I lock my car doors now. I never used to—Toronto was one of the safest cities in the world. Now, after the legalization of marijuana, my United Nations driver insists I keep a safety routine. I quickly see why. Even now—early in the morning—the children show up. At first, it was a few timid youths looking for a handout. Within a few days of legalization, this changed. There is a modest horde of them now, slapping the windows and chanting.
This is not normal.
I was born in Toronto. We never had problems with drugs in Canada back in the day. It wasn’t until 1998 that police seized the first cannabis shipment at the border. As kids, we fooled around with cocaine, but never hard drugs. Weed was something you saw in movies. Sometimes, when our parents bought us cigarettes, they would joke that they were giving us marijuana. That’s all it was—a harmless joke.
Times have changed. As Canada’s economy collapsed, people turned to the mindless escape of pot. It became normal to see friends sitting in a city park smoking a joint. If you called the police, they wouldn’t do anything—they must have been too afraid to take them on. This cowardice simply emboldened the smokers, who built a powerful lobby with the laundered money of their crime operations. Whispers began that these crime families would “go legit” and promote legalization to protect their new fortunes. It only took a few years for the marijuana magnates to build an unstoppable political machine.
I fled to New York City. The inflated rents of Toronto’s weed bubble had long priced me out of the city, even on a journalist’s salary. Coming back now is bittersweet. The city is in the grips of marijuana fever. I recognize the landmarks but not the people. Strangers look at me with their weed eyes, as if vacant. I wonder if the world really cares about what I see, if it will do anything to help Canada get itself out of its trap.
As I close in on Bay Street—Toronto’s financial hub—the horde of lost children gives way to guards with long beards and assault rifles. The kids know to slink away. Still, there is a lone girl who seems unaffected by the guards’ presence. I roll down my window to chat.
“My name is Sarah,” she says. Sarah is a girl’s name that means princess. In a world without cannabis, maybe she would have been a great leader. I ask her where her parents are. “Weed addicts.” I don’t doubt her. Like most of the children here, her parents are probably on a couch in some darkened condo, smoking marijuana and listening to old records. I hand Sarah a bottle of water. My driver looks nervous. It’s time to go.
The steel and glass of Bay Street is a powerful reminder that not everyone here is poor. A rich few have made fortunes off the marijuana market. Many predict these stocks will go up forever. The profits are cause for celebration. That’s why I’m here—to report on the breaking of some new sales record for one of the shady weed conglomerates. I don’t consider journalism an extension of corporate public-relations, so I’m looking around for something bigger. Maybe the bigger story is outside.
I ask the CEO a question about the children of marijuana. “There are adjustment costs in the transition period,” she says. It’s an answer she has probably given hundreds of times. Is little Sarah an adjustment cost? Here in Toronto, far from world-class cities like New York and Shanghai, the local elites are not interested in a debate. I was naïve to believe there was any news here, so I take my leave. I climb back into the white SUV and try to ignore the tiny handprints covering its windows.
As we drive to the airport, I see an old church in the distance. The ubiquitous guards have fenced it off to prevent crowds from getting in. It’s an ugly sight. Only the richest of Toronto’s marijuana nouveau-riche are allowed inside. The whole thing seems upside-down. I wonder what they’re praying for. More of the same? It feels like blasphemy. Who will pray for the marijuana addicts? Who will pray for the weed orphans of Toronto?