Cannabis and Coffee is trying to break the stigma surrounding marijuana. (Nicole Brumley/Ryersonian)

It’s 2 p.m. on Oct. 10 and a man in his late 20s bounds through the doors of a Toronto coffee shop.

“I saw your sign outside,” he said to the barista, making his way to the front register. “And I was wondering if you sell cannabis-infused coffee?”

For nearly four months, this conversation has been a familiar and recurring one for baristas working at Cannabis and Coffee on Toronto’s Front Street.

The barista told the man that no one is legally allowed to sell cannabis in Canada. But, after today’s legalization, the situation has changed.

The coffee and dessert shop opened in July ahead of the country’s initial legalization date, which was expected to arrive in the summer. The date was later postponed to Oct. 17.

“A lot of people — because we are Cannabis and Coffee — will come in looking for the cannabis,” said barista Brett Smerchinski.

Even with legalization, the shop does not sell cannabis because it is currently illegal for businesses to distribute marijuana. The shop will apply for a distributor licence in the near future.

But the product certainly is at the core of their brand, and intentionally so.

“I wanted something that had the word cannabis in it so that would help kind of destigmatize the word and make it more acceptable for people seeing it in print,” said owner and founder Chris James.

According to James, the name Cannabis and Coffee is simple and opens the conversation about marijuana.

Before opening his café, James was the founder of a marijuana meetup group in Toronto. He said he created The Toronto Friends of Marijuana Social Club more than five years ago as a platform for enthusiasts to connect and celebrate their shared passion through events like marijuana movie nights or bowling nights. What he hoped would help introduce a few marijuana supporters to other like-minded individuals in the city turned into a club with over 14,000 participants to date.

On Oct. 16, James organized a scavenger hunt for marijuana-enthusiasts to  celebrate the day before legalization.

At 4:20 p.m. on Oct. 16, hundreds of marijuana supporters gathered at Cannabis and Coffee to celebrate the impending legalization. (Sindi Dulluku/Ryersonian)

Business to business

With the arrival of marijuana legalization, people have mixed reactions about the big day.

Whether first-time users or long-standing marijuana enthusiasts, James said he thinks Canadians have many questions about what marijuana legalization means for citizens.

“It’s all about selling cannabis and making money,” said James. “But nobody is really thinking about helping people answer their questions.”  

To counteract this, James said he aims to have his coffee shop serve as a question house to quench people’s curiosity about marijuana.

“If we can’t sell cannabis, at least we can help answer people’s questions.”

Despite varying levels of enthusiasm about the new legislation, some say they expect the timeline for buying and receiving orders to be longer than most expect.

“I think it’s going to be a little bit longer than what people anticipate because there’s got to be, like (with) any other sector of business, a reconciliation of what’s the best price (and) how this all fits together because it’s still brand new,” said Peter Barry, president of B3 Cannabis Consultants in Canada, who said he is looking to be a consultant for the café.

Ultimately, Barry said he looks forward to what legalization means for businesses.

“What I want to see is somebody that understands this business, given the chance to really create an opportunity for themselves, because that’s what Canada is all about,” he said.

Although it is now legal, regulations about marijuana use vary among Canadian provinces and territories. In Ontario, the legal age to buy, use, posses or grow recreational marijuana is 19, according to the government of Ontario. The province also prohibits the use of marijuana  indoors, in the common areasof condos, apartment buildings, university and college residences, and enclosed public spaces and work spaces.

In addition to legalizing marijuana for smoking purposes, Canadians will also have the option to eventually buy and sell edible products. However, this is expected to take up to one year to be implemented, according to Canada’s Cannabis Act.

Two chemical components

Cannabis refers to the plant Cannabis Sativa which contains a number of chemical substances known as cannabinoids, according to Health Canada. The most researched cannabinoid is chemically known as delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol or, more commonly, as THC.

This element of the cannabis plant is responsible for the intoxication and high sensation experienced by users when under the influence of marijuana.

Cannabidiol (CBD), on the other hand, is a chemical element within the cannabis plant which does not induce intoxication or a high.

In encouraging marijuana education among potential consumers through his newly-created coffee shop, James said he reinforces this key distinction when sharing his marijuana enthusiasm with others. Primarily, the café educates through an online blog and hosts local events such as paint nights. Advertisements and informational pamphlets fill the walls of the café as well.

“CBD doesn’t get you high in any way, so we are hoping it is taken off the restrictive list and is added as a health or food supplement very shortly. If that happens, we’ll be able to start infusing coffee and milkshakes,” he said.

Legalization day

When asked about the country’s legalization date, most Canadians can answer with confidence. But if questioned about what legalization means for citizens, certainty dwindles.

Barry said he thinks people will be very conscious about where they are smoking marijuana.  

“We are just a community of well-educated people that understand that there is an appropriateness to this type of scenario.”

James said he anticipates that the government will release an application process for registering as a licensed cannabis distributor sometime in January, giving them two to three months to make modifications.

“We will be one of the first people applying,” he said.

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