It’s been a long and winding road for those of us working towards legalization over the last two decades or so. There have been a lot of wins, a few losses and as of later this year that road will lead us to cannabis legalization.


We’ve seen the birth of medical cannabis legal challenges and the birth of Canadian Medical Cannabis Clubs, The Nolan Commission, Raids, Court Challenges, Promises of decriminalization  after one short summer quickly rescinded, Prairie Plant Systems- Government Weed, More Raids and Arrests, More court challenges. We have experienced the government trying to restrict personal growing for medical patients. We’ve seen legalization as a political platform by a major political party that actually won, and here I sit mere days from legalization and I find myself pining for the “good old days” when the cannabis industry was dedicated to cannabis instead of the dollar.


On May 25th, I found myself at the first day of 4th Annual Lift Cannabis Expo at The Metro Toronto Convention Center. What many of the many members of the new legal cannabis industry do not realize it that even the Lift Expo has its roots in what is now called the “illegal or unregulated” market.


Marco Renda founded Treating Yourself Magazine in 2002 as a tool to build awareness, educate and provide information to medical cannabis users and those seeking information on what was then  considered an alternative therapy. After struggling to establish Treating Yourself amongst recreational cannabis publications lie the now defunct Cannabis Culture Magazine, High Times Magazine and Montreal’s Skunk Magazine. Marco successfully turned Treating Yourself as the go-to place for those seeking information on how to access medical cannabis.


In 2009 Marco produced the very first Treating Yourself Medical Cannabis Expo at the same convention hall I found myself walking through just a few short weeks ago. The Treating Yourself Expo ran for five years at the MTCC, the same weekend each year that Lift now holds their expo. In 2014 the event was briefly held by US Cannabis Expo Company Champs, only to be taken over the next year by the inaugural Lift Expo.


While I understand the wide eyed amazement of those new to the industry, I can’t help but to feel pity that they miss the cannabis expos that actually included cannabis!!


It’s hard not to feel heartbroken when with so much progress in cannabis acceptance there seemed to be little of it at the 2018 Lift Cannabis Expo. The Lift expo was huge this year, taking up all three halls of the North Building.


I took the escalator up to the showroom floor and it didn’t take me long to realize that something felt “off”. I looked around and realized there wasn’t a pot leaf to be seen! I found friendly and familiar faces at the “ Hotbox Lounge” booth, set up with tables, stools, rolling trays, everything that your would hope to see at your local cannabis lounge including cannabis joint artist, Cody VanGogh. Although I am very aware that cannabis cannot be consumed indoors at a convention center, I was grateful to at least find a place to roll before I joined the rest of the actual consumers outside. It was not to be however, I was there only a few moments when I realized that attendees were not in fact allowed to roll at the rolling stations and Cody was struggling to roll hemp joints because actual cannabis was banned from the trade show.


The sheer size of the expo was impressive, most booths seemed to be targeted to business to business transactions rather than public sales and promotion. Admittedly back in “the day” business to business transactions might also have included cannabis sales but there was also lots of information provided to attendees about cannabis, whereas this latest expo seemed focused on educating investors. I walked around the showroom floor over the next two days and found myself more and more discouraged by what the future of legalization might be. There were a lot of talks about investment, start-ups, and stocks but I was angered to enter the Vape lounge after being told I must show my private medical documents to a security guard before entering the space (this is not a new rule at the MTCC but considering that legalization will happen literally within weeks it’s frustrating to feel like a second class citizen at an expo that is supposed to be about patients like you) only to find that the medical cannabis consumption lounge wasn’t even designed to be accessible to the patients who were meant to use it. High counters and bar stools are difficult to access from a chair. Vaporizers chained to the tables are inaccessible for those with dexterity issues. I’ve had a few people argue this fact with me but the fact is accessible means you don’t need an attendant or salesperson to assist you.  Gone were the good old days of the treating yourself expo where other patients could easily access vaporizers and socialize with other patients including those with mobility devices.


I walked past many booths, showing “cannabis displays” that while showing strain names like OG Kush, and Jack Herer the glass containers were actually filled with some sort of fake moss material. Having worked many a cannabis expo over the last 15 years I know that the public comes to these shows to learn and I’m sure many “newbies” left the Lift Expo this year thinking all dried cannabis looks alike and it resembles fake moss. This was not the cannabis show I thought we would be seeing n the cusp of legalization, where the cannabis is locked away to be replaced by candy, stress balls , the dankness of cannabis replaced by scented promotional candles.


I credit the Treating Yourself Expo and Marco Renda for teaching me about the beauty and intricacies of art glass when in 2013 the expo featured live glass blowing demos from artists from around the world culminating in a three day glass blowing competition between teams from Canada, The US, and Japan.The culture of cannabis though often stereotyped and discounted is a beautiful space filled with talent that 3D printed bongs and automation just can’t replace no matter how good the coffee you serve. The government need not worry about kids picking up a pot habit, the industry seems to be sucking the joy out of it already.


There were a few “grey market” businesses present, hidden in the corners with their delivery services and non-medicated edibles but the real cannabis show was outside on the sidewalk. Much to the chagrin of security the actual cannabis consumers congregated outside amongst the planters and food trucks parked nearby. The sweet stench of cannabis lining Toronto’s Front Street certainly let first time attendees know that they had arrived at the right place. Remo from Remo Nutrients makes every expo feel like a holiday by offering his warm smile, big hugs and even bigger “Remo sized joints”. The new faces mixed in with those who remember the humble beginnings of the Treating Yourself Expo, joints, vape pens, blunts, dabs,  and even a few Fukashima Pre-Rolls were shared amongst friends as we discussed our history and what may be laying wait for us in the future as we awaited the third senate reading of the Cannabis Act (at the time of this writing the act has been sent back to the house with amendments which are now being argued in the House of Commons).


My takeaway from the Lift Expo is that things are changing. Some of it might be for the better, some of it will definitely be worse but the one thing that won’t change is the friendly strangers you’ll find outside in the clouds. The next Lift Expo is expected in Vancouver, January 10-13, 2019. Join the one of circles outside, you will definitely learn something and they might even tell you a story about the good old days…