high noon, kensington market, slightly buzzed. I'm chilling in the overgrown courtyard of Hot Box Café, Toronto's first - and so far only - cannabis café. Not that you can buy the stuff here. But you can munch hemp muffins and slurp herbal tea while firing up the chronic on a patio whose tables have more ashtrays than any others in town. Around them, mismatched kitchen chairs and packing crates add to the low-key decor. A friendly sign by the entrance to this grotty backyard grotto requests, "No dealers, please."
Of course, the first person I recognize is my connection. The rest are an assortment of leftover Rochdale stoners, a 50-something couple and their grown-up cool kids, some arty types with unusual hair, and a gang of private school choir boys still in uniform. To an endless loop of Bob Marley, all smoke grass openly. Or as openly as one can in a walled garden far from the street. But it's legal. Sorta.
At Gastown joints like Blunt Brothers and Amsterdam Café in Vancouver, marijuana has been on the menu for a while now. Hell, even Saint John, New Brunswick, has a smokin' teahouse. But Hot Box Café is Toronto's first dope-cool diner - or at least the first to admit it. And Hot Box, an unlicensed-for-alcohol coffeehouse, is not breaking any laws, codes or regulations. Not so far, at least - Bob help them when the smoking-bylaw zealots find out!
I finish my chocolate chip hemp cookie and wander indoors to find co-owner Abi Roach behind a counter stacked with rolling papers.
"I'm not making a big political statement," says Roach, who also co-owns Roach-O-Rama, the adjacent head shop. "I believe in normalization - no protesting, no big waves. I want smoking pot to be a normal, everyday, out-in-the-open thing. Just like gay people, pot smokers need to come out of the closet. There's so much social stigma, but there's nothing to be afraid of. I just want to do my thing, you know what I mean?"
Sorry, I drifted off. Have the cops been by?
"They've come in to say hello, and that's about it," the appropriately named Roach replies. "They know us pretty well and know we're not trying to cause any problems. So they're pretty cool about the whole thing."
So, cool, the police appear not to care. Later, Sergeant Ian Nichol of 14 Division says, "The fact that no one here has heard of the place shows it's not a hot-button issue. Until there's some legal direction, it's a wait-and-see situation."
After a few hits from a bong on Hot Box's patio, I leisurely float back to the market's chaotic Saturday-afternoon street scene. Though intoxicating scents of patties, pupusas and empanadas tempt, it's nearby Chocolate Addict that fixes my sugar jones: rich wasabi truffles, toffee-flavoured Ultra Swirl ice cream and chocolate bath salts. Nothing satisfies the post-joint munchies like a chocolate pizza.