The Hippy Cafe was quite possibly Ontario’s first Cannabis Cafe. It was opened in the heart of London in April 2003, a period in Marijuana history known as the Summer of Peace, when the possess ion of marijuana was a legal gray area. But as the founders of the Cafe, Mike McDowell and his wife Tabetha would soon find out, London police weren’t quite ready for Drug War peace.
“For the first 9 months or so there were no real problems. The police didn’t seem to care,” Mike recounts in an interview with Cannabis Culture. Then, he says, the police officers would pass by and one day they simply asked him to close, which he did.
“It was a short break, but we reopened quick around January 2004.” By this time the Hippy Cafe was officially changed to the Hippy Sanctuary and it was now a chapter of the Church of the Universe. Mike McDowell, who was ordained as a minister by the government, said “the new cafe ran very smoothly for a while, but problems started in December 2004.”
The reverend, as he was later known on the streets, accuses the London PD of what he calls selective policing. “The Police started intimidating people ? picking off our customers from the edges.” McDowell says police would follow his patrons home in squad cars or would search people as they left the Cafe. In one case late last year, a thief stole one of the cafe’s Volcano Vaporizers but when the incident was reported to police they did one better: plain clothes officers seized, as evidence, parts from the other Vaporizers rendering them unusable.
In February police officers walked in the crowd cafe, which Mike said held more than 25 people at the time, and they arrested one person. “They centered one person out and they charged him, which really had an effect on the other people” McDowell recalls. Then in March, plain-clothes police officers arrested the good reverend himself. “I was charged with trafficking, just so they could arrest me, put me in a cell and look around the place a little.” McDowell was later released on possession charges. He says the Cafe was “starved out by police” and that now community members are too afraid to stop by the Hippy.
Now the Cafe is closed but that is only temporary. “We will be opening up again next summer with our own building and it is going to be so much better” Mike says.
In response to the police actions marijuana activists are planning a large protest and smoke out in London on May the 28th. “We want people in the community to know what happened ? promote awareness.” McDowell said people in the marijuana community started to hear what happened and are “now starting to pull together as a group.”
Matt Mernagh who is helping to organize the event told Cannabis Culture “it will be awesome.” The Protest will feature games and prizes from Willy Jack, Puff Momma, and the Up-in-Smoke Cafe. The pot-poet Chris Lawson will be MC and Alison Myrden from LEAP will be the guest speaker. Chris Goodwin from the Up-in-Smoke Cafe and Reverend Mike from the Hippy will be host a panel discussion on opening a Cannabis Cafe.
Also invited are the area MPs and MPPs (MLAs), the mayor of London, and the London Police chief ? whom organizers call a prohibitionist. Mernagh admits it is unlikely to have many politicians turn out, but police chief Faulkner is certain to be there because organizers are making a miniature candy-filled pi?ata in his image.
Mernagh says the protest will be a “blitz” and he calls on marijuana activist to get involved. “We have to get this city back. It’s bad. If we get enough members we will take over the band shell.” Mernagh invites everyone who can make out to London’s Victoria Park on May 28th at 3:00, for some great fun.