Coronavirus pushes 420 celebrations online

The coronavirus pandemic has pushed the high holiday of pot online – and caused us to see the power of cannabis in our lives in a new light

420 this year will be a big change from the smoke outs of sharing in the past.

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Thank goodness for cannabis. Without it, there’s no telling what this period of mandatory self-isolation would be like for those who rely on weed for medicine – or just to provide a brighter outlook on life. 

It’s no coincidence that weed sales have spiked across Canada since an emergency declaration last month mandated we all stay home to fight the coronavirus pandemic. 

But for a nervous few days, it looked like it was going to be a dry coronavirus crisis for pot lovers in Canada’s most populous province. 

On April 3, the Ontario government’s revised list of essential services excluded cannabis stores. If there was any legal weed to be had, it was going to be from the Ontario Cannabis Store, the government-run online wholesaler that’s been known to have delivery issues. 

Even at my local grey market dispensary, one of the few still operating in Toronto, it looked like the lockdown would mean curtains. If legalization couldn’t close the joint, coronavirus would. It felt like prohibition all over again in our new normal pandemic state of mind.

Fortunately, after some intense lobbying from NORML Canada and others, the Ontario government reversed itself on April 7, and the province’s 52 cannabis retailers are now allowed to offer curbside pickup and delivery, at least for the time being. The order is supposed to expire in 14 days, which is Tuesday, April 21. 

That would be a day after 420, cannabis culture’s high holiday of pot started by dazed and confused high school kids at San Rafael High School in California in 1971. It’s grown into a global phenomenon that we’ve been celebrating ever since, but never through a pandemic.

This year, the usual mass gatherings of pot and music planned across the country, including the two biggest in Vancouver and Toronto, have been postponed. “The theme is quarantine, I guess,” says Chris Goodwin, an organizer of Toronto420. He’s only half-joking. 

But it will be a big change for cannabis lovers to not be able to share their green – or green space – with like-minded souls. It looks like plans for the annual Global Marijuana March Toronto, which usually takes place May 4, have also been nipped in the bud.

Last year, 420 Vancouver attracted 150,000 people at Sunset Beach. This year organizers are going online, hosting a day-long “social-distancing-friendly, home hotbox session.” The party starts at 11:50 am (that’s 4:20 pm in Newfoundland). 

In Toronto, Strapped.to, the “sexiest queer party Toronto has ever seen,” is hosting a Zoom sesh with DJs starting at 3 pm, for which you can register online. Others, like Vapor Central, have been holding virtual comedy and games nights online throughout the month.

But even as the pandemic is making us rethink how we honour the plant, it’s also bringing some of us closer to it. Many Canadians are using the opportunity to grow their own at home and acquaint themselves with the wonders of cannabis agriculture through seed exchanges. 

Activists are also planting seeds of a different kind, hoping not only to make click-and-collect cannabis services permanent for retail outlets but open up wholesale operations to private businesses as well.      

Indications are that the province, which will be rewriting cannabis policy post-COVID, may allow licensed lounges and events. 

Goodwin is already thinking about big blowout plans for 420 in 2021, including an age-restricted event (to go along with the reefer celebrations) where retailers can set up shop and display their wares. He says he’d like to hold it over a weekend so that the event can go overnight. 

“I’ve been talking with people at the province,” Goodwin says. “I hope they will allow it.” 

No doubt, the pandemic has caused a lot of us, even government decision-makers, to see the need for weed in a new light.

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