CANNABIS CULTURE – Sitting at the bar of his new Melanheadz cannabis lounge on York Boulevard, a joint lying on the counter by his elbow, Peter Melanson admits that giving away marijuana as a door prize at his weekly comedy show is a bit of a risk.
“It’s mine — I give it to Dan (Creepy Uncle Dan, the comedy show host) and he gives it to the customer. We’re not selling it, we’re giving it away.”
When it’s pointed out that the law makes no distinction between selling or giving away “medical” marijuana — you still need a valid licence — the longtime cannabis activists laughs, a little nervously.
His history suggests, Melanson says, that he is “willing to be charged with something to find out what I can and can not do.”
Melanson says that he has both a valid prescription and a destignated grower permit. He believes that society’s, and this city’s, attitudes toward pot are softening — must soften — and with the opening of the city’s second cannabis-only “vape” lounge he and his wife, Rebecca Bruce, are once again betting pretty much everything they have that they’re right.
Hamilton police under Chief Glenn DeCaire have consistently sent a very different message: producing, distributing and consuming cannabis is against the law and they promise to “relentlessly” enforce those laws. Over the past five years, pot possession charges have increased by 61 per cent — over the past decade the number of Hamilton youth arrested for pot possession has climbed by 123 per cent (although few first-time young offenders are subsequently charged).
Popular culture, the news and social media “may skew people’s views so that they think, ‘hey, it’s OK (to use cannabis),’ but it’s still illegal,” Hamilton Police Det. Const. Dave McKenzie warns.
“We still enforce all aspects of the law as far as possession and trafficking are concerned.”
McKenzie, a chemist-turned-police-officer with more than three years in the service’s Vice and Drugs unit, won’t comment on Melanson or his activities, but says the police are, and will be, “relentless” in combating illegal drug use in Hamilton.
Melanson has some personal experience with that relentless approach: he’s on his fourth attempt at building a business serving the city’s cannabis users. Melanheadz is his latest, a cavernous basement lounge downtown at York Boulevard and Queen Street North, a former nightclub on the edge of the Strathconna neighbourhood.
It’s the city’s second vape lounge (named for the electronic vapourizers customers use to ingest cannabis) — he co-founded the first, but split with his two partners, leaving their just-opened Barton Street location and setting up his own closer to the core. (The original location, now re-named the 4-20 Lounge, remains open.)
Melanheadz is premised on the idea that the community of cannabis users in the city should have a legal, safe and accepting place where they can socialize and enjoy their medicine. If you have a prescription, dried marijuana possession and consumption is legal in Canada. His community, built over the years via social media and his previous businesses, includes people passionate about the medical, social and spiritual qualities of marijuana.
He says he doesn’t check his customer’s prescriptions when they attend the lounge.
“It’s not my job. I don’t have the right to do that under the law.”
Melanson and his wife still face 15 charges from two years ago for providing marijuana to their clients; charges that stand, at least partly, on the shifting legal sands that are Canada’s marijuana laws. He says he expects to resolve those charges later this year.
In his lounge, Melanson has been wrestling with, among other things, a new air cleaning system and obtaining a reliable furnace and getting ready for his grand opening on March 5 — common enough problems for a new business. But unlike most Hamilton entrepreneurs, Melanson also wonders how long they can last.
“No word of a lie, I worry every day that they are going to come in and shut me down. I don’t want to fight them in the courts, but that’s the only way to change things.”
TOMORROW: Cannabis Culture is a good, and growing, business in Hamilton
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