Police raids and front-page newspaper articles helped to shut down some of Vancouver’s most pot-friendly businesses in recent months. Here’s a look at the disturbing trend of prohibition in Canada’s premier cannabis city.
Death of Da Kine
The Da Kine cafe, a Dutch-style coffeeshop we reported on in our last issue, and which openly sold cannabis and pot food for over four months on Vancouver’s Commercial Drive, has shut its doors for good.
Carol Gwilt, owner of the embattled and now-infamous cafe was released from jail on October 18, 2004, after spending over four weeks behind bars.
The original raid on Da Kine took place on September 10, 2004, after media attention pressured local police into action. Dozens of police officers shut down the entire block, erected barricades to keep back protesting crowds, arrested 12 people, and seized $64,000 in cash, nine kilos of marijuana, 450 grams of hashish and over 300 pot cookies.
Da Kine bravely re-opened the next day, and spokesman Lorne McLeod stated to media that, “We’re not going away… If they raid us again, we’ll open again.” (CC#52, Vancouver pot shop reopens after raid).
Originally, a public hearing had been scheduled at Vancouver City Hall, to determine if Da Kine should have its business license revoked. However, on October 6, Da Kine officially gave up its business license and closed down. Gwilt reportedly said that the stakes in the ongoing game of cat-and-mouse with police had just gotten too high and said the cafe would stop selling marijuana.
Carol Gwilt and employees were forced to comply with bail conditions that included staying away from the store and away from marijuana or any premises, automobile or person where marijuana is present.?
At Gwilt’s bail hearing, provincial court Judge William Kitchen had said it was “silly” for Gwilt to remain in custody, adding that marijuana-related cases were “not the most dangerous” offenses. However, he warned Gwilt that violating her bail conditions would result in arrest and imprisonment until trial.
True to his word, on September 16, Gwilt was arrested and imprisoned once again for allegedly possessing a kilo of buds. Then, the judge made the unbelievable decision to keep Gwilt locked up, meaning she could have been stuck in jail for up to six months.
“It’s disheartening when I’m leaving court today and walking out among murderers and violent criminals when someone who’s just trying to speak up for what she believes in is being held and the key thrown away,” said Rick Gwilt, Carol Gwilt’s ex-husband.
Gwilt remained in jail until she was released on bail again.
“Ms Gwilt is grateful for being released from custody,” said her defense lawyer Jason Gratl at the time. “She will take her battle off the streets and into the courts.”
Don Briere, a past candidate for the BC Marijuana Party, was also imprisoned for his involvement with Da Kine. He was arrested on September 12 after police seized six pounds of marijuana and $6,000 in cash from his car. Briere was taken to a hospital following his arrest when he complained about chest pains.?He was then transferred from the hospital to prison.
Briere was on parole after having served 14 months of a four-year sentence for running what police allege was a highly sophisticated marijuana growing and cross-border pot smuggling operation that generated millions of dollars in illicit profits in Surrey, BC. His lawyer, John Conroy, says his client’s parole has been suspended and that a charge of possession of marijuana for the purpose of trafficking has been laid against him.
In interviews before his arrest, Briere confirmed his involvement in Da Kine, saying that the store was set up by the Canadian Sanctuary Society, a non-profit group he founded in order to help people legally obtain cannabis for medical purposes.
Compassion club raid
On September 24, Vancouver police launched a raid on the Vancouver headquarters of the Canadian Marijuana Party, which is located right next door to the office of Libby Davies, the anti-prohibitionist NDP MP for the area.
The federal Marijuana Party, run by past Marijuana Party candidate Marc Boyer, was also an outlet for the Vancouver Compassion Club Society, which sold medical marijuana as well as pot food products and topical lotions. The Society, which sold to over 2,000 members, had never been raided in its seven years of operation. Their membership conditions were quite strict and required a doctor’s note before they would take on new clients.
Boyer says his club was legal, because Canada’s Election Act allows a political party to support what they promote, and that act supersedes the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
Nevertheless, masked police officers stormed the office and arrested the staff members present. When Boyer arrived on the scene he was also arrested and charged with trafficking. Boyer has since been released on bail and awaits trial in November 2004.
As for the future, Boyer plans to set up a virtual compassion club and is encouraging the involvement of federal marijuana party candidates to help promote party and club memberships.
“I’m making an offer to any candidate; no one is obligated to join in,” said Boyer. “I’ll be launching a full detailed presentation soon. I’m setting up my constituency virtual network first. I’m promoting Vancouver prices and quality anywhere in Canada to anyone who qualifies and joins the party.”
When asked if he will consider reopening a retail compassion club in a storefront, Boyer says he will open a “full restaurant cafe with a commercial food processing facility in the back” as soon as possible.
About the situation with Da Kine, Boyer says he is “very happy to see Carol Gwilt got out. Nobody should go to jail for cannabis. I respect everyone who is fighting the fight because without all of us none of us will succeed.”
Bud buddy goes bust
Canada’s biggest mail order marijuana service, Bud Buddy, has also shut down due to pressure from media and police.
Although the Vancouver-based bud business was not raided, it hit the front pages of newspapers across Canada on September 19, as Vancouver media stumbled across the business that had been openly selling marijuana by mail for over a year.
Bud Buddy promoted itself as “Canada’s premier mail order marijuana service,” and had placed ads in Cannabis Culture, Cannabis Health, and other pro-pot publications. Lengthy threads in the Cannabis Culture forums praised Bud Buddy’s customer service and quality product.
The embattled entrepreneur said he would have to shut down because of the media firestorm and the prospect of being busted by police. “I cannot stay in business when there are TV crews outside the place where I pick up my mail,” he said.
Bud Buddy then announced on the Cannabis Culture forums, “Due to the media spotlight I have been forced to shut down my website… Also, Canada Post has now shut down my Coal Harbour mailbox, and all mail sent there is being returned to the sender.”
Bud Buddy was only one of a few mail order pot services operating within Canada, but it was also the most public and had the best reputation for speedy delivery and potent marijuana. None of the other marijuana mail-order merchants faced the same scrutiny and thus they remain in business to date.
Canada Post says it will investigate the bud business and probe its use of the national mail service, but that it would be up to police to say whether the postal pot operation was actually breaking the law.
“I’ll bring it up to our legal people and they’ll advise us on what we’re going to do then,” said Canada Post spokesman John Caines to the media.?”We’re going to look into it.”
BC?Solicitor General Rich Coleman, who was largely responsible for calling down the raid on Da Kine, said that he hoped police would launch an investigation into what he thought was just another illegal way of selling a drug.
“My expectations are no different on this than it would have been on the Da Kine cafe,” he said.?”If law enforcement is made aware of something that’s illegal, my expectation is that it would be investigated and the laws of the country would be enforced.”
Bud Buddy provided marijuana strains to his customers that ranged from California Orange to Jamaican Sugar and Durban Poison. The bud was described as “always clean, well-cured, tasty and potent.”
These raids and shutdowns show how confused Canada is about marijuana in general.?Possession is still technically a crime. So is selling pot. But ordinarily, police don’t take much interest in these activities unless something attracts their attention ? something like the mainstream media or political pressure.
The real cost of this confused outlook on pot is taking its toll on the Canadian public and is a violation of our freedoms. According to StatsCan, one in six adults have used marijuana in the past year. This ratio is equal to over 500,000 pot-smoking Canadians, and that is just too many people to arrest because of a harmless plant. If the numbers say that the majority of Canadians would like to see marijuana legalized, then it’s high time we did something about it.