Vancouver might have Toronto beat when it comes to dispensary-friendly cops, but Lisa Campbell says it was the city's "environment of extreme enforcement" that created a need for independent cannabis companies to showcase their work.
It's why she and Toronto entrepreneur Sarah Gillies (owner, Mary Jane's Touch, The Baker's Shop) joined forces in the spring of 2016 to host the city's first Green Market, a farmer's market-esque event featuring locally made, quality cannabis products.
A quick scan through the event's Facebook page reveals images of infused beverages, edibles, concentrates, pre-rolled joints, handmade jewelry, and more.
Campbell, a cannabis activist and a member of the cannabis-focused organization WomenGrow, says Toronto's rich lounge culture made it easy to bring the "infused event" to life.
"We started in May 2016, before the Project Claudia raids," Campbell, in Vancouver for this weekend's Lift Expo, tells the Straight in a telephone interview.
The duo opted to host Toronto’s inaugural Green Market at the Centre for Innovation, a coworking space for nonprofit organizations.
"It was completely different from your stereotypical cannabis event," Campbell says. The group of 300 attendees, she says, spanned all ages and backgrounds. "It was a really unique thing."
But when Toronto police executed Project Claudia on May 26 that year, 43 dispensaries were raided, 90 arrests were made, and police laid 257 charges against dispensary operators and employees.
Local entrepreneurs took a hit as many dispensaries stopped carrying edibles, and without anywhere to sell their product, Campbell felt compelled to continue the market underground, despite the potential for police enforcement.
She says it has grown from a weekly "speakeasy-style event in Kensington Market"—hosted in a second-floor apartment through an unmarked door—to an event so big that it has been moved to a 10,000-square-foot warehouse. Some iterations of the event have included potlucks, tastings, and night markets featuring live entertainment.
Althoughj Campbell says she hasn’t felt threatened by police presence at Green Market events to date, she claims that an off-duty officer once flashed his badge and skipped the line to buy a joint.
"Our markets draw new consumers and people who might not be comfortable smoking but have heard about CBD products and edibles," she says.
Campbell says vendors from Vancouver Island to Toronto and Montreal will be taking part in Sunday's event, with the unique market giving Vancouverites access to products that they might not necessarily be able to find at local dispensaries.
According to the event's website, cannabis-curious shoppers can expect to find everything from "premium quality consumables" to beauty products, artisanal goods, crafts, and more.
Beyond providing people with access to unique infused items, Campbell says she’s glad that she and her team of mostly female activists have been able to shine a spotlight on producers who’ve been pushed aside.
"I think through the media [in Toronto], we've gotten that voice out for craft producers," she says. "They're not gangsters; they are legit entrepreneurs, and a lot are hardcore foodies who are incredibly talented."
Despite doubts from within the industry, Health Canada has listened to the voices of smaller cannabis producers and product manufacturers, she says. Campbell remembers when there was no guarantee that edibles would be legal. (The Cannabis Act was amended in October 2017 to allow for edibles and concentrates. That legislation, however, won’t be finalized until up to one year after the act is implemented in July 2018.)
Although police rhetoric in Toronto is so strong that Campbell says organizers are often scared to host the market, she says it has paid off to stick with it.
"Vendors have really professionalized, and we're trying to keep those standards up.”
Sunday's Higher Goods x Green Market pop-up starts at 5 p.m. and will be hosted at a secret location, to be announced on Saturday evening.
The 19+ event will unofficially close out this weekend's Lift Expo and will feature food trucks, a donation bin for local harm reduction nonprofit the Cannabis Substitution Project, and a lounge sponsored by BlyssCloud. Find tickets here.