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Friday, May 2, 2003 FAR OUT, MAN! Toronto has its pot and smokes it too
By Jason Botchford
Late at night, cruising Toronto's downtown, there's plenty of crack to be had but not much marijuana is being sold by the city's street-level dealers.
"I can get you some pot but it's a pain," one dealer says. "Honestly, it won't be good. Most people just have their own. This is the place you come to get your fix, you know, crack cocaine. Pot? It's everywhere. You don't need to come here."
According to a Sun-Leger poll, hundreds of thousands of Toronto-area residents smoke pot in any given week and, as a result, break the law.
The survey, taken in the first week of April, shows that 7% of adults in the GTA had smoked during the previous week. That compares to 5% in the rest of Canada and in terms of population, it represents 309,822 people.
Another 177,041 in the GTA had smoked pot in the past six months, according to the survey.
"You have a lot of very ardent cannabis consumers in this city," said local hemp salesman Larry Duprey.
Dan Bryant, 40, is one. The recreational toker has been smoking three or four joints a day for 20 years. He smokes them to the nub and then keeps what's left -- the roach -- to create his own artistic tribute to pot.
Of the thousands of joints he's smoked, he has kept just about every one. He has made a guitar designed with 2,000 roaches. It took him eight years to create. He makes roach lighters for his friends and even has a collection of candle holders made with marijuana roaches.
"There's so many I am not able to keep track of it," Bryant said. "I mean, I have thousands and thousands of roaches ... I am a product of the 1970s who just got bored."
Tomorrow is the annual coming-out party for Toronto's pot smokers. Thousands of them will meet at Queen's Park to take part in the annual Million Marijuana March, an international event in about 100 cities that protests cannabis prohibition.
"It's a liberation day," Duprey said. "It's a day where we can stand up and say who we are. In the past, we've been made to feel like lepers and been forced to put our heads down. Basically, we are putting an end to that kind of treatment."
In 1998,the first year of the march, there was no parade in Toronto. But tomorrow the Toronto march is expected to be the biggest in Canada and one of the largest in the world.
Duprey said if Canada relaxes its pot laws Toronto will experience an influx of tourists.
"Toronto is getting there, but there is potential to draw a lot more tourists here," Duprey said. "And after the laws are changed everyone's attention will be shifted to making profits. There is a lot of money to be made."
Toronto Police Chief Julian Fantino said the increase in the amount of pot that has flowed into Toronto in the past two years has been shocking. He said that it has left Toronto cops in a quandary because they put resources into policing only to have courts turn pot growers and smokers around with conditional sentences.
"(Growing pot) is an epidemic," Fantino said. "We need to hear from the federal government soon to finally have a national understanding of what we are going to do."
About 10 years ago Toronto's Robin Ellins returned from a trip to a hemp store in London, Ontario with a marijuana pipe, something which could not be purchased in this city at the time.
"Looking at it, I said, 'You can't buy this in Toronto and that's crazy,' " Ellins said.
It wasn't long before he opened Toronto's signature marijuana paraphernalia store on Queen St. W., the Friendly Stranger. For the first eight months he had pipes and magazines cramped into a 200 sq-ft space, within a year he had a spot with 800 sq-ft.
Everything he sells is against the law.
"The Canadian law on paraphernalia is enforced but unequally," Ellins said. "Toronto is an educated community and police don't respond unless someone is complaining. No one complained."
The Friendly Stranger is now a golden-warm shop, entwined into the fabric of Queen St. W. and Toronto culture.
He now has a 2,600 sq-ft showplace where people scoop up marijuana grow books, T-shirts, artistic pipes and 'Bud Busters' which people use to grind their weed.
Ellins said one of the purposes of his store is to educate the public about the benefits of a plant that's been banned in this country for about 80 years. He thinks it has worked.
"What has changed in the nine years we've been in business is the acceptance," Ellins said. "There is not the old reefer madness anymore. It has gone away and been replaced with an understanding that what we do is not a bad thing."
Friendly Stranger's business has stayed consistent during the past few years, a testament, Ellins said, to the city's desire to have the laws changed.
"Every time someone spends a dollar they are voting," Ellins said.
"This is what they want. By choosing where they spend their money they are shaping the universe around them."
-------------------- One of the reasons marijuana is illegal today because growers in the 30s lobbied against hemp farmers -- they saw it as competition, because It is not chemically addictive as is nicotine, alcohol, or caffeine.