4:20 on the 4th of July

“It’s 4:20 on the Fourth of July!” declared the happy blond.
A room full of Americans cheered in response.

Undoubtedly, this line was repeated all across America at private parties and picnics. But this was in a Vancouver, BC, restaurant, as the Third Annual Tokers’ Bowl was coasting to a happy ending.

The irony was not lost on the visitors. This is the day when Americans celebrate the Declaration of Independence with its bold statement that “all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…”

The fact Americans now have to become aliens and pursue happiness in Canada would astonish and outrage the Founders. For this they walked barefoot in the snow at Valley Forge? And all this is about hemp? I doubt they would even believe it.

The happy blond who made the announcement had her own reasons to cheer. She was Michelle Rainey, Marc Emery’s CEO, who organized the entire event, while dealing with more than a few problems.

Problem solving

First, Emery was busted back in March for passing a joint in Saskatchewan, one of Canada’s less pot-friendly provinces. (Saskatchewan’s violent crime rate is the highest of any province in Canada, almost double the national average, and largely alcohol related, so naturally its law enforcement is focused on suppressing cannabis.)

Emery was released on bail conditions that were truly absurd.

As Emery explained during the Bowl festivities, “I cannot possess marijuana or hand out marijuana until my verdict, up to three or four months away! Wow! In addition, I must submit to any warrantless search of my person, my home, my car, at any time by any police officer. If I break these conditions, I will be remanded in custody until trial in Saskatoon. Wow!”

Wow, indeed. Emery complied with all the conditions. Nonetheless, on August 19, Emery was sentenced to 92 days for “trafficking.” (See story this issue.)

To make matters even more difficult, in April the Blunt Brothers cafe burned to the ground, and almost took the BC Marijuana Party Bookstore with it. (The fire was arson, and my theory is that the DEA wanted to burn down the Marijuana Party, but they got the wrong address from the CIA.)

The Bookstore suffered some smoke damage (everything reeked) and the only power for almost two months came from a rented generator. During all of this, as expenses soared, Michelle struggled to pull everything together and line up venues for the Bowl.

As a reminder that Murphy’s Law is still being enforced, the venue for the first night’s dinner was flooded out the day before the Bowl. (Maybe the CIA was trying to help the DEA start another fire?)

No problem. The place would be dried out in time. Then, no, it would not. Then, there was another place that could take 200 people on short notice. Then, no, they couldn’t. At the last minute, another restaurant welcomed us. No one but Michelle even knew about these problems, but the rest of the events went perfectly, so it was understandable that she was cheering at 4:20 on the last day.

In fact, other than the flood, everything went very smoothly, starting with the annual July 1 Canada Day/Cannabis Day celebration at its traditional spot in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery. The Vancouver police have pretty much given up on busting people for smoking, and there was also much open vending of cookies and joints.

Of course, 100,000 people went to the Seattle Hempfest in August, and 50,000 more will show up for the annual event on the Boston Commons in September. So as size goes, Vancouver’s demo is no big deal. The difference is that US events don’t have people openly selling joints and pot food as they wander the crowd, nor do the organizers give away prizes to attendees who bring the most beautiful cannabis plant to the rally.

Cruising and parties

The event that I enjoyed most was the yacht cruise around downtown Vancouver, which is on a peninsula. A number of boat cruises were scheduled, and Bowl participants could show up for any of them. A boat ride is the best way to take in the incredible beauty of this city. Also, the captain and crew could not have been more cannabis friendly, which set the tone for the entire weekend.

In Vancouver, upscale restaurants were more than happy to make provisions for smoking for the group, either inside or out, depending on their circumstances. (Tobacco smoking was not allowed inside.)

This acceptance is indicative of two important facts. First, many of the owners, management and staff are tokers. Second, and even more important, they recognize that cannabis is good for business.

I am not much of a party animal, and I think that I was easily the oldest person around. So I may not be the best person to compare and contrast the parties, but my favorite was definitely the Saturday night costume party with most of Emery’s people and many of the guests dressed as gangsters from another prohibitionist era, with zoot-suited men and flapper/molls.

The talented Goby Catt jazz trio was incredible, and a reminder that ? after all these years ? jazz is still the bridge between the two eras of prohibition. On the other hand, one reason that the parties were so pleasant was that they were all alcohol-free, which is another ironic difference between this era and alcohol prohibition. The violence associated with alcohol today involves only its consumption, never its distribution. Here in Vancouver, just the opposite is true of cannabis.

