Meet Abi Roach, Owner of Canada’s Longest Running Cannabis Lounge

Article byDevon Scoble, Lift News

Meet Abi Roach, owner of Canada's longest running cannabis lounge Come along as Lift tours the award-winning, iconic HotBox Cafe

It’s not easy interviewing Abi Roach, the affable owner of Toronto’s HotBox Cafe, Canada’s first cannabis lounge and a Kensington Market mainstay. We sat down to chat with her at the HotBox on a busy summer afternoon, frequently pausing our conversation as she greeted a near-constant stream of customers, many by name.

Getting a word in with Roach is hard, but it’s easy to see why the crowd of cannabis enthusiasts comes—and comes back—to the HotBox.

If you’ve never been (you should go!), it’s useful to think of her lively operation as a mullet—the shop exudes the kind of eye-catching style that can only be pulled off by a select few, and is most definitely business in the front, party in the back. Patrons enter through the shop, greeted by a colourful array of cannabis accessories, books and hemp clothing, and a friendly hello from Abi or one of her “hemployees.”

Keep walking all the way to the back lounge, where another hemployee will check your ID (patrons must be 19 and over to enter the lounge) and take your $5 entry fee before directing you to the café section. Filled with communal tables, a pool table, and a variety of freshly cleaned cannabis accessories that patrons can use free of charge, the lounge leads to a large back patio and an upstairs chill area. Patrons can smoke their own cannabis (but not cigarettes) on the back patio, or use the included vaporizers or dab rigs inside.

The atmosphere is relaxed and welcoming, giving no hints of the many logistical and legislative challenges it’s faced over the years. Originally opened as a head shop in 2000, HotBox became a bring-your-own-cannabis lounge in 2003, long before legalization was the near-certainty it has now become. “We’ve dealt with licensing, we’ve dealt with the police, we’ve dealt with taxation,” says Roach. “It’s never been easy to be a groundbreaker, but we’ve made it through.”

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