TORONTO — Sari Starr recalls having to sneak around in order to smoke weed with her friends when she was growing up in Toronto in the mid-to-late ’90s.
Her parents were vehemently against drug use, and one of her biggest adolescent memories was the fear she felt when a police officer caught her smoking pot in a park.
Now living in cannabis-friendly California, Starr has become an ardent advocate of marijuana use, and believes the potent plant can revolutionize the health and wellness industry.
So she’s returning to her hometown at the end of the month to host the adult-only, weed-focused Cannabliss Retreat — a five-day celebration of the herb’s history, culture and ever-evolving future.
With Canada about to legalize recreational use in October, Starr says she’s keen to help foster a supportive community of pot-positive people with her first Canadian event, set for the Hockley Valley Resort north of Toronto near Orangeville, Ont.
And it’s not about “numbing out” for the weekend, she insists.
“Our focus and our goal is to eradicate the stigma,” Starr says in a recent interview from her adopted home in Venice Beach, Calif.
“There’s not a lot of in-person education out there. Yes, of course, people can go online and do their own research but we felt that bringing the education through the experience is a critical element.”
And by experience she means that attendees are encouraged to bring their own legal weed to consume at yoga, meditation and sound bath sessions, as well as the late-night fireside chats under the stars.
The 20-person retreat opens up to a broader, one-day ticketed event called the Cosmic Connection Festival on Sept. 2, complete with a DJ dance party and 4-20 ceremony, an hour-long meditative ritual in which participants consume cannabis, sing songs and listen to music in an attempt to “clear the mind, open the heart and connect with a higher self.”
Cannabliss is one of the more elaborate adventures available to those looking for a Mary Jane getaway, but there are others as the cannabis community prepares to welcome an increased interest in bud culture.
Puff Jam returns Aug. 10 and 11 in Millgrove, Ont., offering a family-friendly outdoor music and comedy festival along with 4-20 ceremonies, a giant adult-sized bouncy castle, and pot-friendly speakers, says festival co-ordinator Joanne Baker.
She describes it as an opportunity for people to relax and enjoy their weed freely, even with their kids around.
“I think kids can handle adults having a little fun as long as they’re still responsible adults,” she says. “We don’t want to lie to our children. They should know that this isn’t anything to be ashamed of anymore.”
The fest is now in its fifth year, and Baker sees a gradual change in the way society regards marijuana use. But she says events like these help both experienced and new users feel comfortable using and learning about the herb.
She keeps ticket sales to between 200 and 300 people — “We like it that way, it’s manageable.”
Having a safe place to experience and enjoy marijuana — sometimes for the first time — is not to be underestimated, says Kevin Fox, a media spokesman for a Denver bud-and-breakfast looking to expand into Canada.
Fox says one of the biggest reasons many Canadians flock to his Colorado retreat The Adagio is that it offers a supportive setting to consume something that has been demonized for so long.
“You wouldn’t believe the paranoia that disappears when you get in an environment like that, because people say, ‘Hey, I smoked weed and I got super-paranoid,’ (and) then they smoked it at our place and said, ‘I didn’t get paranoid once,”‘ says Fox, whose retreat offers a “wake and bake” breakfast, massages and a 4:20 p.m. happy hour.
“I said, ‘I know, because it’s OK here, you don’t have to worry about the inn-keeper or the hotel knocking at your door or any of those things. You’re enjoying yourself, you’re relaxing for the first time in forever.”‘
Sean Roby, CEO and founder of the Airbnb-style booking site www.budandbreakfast.com, says interest in cannabis-friendly getaways is really snowballing.
He says his site features about 30 Canadian hosts he but expects that to grow when legalization hits.
“We’re getting all kinds of people, not just homes but people that want to provide an experience such as a farm tour, a warehouse tour, there’s cannabis and yoga classes, I’ve seen sushi and joint-rolling classes offered,” he says from Boulder, Colo.
“People are getting really creative.”
And vacations and cannabis are a natural fit, he adds: “The whole point is to relax and chill out.”
Starr admits Canada’s delayed approval of recreational use has thrown a bit of a wrench into her retreat’s schedule.
With that now set for Oct. 17, Starr says only those with a medical licence can legally consume cannabis at Cannabliss, and that plans for a cannabis-infused menu have been scrapped.
She puts the focus on the many educational components of the Canadian event, beginning Aug. 31: multiple workshops and panel discussions on topics including how to grow cannabis, the basics of extractions and cooking, and how it interacts with your body.
“It’s definitely about wellness, it’s definitely about conscious-awakening,” says Starr, who’s already run three such getaways in California.
“We believe this is a sacred, powerful plant that should be respected and used mindfully and with that, we want to change the stigma around smoking pot.”