In plotting these paragraphs, I realized I would be remiss if I did not offer at least a word on my own modest history with weed, which began during the Summer of Love, 1967, when I spent the months from May to September burying the dead in Resthaven Memorial Gardens in the east end of Toronto. It was a place where the gravedigging crew kept a carefully tended patch of marijuana in the back acres, and we considered it not just permissible but necessary to be at least modestly ripped as we lowered this corpse or that into the ground.
My consumption reached its combined zenith and nadir in July of that year, when during a three-week gravedigger’s strike I sat for eight hours a day, surrounded by a growing pile of coffins and a shrinking pile of weed, in an old parka, in a heavily refrigerated chapel with locked doors, my presence in that lurid nightmare fulfilling the cemetery’s legal obligation to “secure by active guard” all unburied corpses in its care.
All of which storytelling is just jackpotting, of course, if it does not at some point lead back to questions about what it is we want or require from marijuana, what marijuana has to offer, and the way in which open and healthy answers to such questions might best be used to shape our intelligence and future regarding the drug.
A year into legalization, no one has a tighter perspective on these concerns than the free-spoken owner of Fritz’s Cannabis, an illegal online edibles store currently making waves in Toronto for its philosophies in “wellness,” its attention to the accurate dosing of ingredients and its scrupulous avoidance of product contamination.
When Fritz and his wife went into business four years ago, it was, Fritz says, to fill a perceived gap in the market for well-made, accurately dosed edibles. His earliest products contained all-star ingredients such as Rice Krispies and Fruit Loops and, of course, marijuana, which was baked into the Rice Krispie squares in measured portions of actual weed. “At the time, there was no talk of legalization,” says Fritz. “Certainly no sense of a coming bonanza.”
Today, rather than bales of grass, Fritz and his wife use marijuana extracts and distillates — “we can dose and label them almost to the molecule.” But because the spectre of inaccurate dosing (and the possibility of overdosing) is still a kind of curse on the market, edibles remained illegal after the initial legalization, Fritz and his wife, if caught selling their products, could spend up to 15 years in prison.
(Fritz will not meet licensing requirements even when the sale of edible marijuana becomes legal in December 2019.)
All of which means you don’t call Fritz for information; he calls you — if you manage to reach him, via the company website, at his secret location somewhere in Greater Toronto. A half-hour of conversation with him reveals, among other things, that he is a homey and articulate pragmatist in his early 40s — a man so diligent in the details of candy-making, safe products and timely delivery that after a few minutes of chit-chat one begins to imagine him less as a drug criminal (which officially he remains) than as a sort of production engineer on the goodies conveyor at Santa’s workshop.
The image crumbles somewhat as Fritz describes picking up the illegal extracts and distillates, under sketchy circumstances, from folks he hopes are not thugs or cops, in dark parking lots, at night — sometimes handing over many thousands in cash to “guys whose names I don’t even know.”
Before any application of potency to product — “distillate to date square,” as one consumer put it — Fritz sends all psycho-active ingredients to a lab in Vancouver, which analyzes them for, among other things, pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals and opioids. “I’m not saying there aren’t other producers doing things safely,” he submits, “but I hear about a surprising number who are not. Fortunately, in a self-regulating market, they don’t last long — word gets around.”
For all the precautions, Fritz has amassed no brownie points with the authorities. He says, in fact, the pressure on him has increased since legalization.
“Our competition used to be other people selling edibles [There are 100 or more online dealers in the country —Ed.]. Now we’re eating the government’s lunch, too. And they don’t like it. The sad truth is we know what we’re doing, have figured it out as entrepreneurs, and they don’t want us around. And really won’t want us around when they get the authorized edibles market up and running.”
And yet, in all, it is not regulation that drives Fritz crazy; it’s what he calls “the misunderstandings” about marijuana among those who “know nothing about the evolution of the cannabis industry in Canada” but who continue to believe marijuana is still primarily about one thing: getting stoned — about potheads escaping their lives. “You’d think it was heroin they’re talking about, when in fact there’s been a real shift away from THC-based experiences and toward CBD products for treatment of, say, ADD and anxiety.”
As much as anybody, Fritz and his wife have helped facilitate that shift. During the past two years, they have sent more than 250 free packages of CBD products to those who request them for any variety of psychological or physical ailments. “We also offer our CBD stuff free to anyone withdrawing from opiates or alcohol, for as long as they need it. We’re definitely not doing it to get rich,” he allows. “The hassles are not worth the money most days. On the other hand, we’ve had emails from people saying they’ve been able to come off oxies or Xanax because of us. And that is a huge reward in itself.
“You shouldn’t put what I’m going to tell you in your story; it’s too controversial — but I had contact from a mother in Nova Scotia who said, ‘I want to try to help my non-verbal autistic child,’ and she asked us to send a certain CBD product. I said we can’t; we’re not doctors — we can’t recommend it. She said, ‘Please just send it,’ so we did; and she gave a microscopic dose to the child, and before long he began to say a few words. We have a friend who has an 11-year-old with autism and has violent outbursts; and she started putting a tiny bit of CBD in his milk; and a couple of weeks later she had a call from the school, saying ‘We’ve been seeing a big difference in D. He’s so much calmer and more cooperative.’”
The approach is most certainly unconventional. Probably criminal. [So, too, is the practice of giving brandy to teething babies —Ed.]. But to properly contest or corroborate it is so far beyond the scope of these paragraphs that I am resigned to reminding readers of the well-researched evidence that marijuana consumption can impair brain development in adolescents and teenagers (see “Cortical Thickness in Adolescent Marijuana and Alcohol Uses,” published in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, April 2015).
Becky Erin, a 36-year-old Toronto health worker, says, “Actually, it’s not pot I worry about from my adolescence. It’s all the other chemicals I put into my body, looking for a high.”
“Cannabis around children requires good parenting,” says Jason Beattie. “Just like alcohol or a lot of other potentially toxic substances.”
Meanwhile, adults are as likely as teenagers to go awry with marijuana. Diane C., a psychiatric nurse in British Columbia, says the hospital where she works has seen numerous cases of adults suffering psychotic episodes after ingesting too much marijuana.
I personally know four adults, all in their 60s, who during the past two years have taken one toke too many, have passed out and hit the floor hard.
Jean S. of Gravenhurst, Ont., acknowledges with a laugh that she once smoked a reefer as she prepared Christmas dinner, passed out and wakened just in time to see the turkey being carved. But she will also tell you about her years as an elementary school teacher in northern Ontario, when she was so blitzed and fed up with powerful pharmaceuticals for treatment of anxiety and migraines that marijuana became the only medication she could count on to stay sane.
“For years I taught school on those soul-killers,” she says. “They eliminate the pain, but eliminate all the other feelings, too. Sometimes I think I’d have been better all along just smoking and teaching at the same time.”
Doug Flegel, who recently retired from his career as an electrician with Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation, never smoked grass on the job. He believes the mistake people make with marijuana is to smoke or ingest it and then try to direct its influence into whatever it is they’re doing.
“When you smoke,” he says, “you have to let the cannabis tell you what its message or direction might be. And it will. We have cannabinoid receptors built right into our neural tissues. It’s possible we’ve been using grass for 100,000 years, and our bodies have adapted to it and know what to do with it. In a Darwinian sense, it may even have contributed to our survival. And may again, because it helps us achieve a different point of view; it’s like art in that way. It overcomes rigid thinking. Opens new paths.”