Vansterdam dreaming

A tourist guide to Canada's marijuana mecca.

So, you've chosen to visit Vancouver instead of Amsterdam. Rather than flying to Europe and converting your currency to expensive Euros at a very unfavorable exchange rate, you're in Canada's cannabis capital, known as Vansterdam!
Now what do you do? First, find a ganjafied place to shower, party and sleep. There's kind lodging at Karen Watson's Sativa Sisters Bed and Breakfast in Kitsilano. Or, if you want a high-rise condo in the heart of downtown, check out Mind Only Bed and Breakfast, 190 feet above the ground.

After storing your luggage, head for the 300-block of West Hastings Street. This area, known to locals as the "Block," is the epicenter of the marijuana movement in Canada.

In late April, a massive, heartbreaking fire destroyed or damaged several cannabusinesses and buildings on the Block. The inferno hit hard, but visitors to the Block can still find a thriving combination of marijuana seed retailers, clandestine grow rooms, ethnobotanicals, bookshops, and Amsterdam ambiance.

The original location of the famed Blunt Brothers caf? burned down, but Blunt has since moved to the New Amsterdam Caf?, located next door to Marc Emery's BC Marijuana Party Bookstore (BCMP), where visitors can buy hemp clothes, books, and a variety of glass pipes and other smoking accessories.

If you want to start your own grow room, you can buy equipment, nutrients, lights and other supplies at the BCMP and have it all discreetly shipped to your home.

What type of marijuana will you grow in your grow room? Go to another section of the BCMP store, and ask Marijuana Man or Marc Emery himself. They'll show you a seed catalog featuring hundreds of varieties of cannabis genetics.

You can toke up at the BCMP and the New Amsterdam Caf?, but you can't buy pot there. To find cannabis, just wander around outside the BCMP, inquiring discreetly about procuring herb.

If you're buying from a street dealer, see and smell their product before you pay for it. If their weed's not good enough, don't panic ? another dealer will come along shortly, and there's a pub around the corner known for its ganja-friendly vibe. In Vancouver, you can discreetly toke in public without fear of being busted ? just don't be flagrant or stupid about it.

Some US visitors to Vancouver order their pot delivered to their hotel room. Vancouver mail order dealer Bud Buddy won't meet in person, nor does he send anything across the border, but if you order in advance he will have your buds and hash sent to you at your hotel.

The city has a superb mass transit system so you don't need a car, and if the weather is pleasant, you can rent a bike and enjoy the feeling of getting around town in an ecologically-responsible manner.

Stanley Park is a must-see. It has gorgeous beaches, old-growth forests, hiking and biking trails, a seawall recreational path, cliffs, waterfalls, gorgeous flower gardens, and the world-famous Vancouver Aquarium, where you can commune with majestic Beluga whales.

If you're a swimmer, try Kitsilano Pool; it's one of the world's largest, featuring a mix of salt water and fresh water and lap lanes so long that they take five minutes to swim.

If you love nudity, head to where the University of British Columbia (UBC) campus meets the Pacific Ocean and towering cliffs, at Wreck Beach. You'll find naked people of all ages. If you're lucky you might bump into this issue's lovely cover girl, Watermelon, selling tasty fruit on the beach. Watermelon is a local celebrity, a comedian/activist/pin-up girl who was busted and handcuffed naked in 2001 for allegedly selling ganja cookies on the beach.

For those of you into gardening, visit UBC's Botanical gardens a half-mile from Wreck Beach. This peaceful multi-acre garden is a place for solitude, contemplation of floral majesty, inhalation, and meditation. Eagles nest in trees overhead, as nature's hues and perfumes lull one's mind into bliss.

If the gardens get you thinking more about your own garden, check out WTI Hydroponics at 1041 Kingsway in East Vancouver, as well as Sun Cell Grow Products at 3028 Commercial Drive. WTI is affiliated with the manufacturer of the Coliseum and the Cage grow systems. Sun Cell makes all-inclusive grow boxes that increase security while reducing heat and electrical consumption.

When you head out to Commercial Drive, also be sure to visit the city's newest non-private pot-friendly caf?, Da Kine, at 1018 Commercial Drive. Da Kine includes the Canadian Sanctuary Society, a medical marijuana organization that is extremely compassionate in determining if you are a medical user who can buy from the Society's menu of fine herbs and concentrates.

Of particular interest at Da Kine is a new cannabis extract called "budder." Initial scientific testing of budder's cannabinoid profiles and percentages indicates it may very well be one of the purest and most potent cannabis products to ever hit the market.

Right across the street from Da Kine is the Melting Point, at 1111 Commercial Drive. This new store is owned by Bubbleman, where he sells his renowned hash-making Bubble Bags, as well as vaporizers and other related items.

