With recreational cannabis legalization finally here in Canada, it is important to take a look back at the fight that brought us here. It is worth noting that as a country, Canada spends as much as it does on cannabis as it does on wine (roughly six billion dollars annually). Toronto has long been a hub of cannabis activism, sporting a convoluted history of protests, vapour lounges and various forms of dispensaries. After the heavy-handed raids of Project Claudia and Project Gator, the resolve of Toronto’s cannabis community was only hardened. The demand for cannabis continued and so did the open defiance and advocacy.
“It is from that Beatles’s song right?!?” “Did you get the name from the cannabis growing technique?”
Customers would always hazard a guess at the origin of the name. Sea of Green was the culmination of labour and love from founder and owner Jamie Mcconnell. Jamie has been involved in the protest movement for over a decade, with notable experience managing landmark establishments including Cannabis Culture Church Street and Vapour Central. Waving the flag at the front of the protests was just a start, as Jamie became a leading figure in the fight for recreational dispensaries.
Hopes were high, as were the staff when we first took over the store on Bay Street. Sea of Green was to lead the industry by example. An equal opportunity employer who attracted the best behind-the -counter staff in the business. A good budtender is not just someone who smokes weed and sells it, but an individual who realizes that cannabis is a lifestyle. It would be hard to again assemble a team so knowledgeable, so friendly and yet still crazy enough to come along for the ride. Fueled by fire weed and amazing sandwiches we were as gung-ho as they come. Each trip into Sea of Green was meant to be an adventure, our goal was to create an environment where it was impossible to be in a bad mood. Whatever stresses life had in store for you, a visit to our establishment had a cure for it. One thing we all took away from the Bay Street location was the complete cross section of stoners that exist. Bay Street is the fulcrum of the city, and you get everyone from lawyers and doctors to Ryerson students. Worlds would collide and we would all happily indulge under the green banner.
A cannabis store is only as good as its cannabis. No level of marketing, gimmicks, design or even great staff can change this. Part of Sea of Green’s mission was to put together the finest collection of cannabis flower and derivatives available on the Toronto retail market. Our owner and staff would attend markets, dabbing competitions and events to scour the best in the recreational black market. The golden rule applied that If we won’t smoke it, we won’t sell it. We wanted our producers to share our passion; our philosophy that this is more than just an industry, but an art-form. We found high quality concentrates that had been crafted organically from seed to extract, meaning the cannabis was grown, cultivated and extracted all by the same set of hands. We searched for edibles made from good quality cannabis or extracts, made with real ingredients in a clean industrial kitchen. Every product had to meet our rigorous standards or it would not make it to the shelf in the first place. This left our staff with lots of what they would call “homework”, sampling it all along the way to “improve their product knowledge.”
Landlord issues would force us to discover a new location in the heart of Roncesvalles. This was a blessing in disguise as we quickly learned to love our new spot. Having been a vapour lounge in the past, the location was a natural fit to continue our fight to legalize recreational cannabis properly. The reigning liberal government had voted to shut private industry out of the recreational cannabis market, leaving our future uncertain. We made it our goal to educate customers about the issues with pending legalization, it is important as a community to stay informed and stay active. The disastrous Liberal plan only hardened our resolve, as we continued to help supply the city’s rising cannabis demand. Good times were always had in the dab bar, the Roncy store now providing a more relaxed, slower paced environment. The Roncesvalles community embraced our approach to cannabis and many great months followed.
When our staff were asked to reflect on their favourite memories from behind the counter, several hilarious moments (and a few we cannot share) were recounted. There was the customer who ordered one of each of our thirty six strains that day in a disastrous attempt to find his favourite. It was overindulgence at its finest. There was the day the store was visited by a pot-bellied pig much to the surprise and wonder of our staff. (Yes, a real live pig, not a hysterical reference to the cops). One moment may seem like a surprising choice, but it had a lasting effect on the staff involved. There was a robbery attempt at the Roncesvalles store on a quiet weekday night. It was over as quickly as it began, with everyone left unharmed apart from some raised pulses. Shortly after the perpetrators fled, police arrived on scene. As they parked their car down the street and got out to investigate, we hurriedly shut down the lights and vacated the store in a panic through the back door. One employee almost did not make it out because he went back to grab the paper bag containing his weed. As the police investigated through the storefront window, we scattered through the back alley. Out of breath two of our employees casually passed the cops on the sidewalk, one still clutching his weed openly in the paper bag. A brief, Canadian hello was all they could muster, certain the had been caught. The officers responded in turn and continued to search the alley behind the store. Score one for the good guys.
As funny as this anecdote is, it raises a frightening concept that is very much a reality to cannabis dispensaries and other cannabis professionals. A call for a robbery in Toronto, Vancouver or Hamilton from a black market dispensary would automatically trigger a raid. Prohibition created conditions where business owners were afraid to report crimes, even violent ones because the police would arrive and “rob” them a second time. The primary police mandate should be public safety, any policies which make them essentially inaccessible to a portion of the public should be re-evaluated.
The continued whack-a-mole game that is cannabis enforcement in Toronto is not productive. We have seen the private dispensary model bring huge commercial success to states like California and Colorado and will continue to fight for its proper implementation here. We are proud that Ontario has now chosen this route for recreational distribution and look forward to privately owned, legal bricks and mortar stores.
The fight is far from over however, with many key battles still on the horizon. The stores will be privatized; however, the Ontario government has still insisted on controlling production and distribution themselves. It will take their system many years to catch up the quality already available on the black market. Although Trudeau has announced fast tracked and free pardons for people with cannabis possession convictions, there are still thousands of people with non violent criminal convictions for distributing and producing cannabis. With the end of prohibition the government should admit its past mistakes and pardon these individuals as well. The Federal Government also has yet to show any intention of legalizing edibles or concentrates. Colorado’s market has proven that edibles and concentrates (like shatter) can account for over 40 percent of the total cannabis market share. That means that almost half of the customers out there still will not be able to buy the products they want without harassment from law enforcement.
We wish all of you the best of luck in the future, and many hazy nights to come. No matter what, keep your cannabis dreams alive! We here at Sea of Green will be undergoing some major transitions and restructuring as the landscape continues to change. Look for us in the near future where we will rise again and continue to be a leader in the retail cannabis field. Thank you once again for all of your support over this wild ride.Sea of Green Family!!