Cultural differences in Toronto and Montreal around dispensaries and cannabis use

A few years ago, I sprung from my small town in rural Ontario to move to Montreal. Young, flighty and uncommitted to any particular direction in life, sweet nothings spilled into my ears about Montreal from trusted friends in the weeks coming up to the inevitable move. The city was teeming with weirdos. I was a weirdo. Stories of the city sounded like a welcome home.

Smoking pot had been rather familiar-like to me as a small town young thing; upon the move to Montreal, I was quick to pick it back up again. At first I was startled to observe the distinctions between the culture of Cannabis in conservative, God-fearing small-town Ontario and this new stomping ground I found myself in. (A hand-painted billboard on the side of the highway leading into town reads, “Ye Must Be Born Again, By Grace Are Ye Saved By Faith Not Of Yourselves It Is The Gift Of God, Not Of Works…”.)  Whereas countless nights growing up had been spent scrambling through the bushes and assembling tree forts in the middle of the night in order to have a place to smoke, my first month in Montreal saw me sauntering down main street with a joint dangling from my lips at two in the God-damn afternoon. It was easy to adjust to the city’s laissez-faire reputation.

A few years passed. I moved around the city; I witnessed the election of Trudeau on his platform of Cannabis legalization; I forget some things; I decided to move to Toronto. The reasons aren’t important. It was an impulse decision that would see me back in Montreal in just over a year, anyway.

How Cannabis dispensaries and cannabis use differ in Toronto and Montreal

My move to Toronto happened to coincide with the city’s pre-legalization dispensary heyday. This was before the police raids would begin targeting Cannabis store fronts, when a walk-through Kensington Market would have you see edible products sold out of plastic buckets next to the cash register of any given storefront. And now this was new. I was floored as I explored a city in which many of the dispensaries that peppered every other block boasted to be for purely recreational purposes. I walked in. I bought a joint. I actually bought a handful. I walked out and lit it.

And herein lies the distinction between Montreal and Toronto’s Cannabis cultures. While Montreal forced the Cannabis consumer to buy from drug dealers in minivans, the community was happy to let your average enthusiast smoke wherever they pleased. Not one recreational dispensary exists in Montreal even today, and the city’s for-medical-purposes-only storefronts accordingly have registration requirements too strict for your average user to meet. Toronto, on the other hand, has been absolutely overtaken with dispensaries even in the face of police raids beginning in mid-2016. It was on this basis that I was surprised to hear countless stories of confrontations with the police all over the city. How about my luck — I was able by in large to avoid any real trouble but lived my days in Toronto with a shadow of paranoia most places I went.

Some research hints at an explanation for Toronto and Montreal’s inside-out perspectives on pot consumption. For instance, a recent poll led by Radio-Canada shows Quebecers to have the most pessimistic attitudes out of any other province toward Cannabis legalization. Another survey from Statistics Canada shows Quebec to have the lowest rate of Cannabis use out of any province, against what my guess would’ve been. But why, then, would La Belle Province so brazenly permit public consumption? Quebec informally allows public consumption of alcohol if it’s in a paper bag, and this may also carry over into consuming weed in public.

It’s possible the province has been forced into an irrational position on Cannabis as a result of its approach to open alcohol.

As for Ontario, what could possibly justify a cannabis policy that, for all intents and purposes, allows dispensaries room to boom while simultaneously taking a strict stance on its consumption outside of private spaces?

This specific question will admittedly only be worth asking for a short while longer. What will remain relevant, though, is the ways in which cities like Montreal and Toronto act as role models for smaller communities like the one I came from. All the more reason for these cities to take the time to develop a logical strategy that stands up to basic common sense. Here’s hoping.

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