When you are bubbled and buddered up, visit the UBC Museum of Anthropology. It features an awesome cliff-side totem pole garden and stunning indoor exhibits showing the art and history of indigenous peoples who populated Canada before invading cultures took over.

Another cultural must-see is Chinatown, replete with medicinal herb shops, traditional Chinese medical healers, parks, and bike trails.
Looking for nightlife? Vancouver has at least a dozen clubs where discreet cannabians can inhale BC's finest on club premises or safely nearby.

If you crave cinema, professional dance, symphony, art, ballet, or live theater, find a copy of the free alternative papers called The Georgia Straight and Terminal City for a calendar of concerts, performances, movies, music festivals, art galleries and museums.

For shopping and dining, hit Robson Street, Denman Street, and Granville Island, where you'll find everything from upscale malls to funky hippie shops and gourmet vegan restaurants. For a view of the city from way high, head up the elevator to the Vancouver Lookout at Harbour Centre Tower.

If you want to experience something other than the Vancouver vibe, head to the Sunshine Coast via ferry from Horseshoe Bay, take a ferry or plane to Vancouver Island, or head north to Whistler, North America's premier ski resort.

During winter, powderheads huck and bake in the high mountains overlooking Vancouver. Some of them, such as Cypress Mountain and Mount Seymour, are less than an hour from downtown. In summer, ski trails are converted to mountain bike trails, where extreme bicyclists risk their lives doing loops during 60-foot vertical drops.

The Sunshine Coast has charming beach towns and rugged alpine wilderness ideal for hiking and camping. Vancouver Island offers unique marine ecosystems, mountain ranges, surfing, diving and lots of grow rooms.

I've traveled the planet looking for places where pot people can safely and enjoyably celebrate herb. Amsterdam and Haarlem, Holland, are sweet. Jamaica is a tropical ganja paradise. But if you want to visit a safe, exhilarating, world-class North American city that has totally embraced the cannabis culture, come to Vansterdam, home of the Emery empire and sugary BC bud!

Coming to Vancouver

Ganja tourists need to be aware and take care when crossing the Canadian border.

Visiting Canada isn't as easy as it used to be, especially if you're coming for a cannabis vacation.

The Canadian government has the right to refuse entry to any person who has a criminal record, including drug crimes or driving while intoxicated. Officials can refuse entry to anyone they suspect is entering Canada to violate Canadian law; marijuana is illegal in Canada.

Post-911 border security data-sharing enhancements enable officials to quickly ascertain if would-be visitors have criminal histories. Marijuana felonies, especially cultivation felonies, almost always make a visitor inadmissible to Canada.

Although some marijuana misdemeanors do not automatically make a person inadmissible to Canada, the initial decision about whether a visitor can enter Canada is made by officials at border crossings and airports, and these officials turn away or interrogate Americans and others who have criminal records or who appear to be visiting Canada for marijuana tourism.

Getting back into the US after visiting Vansterdam can also be problematic, especially for people who purchased pot seeds in Canada and are trying to carry them back home. Avoid problems by not looking like a stereotypical pothead cannatourist. Long hair on men, dreadlocks, hemp clothing, and similar features will attract negative attention from government agents.

Most foreigners are screened as they enter Canada via land, sea or air. Officials might question you about the location of your hotel and your reason for visiting Canada. If you admit you are visiting Canada so you can buy herb or attend the Tokers' Bowl, it's very likely you'll be sent back to your port of origin, and also be permanently banned from Canada.

Thus, it is important for you to have a cover story that contains "legitimate" reasons for you to visit Canada. These reasons could include shopping, sports, outdoor recreation, cultural events, and other non-marijuana activities.

For $200 an hour, get expert advice from Vancouver immigration lawyer Alex Stojicevic, who has represented American marijuana refugees like Steve Kubby. Query Stojicevic via email and tell him details of any criminal history you might have, and ask him about getting across the Canadian border. After you've paid him, he will do everything possible to help you enter Canada legally.

Vancouver is a fantastic cannabis city, and it's worth working through border problems to visit. However, some weed fans are likely to have problems heading north, so prepare for the problems by getting legal advice and using common sense.

? Alex Stojicevic: alex@vancouverlaw.ca.

For more information:

? Sativa Sisters: www.theamsterdam.com
? Mind Only B&B: www.mindonly.net
? BCMP: www.bcmarijuanaparty.com
? Blunt Brothers: www.bluntbros.com
? Marc Emery Seeds: www.emeryseeds.com
? WTI: www.thcbc.com
? Sun Cell: www.suncell.ca
? Melting Point: www.meltingpoint.ca

Vancouver tourism:

? www.tourismvancouver.com
? www.pacificrimtourism.ca
? www.vancouverlookout.com
? www.bigpacific.com

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