Big Toke in the Big Smoke: Hemp Expo Blows into Toronto

TORONTO — A three-day expo, which kicks off Friday in Toronto, is being billed as the first convention ever held in Canada to promote the use of medical marijuana, with organizers expecting as many as 30,000 people from around the world to attend.

The Medical Marijuana and Hemp Show will be held at the Metro Convention Centre, the same downtown location where leaders from the G20 countries met just three weeks ago.

The size and scope of the event, featuring exhibitors from around the globe, educational seminars with doctors and even a hemp fashion and cooking show, is a big step toward legitimatizing the multimillion-dollar industry, said event organizer Marco Renda.

“We’re trying to educate people on responsible use,” said Renda, 50. “These people could be your neighbours, your lawyers, your mothers and fathers. They could be your doctors.”

Renda, a Toronto resident who publishes a magazine for cannabis users called Treating Yourself, said the prohibition of the herb has made users uneducated and afraid to share their experiences with others.

“This expo is a family event. I encourage parents to bring their children,” said Renda, who uses cannabis to treat arthritis. “There’s no marijuana being sold or distributed at the show. Everything we’re doing is within the law.”

People from Hawaii, Hong Kong and the U.K. were expected to arrive for the expo, which will also feature a 4,600 square foot vapour lounge, allowing patients with a license, to use medicinal marijuana on-site in a communal environment. Attendees will have to supply their own product to use the lounge, which Renda said will be the largest ever in the world.

Health Canada has approved the use of medical marijuana for certain health conditions ranging from pain management to cerebral palsy, to mental illness since 1999.

Nearly 5,000 Canadians have an approved license to possess marijuana.

Despite this, Renda believes there are thousands of others who use the drug illegally for their health, fuelling an underground industry that puts approved users and growers at risk of home invasions and robberies.

He argues that if complete legalization occurs, patients can then get their medical marijuana at the pharmacy like any other drug.

The issue has been a contentious one for decades. Last month, a number of medical marijuana clubs were raided in Montreal, Toronto and B.C.

In May, Canada’s self-described Prince of Pot, Marc Emery was extradited to the United States on drug charges. Emery, 51, plead guilty to conspiracy to manufacture marijuana for alleging selling cannabis seeds in the United States. He remains in detention in Seattle until his sentencing.

According to his website, Emery claimed he made $3 million a year and has sold more than four million seeds.

For Allan Graham, medical marijuana saved his life.

Graham, 48, from Campbellford, Ont., was diagnosed seven years ago with Chron’s Disease, a digestive tract disorder. He found himself unable to eat, sleep and was in pain most days. At one point, he found himself taking up to 32 pills a day, including morphine.

When he approached his doctor with the idea of using cannabis as a pain reliever and as a way to increase his appetite, he was shot down.

“It took two years for me to get educated. I spent a lot of that time talking with my doctor, who is quite traditional,” said Graham. “Eventually, he signed my paperwork. Many doctors are just not trained on this in school. A lot of them are being educated by their patients.”

Graham, who lights up about five cigarette-sized joints a day, said medical marijuana is something he plans on taking for the rest of his life.

“If I didn’t have this, I believe I would’ve ended up in a situation where I would always be on a narcotic pain pill,” he said. “There are a lot of people who start off with OxyContin, Percocet and maybe if a doctor stops providing them, it doesn’t mean they stop taking them. That is a concern, seeing what happens to other people.”

Martin Birzle, owner of Roor, a company specializing in glass products for smoking marijuana, came from Germany to set up a booth at the weekend expo. He has attended about 50 conventions in the last few years and said fear over the legalization of marijuana is universal.

“People in general, think it’s a drug, that people who take it become stupid or that it’s not good for you,” he said. “They think you should follow the rules and all those things. I just look forward to the day when everything is more free.”

The Medical Marijuana and Hemp Show runs from June 16 to 18 at the Metro Convention Centre. For more information, visit

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