so you want weed but aren't one of the 292 hopefuls slated to receive a government-blessed marijuana ID card, don't have a friend of a friend who deals the stuff and wouldn't dream of succumbing to the whispered goadings of the throngs of pushers hawking "hydro" at Yonge and Dundas? There's a hot spot where Toronto can fill up on marijuana for the asking -- day or night, seven days a week -- in less time than it takes to pick up a Big Mac and a milkshake at the drive-through. Just like a drive-through, in fact, it's the McDonald's of pot. Just step right up, place your order, and get the hell out. Next customer, please.So far, it isn't one of the pot operations busted this year by Toronto cops, who bravely try to enforce an outdated pot law that even right-wing columnists in the National Post find laughable.
Detective Court Booth, who runs the police service's drug information unit, says about 100 hydroponic marijuana labs have been busted in the area so far this year, more than last year at this time. He cautions, however, that it's just an approximate number.
"I believe the numbers are increasing, but I can't give you any scientific data to confirm that," Booth says.
This reporter didn't spill the beans about Pops. Of course, there's nothing quite so obvious as the Golden Arches to guide you to his place. If you didn't know what you were looking for, you'd miss it entirely.
Like most houses in most Canadian neighbourhoods, it's a modest, semi-detached two-storey sitting in a row of others just like it. A few doors down, an elderly man and woman pass the time on their porch as the heavy after-work traffic of a west-end avenue zooms past the perfectly pruned, blood-red rose bushes typical of this Portuguese community.
It's doubtful if the tranquil-looking couple are aware that their neighbour runs one of the most efficient marijuana growing and distribution outfits in T.O. There's certainly nothing to spark suspicion.
The operation is veiled in tense secrecy. No one, for example, must ever approach the front of the house. That's the first rule. If you want to buy reefer here, you'll need to enter from the backyard, as I recently did, which means a quick trip through a back alley where rows of garage doors line your way and the stench of ripe garbage and frying fish floods your nostrils.
Second rule: when you go through the back gate, latch it tight behind you. Forget, and you can say goodbye to the weed.
With the gate closed behind me, I inch toward the back porch, where the scent of a big patch of green tomatoes hits me immediately. It's like any other backyard, but I stop in my tracks, stunned, when I spot a little girl sitting on the porch, alone, fiercely concentrating on a colouring book. She's no more than six years old, wearing blue shorts and a white floral-patterned T-shirt, her black hair sweetly arranged in a heap of pigtails. Am I in the right place to buy ganja? She doesn't even look up, so I walk past her, stepping up toward a wide-open screen door that leads to a dishevelled kitchen. Empty beer cases are stacked everywhere.
I knock lightly at the threshold.
I knock again, louder. Heavy, unseen footsteps can finally be heard approaching. A man with short-cropped black hair emerges from around the corner, greeting me with a simple, "Hi, what can I get for you?"
"I'm looking for Pops."
Pops, it turns out, is an older, bearded man with dark but benevolent slivers for eyes. The instant he appears, Pops gives me -- a total stranger -- the once-over, the royal size-up. He shuffles slowly out of sight, but I know I've passed the test when the first man asks me, a little more impatiently, "So what do you need?"
"Uh, 40 bucks' worth, please," I ask. My first time here, I pray these are the magic words.
"Pops," the first man calls out. "Half a quarter." Bingo.
Pops returns, and his eyes dart to my right hand, in which two crisp, folded $20 bills are cupped. Without a word, he pockets the cash and unceremoniously stuffs my order -- wrapped in a Baggie, secured by a twist tie -- into my sweaty palm. I could be trick-or-treating.
Within 60 seconds of my arrival, I have what I've come for, a favour for a friend, and I'm off, careful not to step on the little girl (who's blissfully unaware of who the stranger now leaving might be and of the deal that just went down) or her colouring book as I stumble toward the back gate.
While I'm no expert, Pops' marijuana doesn't look the greatest. It's full of tiny twigs and large seeds, and my friend later quips that he'd do better to make crafts with this pot than to smoke it. Indeed, the charm of this particular herb lies only in its sheer convenience.
Pops also offers a significantly smaller portion of his wacky tobacky for 20 bucks, which he wraps in a tin-foil package the size of a french fry. Good for only about three joints, it's not a considerable deal, but again, damn convenient and easy to get.
Determined to check out the clientele Pops caters to, I wait nearby for nearly an hour before a scruffy male teen sails toward the gate via the back alley. Not the least bit hesitant, he charges for the gate and disappears through it. When he comes out, he's content. Happy. Another satisfied customer.
But then, McDonald's isn't the only joint that loves to see you smile.