CANNABIS CULTURE – This story begins back in March 2011, when an idea had just struck my business partner Ryan Steplock and I. Former Cannabis Culture editor and all-around superactivist Dana Larsen had inspired us to open a medicinal dispensary in the Greater Vancouver Area. Once I met Dana, and I explained my ambitions to him and received his blessing, we had a plan. We were going to open a dispensary.
Finding a Place
The hardest job, Dana said, would be to find a landlord who was okay with what we were doing. I called my girlfriend and asked for her help. She had many connections in the GVA, and I figured she would be my best bet to help find a place. After doing a little research on craigslist, she had a few potential locations. The place we went to first was in New Westminster, conveniently located right beside the Police Station. This area was set up for a restaurant, so we decided it was not for us.
The next place we looked at was located at 4927 Kingsway in Burnaby, across from the Metrotown Mall. For some reason, 4927 has always been a number that had been stuck in my head. When I first moved to Vancouver in 2008, I accidentally addressed my licence to 4927, when I lived at a different number. As soon as I saw the address on the building, I got a feeling in my stomach that told me this place was going to be ours.
The landlord’s wife met us at the location. One look at her, and I knew we would get along great. She had florescent purple glitter lipstick and nail polish on, and I remember thinking this was further confirmation that I was going to get the place. It is weird how certain people just give off a vibe, and it is known everything would go smoothly. The place was in pretty rough shape. I knew that many renovations would have to be done as we wanted to look as professional as possible. After explaining what we wanted to do with the space, Shawna seemed very confident in our mission and told us – depending on a credit check – the place was ours. I’d never had such a great feeling in my life. We were given the opportunity to help people.
At one time, I knew nothing about the medicinal properties of cannabis. I learned a lot while working for Cannabis Culture about how THC, CBD and the other active ingredients in marijuana unquestionably treat a long list of ailments. Many sick people use cannabis for relief, without the many side effects of pharmaceutical medicine. Finally, I was given the opportunity to practice what we preach.
March 18 marked the day we took possession of 4927 Kingsway, and the renovations began. It was a race to beat the clock as rent was expensive and the landlord had given us 13 days free to get everything fixed up and in working order. Countless trips to Home Depot, one very botched paint job and many man-hours later the dispensary was ready. It went from plywood nailed to doorways, rotted carpet and holes in every wall to a beautifully renovated dispensary with glistening wood floors and the smell of fresh paint. The dispensary very quickly became my baby, and I had a maternal instinct to protect it.
The Metrotown Medicinal Society was kept very hush-hush until a few days before opening, as we didn’t want to jinx anything from happening or tip off anyone that might cause us trouble. After further discussion with my mentors, we decided going to the media would be a great way to announce our launch and get patients into the store. One week prior to opening I created a Facebook page for the store and started to advertise our April 15 Grand Opening. Things were a complete disaster until a couple days before we opened and I was forgetting things and running around like a chicken with my head cut-off. The night of April 14, I couldn’t sleep a wink. I was awake all night watching time pass slowly, knowing that 10 am tomorrow would be the start of something really big.
I still remember the feeling of opening the doors to the Metrotown Medicinal cannabis dispensary that morning; it was like no other. I turned on the “open” sign knowing that we were in for an adventure, one way or another. By the end of the first day, we had 10 members and our place dominated google searches related to burnaby and medical marijuana.
As the days went on, we signed-up more patients at a steady pace. I quickly began to learn of customers’ health issues. To see the suffering these people had been going through due to illness and the terrible side effects of pharmaceutical medicines opened my eyes even wider about the benefits of medical marijuana. Nothing pulls on the heart strings more than having a sick person explain to you his or her pain and daily struggle just to live a normal life.
Fast-forward three months and The Metrotown Medicinal Society was booming! We had regular patients we came to know and love, and the dispensary was featured in many news segments and articles. We all felt on top of the world. I had found my niche.
