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Meet Tania Cyalume: Chemist + Cannabis Community Builder

Republished with permission from Hempster an Evio Community Partner

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Call Tania Cyalume, 39, the ultimate high-tea hostess. For twelve years, she has been finding creative ways to create a social culture around cannabis consumption, having been involved in Toronto’s Green Market, leading the Ganga Yoga meetup in Toronto’s Christie Pits, and most recently founding the deeply missed dispensary Queens of Cannabis, a female-driven space that focused on creating a social space for medical marijuana users.

As cannabis laws evolve, so does Cyalume. Her most recent endeavour has been the Bloom High Tea Social Club, a pop-up gathering for guests to gather over edibles such as cannabis-infused teaschocolates, and the popular lavender lemonade. Events are announced through Bloom High Tea Social Club on Facebook and Instagram.

Cyalume spoke to Hempster about finding inspiration in European social clubs, the importance of community-based cannabis consumption, and why she refuses to wait for the government to get organized before taking action.

I’m a chemist and I worked in the pharmaceutical industry for many years. I wanted to do something more natural, more holistic. I had a lot of friends who were growers, and decided to go into that field.

There weren’t nice environments where patients could meet other patients and vent their frustrations. A lot of [medical marijuana users] are either on disability because they’ve had an injury or they’re going through some mental health issues and they can’t work. So they don’t really see anybody throughout the day. I wanted to create a space where people could connect with other people, not just, “Oh I’m here to pick up my medicine.”

In 2016, Cyalume opened the all-female owned, LGBTQ+ positive dispensary Queens of Cannabis with Brandy Zurborg.

People could come and spend the afternoon having high tea and getting to know other people. That was a big part of it, to connect other patients. We had only women working the front counter. Even when men would come in they would say it felt like more of a holistic approach, like they were going to visit their aunt, or a friend. They could say this is what’s going on with me, I have this issue. They felt comfortable saying what they were going through and what they were looking for.

It’s a problem walking into a dispensary not knowing what you want. Being able to get that help creates a bridge between the dispensary and the patient. Once they have that and they feel comfortable, most patients are not going to go to any other dispensary.

During the Project Claudia raids on dispensaries in May 2016, the City of Toronto served Cyalume and Zurborg’s landlord with a warning.

The landlord barely spoke English. She was an older lady, probably 75 or something. She was totally scared by the bylaw officer. Basically the landlord changed the locks. We could have battled them in court to have the door reopened, but our lawyer advised us against it because he said it would be somewhere in the realm of $20,000 to $30,000 in lawyers’ fees.

In Barcelona, all their dispensaries are social clubs. A social club is a place where people can go and pay a membership to come in and then get a drink and gab and hang out for the day and meet other people. They can sell beer, alcohol, food and cannabis all under one roof.

My intention is to have a [Bloom High Tea Social Club] café where people can come and sit down and connect with other patients and just have a cup of coffee and hang out. I want to incorporate more food items, like snacks and teas and coffees and stuff, both cannabis-infused and otherwise. But of course right now with the landscape the way it is I have held off on doing that to see what’s going to happen. You don’t want to waste a ton of money and then have everything change up.

One of the most frustrating parts is to travel the world and see some of the countries that have legalized cannabis and how great it is. And then our government is just not sure what they are doing. It just looks like they are dragging it out for no reason and they are just wasting a lot of tax dollars on trying to figure it out.

There are already models they can adapt. Uruguay has already figured it out! They have already worked out all the kinks—maybe it would work here too? That is a bit frustrating. With me, I have been in this business since 2006, and lots of things have changed. But at the same time nothing has changed at all. So I will find my way to navigate through.

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