Globe and Mail National News
November 22, 1996


Police are hesitant to arrest the proprietor of a drug club, even though hecaters to minors

Pot lovers get high at ‘smoke-easy’

By Miro Cernetig British Columbia Bureau, Vancouver

Not your average pothead, David Malmo-Levine aims to be a drug dealer witha social conscience. So he’s started up a smoke-easy, a den in his basementwhere people can buy marijuana and “smoke their brains out” with friends,strangers and pimply-faced beginners.

“Everyone’s welcome,” he says, tossing back his orange-and-yellowRastafarian dreadlocks as he rolls a stogy-sized joint. “But we won’t sellpot to anyone under 13.”

Why 13?

“Thirteen is when kids start smoking pot, man,” he explains, sitting near ableary-eyed youngster whose major substance-abuse habit seems to involveClearasil. “The kids can come in here and we can walk them through ourstep-by-step guide to safe pot-smoking. You know, get them started right -it’s our contribution to public safety.”

It’s all perfectly illegal, of course. But so far the Vancouver policeseem flummoxed about what to do with this latest challenge, one of the mostbrazen yet, to Canada’s marijuana laws.

“We’re aware of it,” says Constable Anne Drennan, who won’t say why thedrug den hasn’t been closed down. “We know the location. We’re working onit.”

In the meantime, Mr. Malmo-Levine’s Harm Reduction Club is growing into athriving business that could have been lifted from a Cheech and Chongfantasy. During a recent club meeting in the smoke-easy, furnished withsagging sofas rescued from dumpsters, a dozen people sat under an acridcloud of burnt marijuana, so thick it could be smelled from outside of theEast Vancouver house.

“Dude, have you vaporized yet?” a man with a nose-ring wonders, pointing toa device on the coffee table that turns the drug in marijuana – THC – to anearly pure gas that can be inhaled through a piece of plastic tubing.

“Yeah, try it man!” recommends another. “It’ll be like your frontal(brain) lobes are going to explode.”

In the month since he screwed a “symbolic green light” into his back porchto direct customers to the Harm Reduction Club, Mr. Malmo-Levine has signedup more than 400 members at $10 a pop. Now that he is selling as much ashalf a kilogram of pot a day, the 25-year old complains he’s having a toughtime keeping the boxes and jars around the smoke-easy full of “product.”

“What do I do during the day?” he asks, drawing deeply from a pipe that hasnow appeared in his hands. “I spend my time accumulating vast amounts ofmarijuana, bagging vast amounts of marijuana and testing vast amounts ofmarijuana for its potency.”

Crash pads to smoke marijuana are nothing new on the West Coast, of course.The twist here is that this one is a political statement as much as ahangout. Proceeds from drug deals and membership dues go into a legaldefence fund to bail out any member who gets arrested. And club membersmust agree to four rules: Pay $10; be over 13; don’t drive heavy machinerywhile impaired; don’t disturb the neighbours.

“I think it’s hard for the police to bust us when we’re being soresponsible,” says Mr. Malmo-Levine. “We’re smoking ganja responsibly.”

Most people who see the club openly dealing marijuana with impunity – evento minors – are taken aback by the lack of police action. Even underplanned changes to the Criminal Code, trafficking and simple possession canstill result in jail time.

“I am surprised by the hands-off approach to such distributing,” says NeilBoyd, a criminologist at Simon Fraser University. “I suppose that what isgoing on is the co-ordination of some kind of response by police. But I’mreally not sure why there’s been such a delay.”

The delay, in part, is because police are already dealing with ahigh-profile case in Vancouver testing marijuana laws. Marc Emery, apro-cannabis lobbyist who ran for mayor (he received 1,125 votes) has beenopenly selling marijuana seeds out of a store on the city’s east side,arguing that there are no drugs in unsprouted seeds.

Mr. Emery has also opened up a marijuana superstore, selling a cornucopiaof bongs, pipes, rolling papers and items needed to grow marijuana at home.He is now planning to open The Cannabis Cafe, in which customers will beable to “vaporize” their drugs and buy foods such as pizza and mozzarellacheese made with oils from marijuana.

With Mr. Emery’s drug case going to court in the next few weeks, crackingdown on the Harm Reduction Club would seem like walking into another pieceof political theatre.

“They’re flaunting what they’re doing and thumbing their nose atauthorities in the hope they will be taken to court, have their say andperhaps have it decriminalized,” Constable Drennan says. “All I can tellyou is: We know about this.”

Prof Boyd speculates the police may also be delaying to let thepro-marijuana movement hurt its cause by advertising that it is sellingdrugs to minors. “Part of my thinking is that the police are allowing themto discredit themselves. They aren’t exactly putting forth a winningimage.”

The members of the Harm Reduction Club would take umbrage. They seethemselves as a tightly knit family, who like to get quietly stoned andmellow out. Often, nights drag into existential debates about what wouldhappen if marijuana was legalized in Canada.

“Can you imagine what would happen to the sales of Chinese food and pizza?”asks one of the members.

“Yeah, sales would go through the roof. Everyone would want munchies.”

Taking a puff from his pipe, Mr. Malmo-Levine escorts his visitor to thedoor: “I can’t believe the police haven’t busted us yet.”

Dana Larsen [email protected]
Editor, Cannabis Canada, “Canada’s National Magazine of Marijuana & Hemp”
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