July 27, 2011 – I remember this day vividly. It was my first day back to work after a short vacation and I was to be opening the store and working by myself. I drove around the corner onto Kingsway, and there was, as often happened, a group of people waiting for me to arrive, including a few members I recognized and a couple new people. The day went on as usual but something was on my mind. I’m not sure why – people have always told me I have a keen sense of intuition – but I felt the need to call my lawyer Kirk Tousaw about beginning a retainer for myself and the Metrotown Medicinal staff in case of an emergency.
The very next day, Ryan and I were hanging out before work and were not due into the office for a few hours. Around 1 pm my phone rang, and it was Kirk.
The first thought in my mind was that he wanted to talk to me about the retainer. I answer the phone, and the words I heard on the other end will be in my head forever. “Britney, the dispensary has been raided. Jordan just called me from custody” My heart literally dropped out of my chest, and I began to cry.
Ryan and I freaked out for a good half an hour, and couldn’t decide what to do. Finally after pacing the house for what seemed like days, at 4 pm we decided to head over to the dispensary.
We drove around the back of the dispensary and parked at the back with Figaro, our chihuahua.
I was talking on the telephone with Dana Larsen about what had just happened and opened my car door. In an instant, my phone was yanked out of my hand and I was being cuffed. I looked over to see Ryan in the same situation. At exactly 4:20 pm on the dot we had been arrested.
I started to get angry and ask the policeman if he enjoyed preventing sick people from acquiring their medicine. It was like talking to a wall. Turns out the cops were the official Burnaby RCMP Marijuana Task Force. Ok. I get it! The Marijuana task force may be necessary for gang-related marijuana offences, but for these “task force” police officers to waste public tax dollars on a three-and-a-half month investigation about a marijuana dispensary that’s transparently selling medical marijuana is beyond me.
The investigation started on April 17, 2011 two days after we opened, according to police documents. A copy of Burnaby Now landed on someone’s desk at the local police station, and someone got upset.
A male undercover officer began the processes of registering as a member within our society. He booked an appointment with our on-site doctor, told him stories about arthritis pain and became a member. So the police began purchasing from us. I believe they made seven transactions in total from Ryan, Jordan and I.
To make matters worse, our “doctor” had misled us and other Vancouver-based dispensaries he was employed at about his legitimacy in homeopathic medicine. Turns out he hadn’t done his paperwork.
As we were sitting on the back of Ryan’s truck in handcuffs, another cop pulled up with Jordan in the back and released her. I was very thankful for this because I knew she was ok, and she could take Figaro, so he didn’t have to go to doggy jail while we were being processed. Once at the police station they were surprisingly polite. They didn’t lock us in a holding cell, and we were in and out within half an hour.
The hardest part of the whole experience was going back to the freshly-violated dispensary. We walk through the door and saw all of our paperwork, product, and float had been seized. They took our society documents, business cards, lease agreements and anything else remotely connected to the dispensary. My emotions were about to boil over to the point of a mental breakdown. Finally, it came. Then it was time to begin picking up the pieces of our lives, and the skeleton of a company we had left, along with a nine-month lease, to boot.
After a few weeks of restlessness, we decided to open up a hemp shop to help us pay the lease on the building. Unfortunately, what was a perfect area for a medical marijuana dispensary was not ideal for a hemp shop. We struggled to keep-up stock and bill payments, but once the lease was up The Metrotown Hemp Shop was forced to close.
Two-and-a-half years later I was, along with my two co-accused, handed a conditional discharge from the court. A day after our case, Ryan and I appeared on Cannabis Culture News LIVE on Pot TV to discuss the details. Watch the video clip below to hear us discuss our case, as well as all the other fun topics that come up!
I also have to send a very special thank-you to Mr. Dana Larsen and Mr. Kirk Tousaw for everything they did for the Metrotown team.
Ryan and I are very thankful for everyone in our lives, and the amazing team that is our cannabis culture!