Pot Bar Arthrology Turns a New Leaf on the City’s Social Scene

Soft drug bar takes the city one step closer to Amsterdam style tolerance

By Mike Bell-staff writer-Vancouver Echo
VANCOUVER ECHO – Wednesday March 26,1997
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The work week is winding down and Arthrology is beginning to wind up. It’s Friday afternoon and one of Vancouver’s newest cutting edge social clubs is getting busy.

A buzz sounds every few minutes from the front door along a main street in the northeast corner of the city. This time Norm checks the surveillance camera before letting in a 50ish man in shorts and a cycling shirt. He looks around at the renovations and paint that in three months has transformed a filthy three-room warehouse into a comfortable collective with sofas and chairs scattered in small clutches, a tiny stereo system, video games, even a pet fish.

“Hey it looks great,” he smiles to Norm and the men share a pat on the back before adjourning through the smoky haze scented with marijuana to a back room. On the other side of the curtains Norm maintains a kind of soft drug bar,selling all kinds of pot, hash and miscellaneous substances to customers of Arthrology, from the Greek “arthro” for joints, and “ology” the study of.

“Welcome to Arthrology,” Norm tells all his new customers. An intimidating figure at 6 foot 4, 300 pounds, Norm tends to hold people’s attention through his entire introductory spiel and so far everyone has played by the rules.

“We’re a cannabis club,” he continues. “We sell only cannabis products. No alcohol please, do your drinking after you leave, not before you come. This is a powder-free zone, nothing up your nose but your finger – anything other than your finger up your nose and your ass goes out the door. We reserve the right to install a dress code and control the altitude, aptitude and attitude of all guests. Video games are free,” he points to three standing against the wall, “and the tea bar is by donation. The television has all the specialty channels – watch whatever you want – and there’s games in the front room. Enjoy.”

There are a few other common sense rules. No stolen property on the premises, no selling outside marijuana and no customers under 18, consciously in accordance with Canada’s age of majority. Behave like you would in a pub, but replace your beer with weed.

Selling marijuana is the commercial end of the operation, the rest of the space is open. Some people sit and sip tea and play cards. Others stop by to smoke a bowl of high – grade marijuana in one of several waterpipes around the rooms and settle into a good book. Few stay less than 15 minutes. Norm wants to deter the constant in-and-out traffic that attracts attention and wants to keep new Arthrologists (club regulars) “to people you smoke with at your kitchen table.” He’s hoping some grassroots level groups will use the Arthrology space as a meeting place.

“It’s totally open,” he said invitingly. “People can do whatever they want here and I hope they’ll use it as a place to organize , to get their groups together.”

As the owner of one of several underground Amsterdam – style smoking bars that have stayed open as long as two years in Vancouver, Norm is hopeful a low key approach is the one that keeps Arthrology open. Vancouver police might have tolerated The Harm Reduction Club and its efforts to sell pot from a basement suite off Commercial Drive were it not for vocal spokesperson David Malmo – Levine and Marc Emery ( the Hemp BC owner arrested last year for selling marijuana seeds to undercover cops), police appear to have seen the writing on the wall and seem to be offering a break of sorts to those who operate discretely.

As far back as the Liberal government’s LeDain Commission in 1973 when Jean Chretien and other commission members advocated softening up Canada’s pot laws, politicians have been saying the current prohibition of growing, owning , smoking or selling marijuana is wrong. Four years ago then – provincial chief coroner Vince Cain recommended the legalization of soft drugs, now 73 year old senator Duncan Jessiman – who doesn’t smoke it – wants pot legalized.

No substantive steps toward legalization have been taken since the Liberal party battled back to parliament, but there is a palpable sense that police know pot, like prostitution, isn’t going away and will provide a similar level of tolerance for those who do their business away from bright lights and any attention.

“I know they’ve checked me out and I know they know I’m here,” said Norm, “I just hope they realize that what’s going on in places like this is not criminal. I’ve done a lot of shit, but for 15 years this has been my dream, now it’s here. What this is is kind people selling kind herb to kind people, and to say what we’re doing is criminal is absolutely wrong.”