The point was further highlighted by the fact Michelle even managed to find “violin cases” that were fitted for bongs instead of machine guns, not that they would have kept Tommy Chong from being busted. The cannabis communities are struggling to avoid state violence and the violence created by prohibition. The city council of Vancouver recognizes this problem and unanimously supports the legalization of cannabis, so bongs in violin cases are the perfect symbol.

Changes in “Vansterdam”

The loss of the Blunt Brothers ? smoking but no sales ? could hardly have come at a worse time. The New Amsterdam cafe (also owned by the Blunt group) on the other side of the Marijuana Party bookstore had just closed because the block would not support two such similar places.

With the summer tourist rush coming, the Blunt Brothers crew quickly reopened the New Amsterdam, but the kitchen equipment had already been pulled out. Nonetheless, it is jammed now, proving the need for a cannabis meeting place downtown. The very good news is that the Blunt group recently bought the abandoned bank building on the corner across the street. This will give the block a very substantial anchor when they move in around the end of the year.

Just as cannabis is a buffer between hard drugs and the mainstream, except when prohibition throws them into the same market, the Pot Block serves an important function in Vancouver’s real estate. It is a buffer between the upscale West side, which begins a block west on Hastings street, and the tragic street scene that begins one block east with its homeless alcoholics and drug addicts.

Touristy Gastown runs parallel with Hastings just two blocks north. Consequently, Vancouver has another vested interest in seeing the Pot Block succeed. But in the long run, all of this requires that cannabis be “legalized” ? one way or another.

A cannabis friendly neighborhood

One popular and useful part of the Tokers’ Bowl experience was the ongoing private bus tours of the city, which included a trip to Commercial Drive.

Well removed from the downtown tourist scene, Commercial Drive has one of the most interesting streets that I have seen anywhere. It also happens to be the location of Vancouver’s well-respected BC Compassion Society, so it has had several years to learn that cannabis does not create social problems.

It is effortlessly multicultural with all manner of ethnic restaurants, Greek, Italian, Portuguese, and even Mexican. It has many interesting little shops that are too funky and mid-market to be called boutiques.

One of the most upscale stores on the street is The Melting Point, owned by Marc Richardson, the Bubble-Bag entrepreneur. In addition to selling the very useful bags, and serving vegetarian food, Richardson has created an amazing gallery for glass art.

Most but not all of the pieces are also pipes, but that is like saying that a tapestry is also a “wall-covering.” It is worth a special trip just to see what the prohibitionist barbarians would destroy as “paraphernalia.” These are truly magnificent works of art.

While you are in the neighborhood, one block north across the street is Da Kine Smoke Shop, Vancouver’s first Dutch-style coffee shop. It is beautifully done, and the smoking room is up front, overlooking the sidewalk. They have a small menu of excellently priced goods, and everyone is welcome.

However, purchases are restricted to members of the Canadian Sanctuary Society, meaning those with a medical need, properly defined. A recommendation from a doctor or naturopath works well, but a sworn affidavit that marijuana benefits your “health and well-being” is sufficient.

Just as the downtown restaurants welcomed the Tokers’ Bowl, the merchants of Commercial Drive recognize that Da Kine brings new people and no problems for their businesses. If Da Kine survives on Commercial, as I think it will, we can expect more such places to open around the city… and beyond. It is pushing the envelope, but envelopes don’t move themselves.

Judging the buds

The Tokers’ Bowl is a celebration of freedom, a political statement and a festive good time. But most importantly, it is a chance to judge some of BC’s finest bud, and to choose which strain and grower get the coveted title and prize.

Every attendee gets a scorecard and is encouraged to rate each bud with a score from one to five. On the final evening, the cards are collected and the votes are tallied.

This year the winner was a strain called Lizard, based on Hashplant from Sensi Seeds. Grown by “The Unknown Grower,” Lizard received an average score of 4.08 out of 5. It was followed closely by classic favorite Blueberry from DJ Short (3.96) and Shiskeberry from Cash Crop Ken (3.81). Rounding out the top five were Marley’s Collie from Sensi Seeds (3.809) and Skunk Times Five, the BCMP “house weed” (3.80).

? A complete ranking of all strains is online at www.tokersbowl.com/tb3.html

One love

As Michelle and the crowd cheered for 4:20 on the Fourth of July, none of the Americans could forget that the Declaration ends with the phrase, “with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

It was reassuring that our Canadian friends are proving that freedom can still bloom on North American soil, and Americans and Canadians can work together for the common cause. Despite a global upsurge in anti-Americanism, we are still very welcome in Vancouver.

In short, we are all in this together.

? Tokers’ Bowl: www.tokersbowl.com