“It’s a no-brainer,” deadpanned Robin Ellins, owner of Friendly Stranger, a cannabis culture shop in Toronto. Ellins was referring to the runaway success of the Iolite portable herb vaporizer. It’s the hottest new drug paraphernalia to hit the market since . . . since . . . nobody can remember.
Stoners are smitten by this handy little unit that resembles a walkie-talkie. “It’s actually manufactured in Ireland as an aromatherapy device,” clarified Manitoba-based Robert Ritchot, a Canadian distributor of the device. Sure, Robert, whatever your lawyers say.
Iolite’s slogan explains its popularity: “Smokeless freedom.” No cords. No batteries. It runs on butane canisters (around $5 each) and retails for approximately $200 to $300 (less than half the price of the cumbersome plug-in models found in basements across Canada). How does it work? A small amount of your preferred herb is vaporized and accessed through a tube, just like a sippy cup. If this is hard to imagine, watch one of the countless demonstrations on YouTube. Owners explain how it uses less weed and provides a “cleaner” high while vaporizing nearly all of the active ingredients.
“My wife no longer banishes me to the man cave at the back of the house,” said Toronto resident “Doug,” a director of business development in the auto industry. “I can even smoke up in front of my mom because there’s no smoke!” Doug is a parent, just like “Sarah,” an ethics professor spending the summer at her cottage in Muskoka. “It’s guilt-free, with the baby,” she said, concerned that her university colleagues would read this article. “Where I teach, pot is taboo and I’d be fired if they knew.”
The kind of people who need the discretion offered by a smoke-free vaporizer are not interested in being quoted in national magazines. “We get everyone from cops to pilots buying the portables,” said Dominic Jean, the distribution manager for retailer High Times, headquartered in Laval, Que. At Shakedown Street head shop in Kitchener, Ont., they sell portable vaporizers to “businessmen hiding it from their wives” and “outdoorsy people.” Across the country, professors and students are cited as frequent buyers, as are “closet stoners” and patients with chronic pain.
At the Toronto Hemp Co., staff took the portable vaporizer outside to see how people reacted. “It was a dream come true. We went to the movie, to the mall and the subway,” said assistant manager Corey Williams. “Nobody knew.”
It’s all news to commandant Marc St-Cyr, chief of the Montreal police force’s district 20. “It’s the first I’ve heard of it. We haven’t seized one of these devices yet,” he said. “But I’m not overly worried. If people are passing around a walkie-talkie, sipping on it, in a small group of friends, we’ll notice.”
Now you’ll notice. Sorry, everyone. Kevin, a sales executive in Toronto, owns two vaporizers—an old table model with a cord and a new portable he calls his hand-held. “I use it in the car, mostly, and around our pregnant friend,” said Kevin, who bought a knock-off unit for $75 on Yonge Street six months ago.
Along with knock-offs come more serious competitors. Now, Iolite must share the spotlight with a new, battery-operated vaporizer from Air-2 called NO2, which debuts this weekend at the first Medical Marijuana and Hemp Expo (July 16-18) at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. Attendees with a federal exemption card can test the NO2 and the Iolite at the vapour lounge. (Seriously, you need the card.)
Not everyone wants one of these high-tech travellers. Purists like Montrealer Martin Labbé says the portable units don’t let him properly “taste” his medical marijuana. Meanwhile, recording artist Errol Blackwood says the portables rob him of the religious ritual. “As a Rasta, it’s part of the sacrament to roll a big joint and rub the smoke on your face,” says Blackwood, who will perform his song Holy Smokes at the expo. Marco Renda prefers his plug-in model. “The Volcano is still the Ferrari of vaporizers,” said Renda, the publisher of Treating Yourself marijuana magazine and co-founder of the expo. “I don’t like butane. It’s a gas. I’m old school.”