Vancouver pot shop reopens after raid

On September 10, patrons of the Dutch-style Da Kine Smoke and Beverage Shop in Vancouver, BC, experienced an unwelcome surprise. Dozens of undercover cops, weapons drawn, clad in balaclavas (one wore a t-shirt with “Legalize It” on the front), raided the popular business.
Police executed a search warrant obtained by undercover narks who had purchased marijuana at Da Kine earlier that day. At 6pm, 30 police vehicles surrounded the cafe and erected barricades to keep back the angry crowds. One full block was shut down on the popular Commercial Drive, jamming traffic, interrupting filming of The Fantastic Four, and causing local businesses to close early.

A vocal crowd of about 200 protesters turned out at the roadblocks to heckle cops and smoke joints freely in a tense show of defiance.

12 people were arrested and police seized approximately $64,000 in cash, nine kilos of marijuana, 450 grams of hashish and over 300 pot cookies.

Seven staff members were detained during the shutdown, and are facing charges of trafficking and possession for the purpose of trafficking. The cafe’s owner, 38-year-old Carol Gwilt, is also charged with possessing proceeds of a crime.

Stubborn survival

Da Kine reopened the very next day to serve eager patrons once again, even though Gwilt was still in jail.

“We’re not going away,” said store spokesman Lorne McLeod to media. “Our business license is still valid so why can’t we operate? If they raid us again, we’ll open again.”

When Da Kine began selling pot in May 2004, it seemed as if no one cared about the legal violation. After four months of open sales, City Hall and police had received no complaints from residents.

Reporters for the local CTV news broke the story of the cafe in late August, repeatedly asking police what they were going to do about the cannabis cafe. Under pressure from reporters, police seemed reluctant to actually make a raid. They finally moved a few days after BC Solicitor General Rich Coleman told the media that police would soon act.

“I don’t think we need a ho-hum attitude on anything to do with drugs,” said Coleman, who has previously told the media that BC Bud helps buy guns in Afghanistan. “You’ve got people driving into a neighborhood, buying marijuana, smoking it and driving away in their cars.?That’s people who are now under the influence of something. That, to me, is unacceptable.”

The Spirit Within, which is across the street from Da Kine, was also outed in the media for selling pot. They were not raided, despite being on Vancouver police “radar.”

Fighting City Hall

Vancouver City Council has scheduled a public hearing to determine if Da Kine should have its business license revoked. Originally planned for mid-September, the hearing was postponed after Gwilt hired Canadian constitutional expert John Conroy as her lawyer.

Da Kine’s business license allowed it to sell pre-packaged food, books, clothing and paraphernalia. But it had also been selling marijuana for $10 a gram, which Gwilt claims the city knew about back in May, despite their protestations to the contrary.

However, Vancouver city councillors, as well as Mayor Larry Campbell himself, said they were not concerned about Da Kine selling pot. Campbell called the whole situation “no big deal,” saying he doubted the cafe would have been raided if it hadn’t been for the intense media attention.

“I support legalization of marijuana,” added Campbell, “but at the same time that doesn’t mean they get to flout the law until the law is changed.”

Campbell supported the creation of Vancouver’s safe-injection site, and has backed a “safe inhalation” site for cocaine users. By allowing a public hearing on Da Kine, the city is creating a forum for debate on Vancouver following the Amsterdam model of unofficial, municipal legalization.

Federal Justice Minister Irwin Cotler stated that there is some confusion about the difference between decriminalization and legalization. “I think the message on this issue of decriminalization allowed people to infer from that that we’re legalizing marijuana,” he said.

In the face of controversy, Gwilt remains defiant. “I don’t consider what we’re doing illegal,” she says. “We want a lot of these stores. We want these across Canada.”

? Da Kine needs donations to its legal defense fund: 1018 Commercial Drive, Vancouver, BC, Canada, V6B 1H4;