter, I guess she had already signed up a different day, and in her accent, she whispers under her breath, "Do you have anything that's really good for sex?" We had love potion at the time, so I sold her that.
*Names have been changed to protect the budtenders' anonymity.