4/20—for April 20 is the international cannabis culture holiday and Torontonians will be marching to Yonge-Dundas square to rally for the legalization of recreational marijuana use.
Although it’s a rally, many people will be openly smoking weed to show solidarity with Toronto’s strong and lively pot culture and hope to eliminate the stigma against their favourite herb once and for all.
Marijuana has been legalized for medicinal purposes since 2001. Heath Canada regulates the manufacturing and distribution of the substance to eligible patients.
THE FACES OF 4/20: The people behind the smoke
“We have infiltrated everyone. We are your mothers and your fathers,” jokes Joanne Baker, aka Puff Momma, owner of The Underground Cafe, a head shop and marijuana cafe. Baker insists today’s pothead is not the unemployed hippie some may think they are.
“Most of the people that come here, 99 per cent of them have jobs or businesses,” she says. “I really hate it when people peg us as that. We’re highly intelligent, productive people.”
Baker, like much of Toronto’s toking faithful, will be marching down Yonge Street on April 20 for Toronto’s annual 4/20 rally.
“I think it’s important for us to have these rallies, just like every culture has their rallies. I think it stopped being a rally so much as a gathering or a meeting.”
She is a prevalent member of the community, having a social space that also doubles as a marijuana themed comedy club known all across North America.
World renowned acts such as Bert Kreischer, Ari Shaffir and Joe Rogan have performed to small audiences in Baker’s back room.
“I’m just a huge comedy fan,” says Baker. “I built a platform for all my comedy friends and ended up with a bunch of weed smokers watching it.”
Toronto comedian and frequent performer at The Underground Comedy Club, Mike Rita, is hosting the stand-up comedy show during the rally at Yonge and Dundas Square.
“I bring up all the comics,” says Rita.
“I host it, but in reality you can’t host a rally that big. You’re yelling your jokes at 10,000 people and just hoping that 2,000 of them laugh.”
But what Baker and Rita will both be battling at the rally is the stigma associated with being a marijuana smoker.
“A pothead isn’t just a hippy sitting on a couch with a bong,” Rita insists. “It’s a man who goes to work, puts in his 40 hours a week and when he’s done wants the respect to go home, smoke pot and not have to be stigmatized by the community as some sort of bad person.”
But Minke, from Eindhoven, Netherlands, who only gave her first name, does not see the same stigma about being a pothead.
“Because the use of marijuana is very common in Holland, I would say that most non-drug users don’t bother other people using marijuana. Since people using it don’t cause a lot of trouble, I think non-drug users don’t have a negative attitude towards this drug.”
But Minke says marijuana does cause some problems in the Netherlands by the biggest fans of pot in the country and it’s not the Dutch.
“Of course the tourists using too much marijuana and alcohol in Amsterdam cause some problems. I think this is mostly the alcohol though, because that’s what makes people aggressive.”
What Baker is anticipating at Toronto’s rally is the notorious good behaviour of Toronto’s marijuana smokers.
“But where else can you see 14,000 people meet in such a small space and the cops are bored?”
Baker laughs, “you see them leaning on stuff, nothing to do. It’s like watching kids in a playground.”
But Rita and Baker are more than just members in the community, they even have fans.
Rita showed up to last year’s rally to find someone had made a poster of his face.
“Oh man, that guy’s my favourite,” says Rita.
He came to one of Rita’s shows and asked permission to make a poster of his head.
“I didn’t think he would do it. I thought he was bluffing. Like ‘wouldn’t it be funny if I showed up with a big head?’ Then he showed up with a two, three foot head on a stick. He said it was because I represented everything that was Toronto and weed.”
But Rita’s Portuguese mother, a frequent character in his comedy, soon called when she saw his face on the news.
“‘That’s absolutely terrible,'” he recalls her saying. “‘Your whole family’s going to see that today’ ….But then when she got phone calls from family telling her how funny it was she lightened up a bit.”
Rita has been hosting the rally every year since 2011 because he is what Baker sees as a typical member of the Toronto marijuana community.
“I think I show success as a pot head,” Rita says. “People support me because they can say, ‘see, not all pot heads are lazy. Mike Rita never stops hustling and he smokes all the weed in the world.’”
This is what the rally is all about. To end the stigma and show people that marijuana users are good for the city and the community.
“Toronto pot smokers are not just a voice for everyone in this city. They are leaders with people from Vancouver for change in this country. They mean everything because without them we might not have had a Trudeau win … and Trudeau looks like he’s slacking on it too.”