A History of Vansterdam

This was an article I wrote for Cannabis Culture magazine #68 … it eventually ended up being called “Vansterdam Livin'”:


It got printed in the magazine but never made it online. I left out the parts about Marc Emery’s seed raid because I felt he could explain it better than I … and Marc improved the beginning a bit too … but the rest of this is more or less the same as it was in the magazine. Enjoy.

Vansterdam: a psychoactive chronology

By David Malmo-Levine

“Because of the friendship networks and a more secure supply of drugs, Vancouver remained the most popular center for drug use in Canada throughout the 1940’s, 1950’s and beyond.”

“Jailed for Possession – Illegal Drug Use, Regulation, and Power in Canada”, Catherine Carstairs, 2006, p. 60

Google records 19,500 hits for “Vansterdam” – nearly every major media station and newspaper has mentioned it at one point or another. But what makes Vancouver so much like Amsterdam that the names have melted together at this place in history? It’s not just the atmosphere of tolerance and respect for all people. It’s not just the community of sex workers demanding equal rights. It’s a story about drugs and herbs. And like those from Amsterdam, those in Vancouver love drugs and herbs.

Being a port town, Vancouver is full of tourists and travelers, sailors and merchants – naturally there’s going to be lots of drug-taking and drug-importing. But did you know North America’s first national drug prohibition law actually began with a racist riot in Vancouver in 1907? Or that Cheech and Chong met in Vancouver in 1969?

Due to Vancouver being the heart and soul of both the prohibitionists and the medically autonomous, activists from Vancouver’s Herb School have gotten together to create the “Drugwar History Walking Tour” – every day at 3pm starting at Victory Square (Cambie and Hastings). But if you can’t get to Vancouver, have no fear! The good people of Cannabis Culture have provided you with a text and photo version. You can learn about Vancouver’s rich drug history from viewing the map and reading about it chronologically:

September 30, 1867
John “Gassy Jack” Deighton, a 36 year old Yorkshireman with a gift of the gab, arrived at Burrard Inlet with his wife, $6 bucks, a few sticks of furniture, a yellow dog and a barrel of whisky. With the help of thirsty sawmill workers, he built a saloon in 24 hours. His nickname – “Gassy” – may have been related to his ability to talk quickly and make people laugh, as nitrous oxide or “laughing gas” was known to do at the time. The locals liked him so much they go on to name the neighborhood after him: “Gastown”. It’s quite possible that Vancouver has the only neighborhood in the world named after a drug-dealer (alcohol dealer) who himself was named after a drug.

Chinese laborers had moved to Vancouver in the 1860’s, and by 1886 there were 114 living in town, and thousands of others working at the near-by railroads and goldmines. As a result, Chinese opium dens were operating (and paying taxes) openly in Vancouver by at least the 1870’s. As well, botanical drugstores selling medicines and spices were operating in Vancouver, selling opium, cannabis and coca patent medicines over the counter to whomever. Per-capita use of these substances was equal to if not double than that of today, with very little evidence of serious health problems – do you recall reading about the horrible drug problem of the 1880s?

September 7, 1907
A small economic depression hit Vancouver and the local community of white supremacists – the “Asiatic Exclusion League” – along with some of the local newspapers – decided to hold a mass meeting. The protesters marched down Hastings Street, and by the time they reached City Hall at Hastings and Main, the crowd had grown to 8,000. Rather than blame the government or employers for their economic misfortune, they blamed competition from the Chinese and Japanese, who worked harder for less pay, and those politicians who would let more Chinese and Japanese into the country. After a few fiery speeches and the burning of Lieutenant-Govenor Dunsmuir in effigy, they marched down to Chinatown where they smashed many windows with rocks, wrecked many stores, and beat up many Chinese. The Japanese fought back and saved their community from similar destruction.

The Chinese community asked for compensation from the Canadian Government. Ottawa sent future Prime Minster (then Deputy Minister of Labor) William Lyon Mackenzie King to Vancouver. King visited Vancouver and spoke to some Chinese Christian clergymen and merchants interested in anti-opium legislation. In his report on the riot, King noted that two of the stores requesting compensation were opium dens, and that Canada should not pay back money to “an industry so inimical to our national welfare”. These “oriental clubs”, by the way, had been servicing the hard-working railroad-building shitty-pay-receiving Chinese Canadians for 20 years time. These dens paid their taxes.

King suggested that the government should “render impossible, save in so far as may be necessary for medicinal purposes, the continuance of such an industry” as opium distribution. Not content to leave the recommendation in a report about a riot, King then wrote a July 3rd, 1908 report titled “The need for the suppression of the opium traffic in Canada”, where he wrote that “the habit of smoking opium was making headway, not only among white men and boys, but also among women and girls.” That sentence got everyone’s attention.

Then King wrote the “Anti-Opium Act” of 1908 – North America’s first national drug prohibition law – and (taking his own advice) helped pass this law which banned opium sales by Chinese people across Canada. The race-based monopoly worked like this: 1) Chinese people weren’t allowed to become pharmacists until 1947, and 2) labels on the white pharmacists’s opium bottles indicated that they were dealing in “medicinal opium” only. The fact that both labeled opium and unlabeled opium had the same effect didn’t seem to matter. It’s even possible that the Chinese merchants could get better quality opium than the white botanical druggists.

In 1917, British Columbia followed all other provinces (except for Quebec) by outlawing the private sale of liquor. On October 20th, 1920, the voters of BC – which now included white women – voted out prohibition by 92,095 to 55,448. British Columbia became the first province in English Canada to give up alcohol prohibition. Even back then, BC was setting the anti-prohibitionist trend.

Emily Murphy, Canada’s first female judge, traveled from her hometown of Edmonton to Vancouver to work with the police to see what illegal opium trafficking was all about. She walked through Shanghai Alley with the VPD and witnessed what she described as a “yellow hand” selling opium from a hole in a door. The policemen who were with her attempted an arrest, but the hand proved to be “heavily greased” and slipped away. Murphy went on to write two more articles in her seven article series – “The Grave Drug Menace” – for Maclean’s Magazine, which she later used as part of her extremely racist book – “The Black Candle”. The magazine and book – along with a series of anti-Asian and anti-opium propaganda published in Vancouver newspapers between 1920 and 1922 – lead to irrational panic in other cities and anti-opium and anti-marijuana legislation in 1922 and 1923.

April 27, 1924
The Victory Square Cenotaph at Cambie and Hastings was unveiled on this day to commemorate Vancouverites who died in WW1. There is a similar war memorial in Ypres, France, where the sub-battle “Vancouver Corner” was fought by brave Vancouverites in the world’s first use of poison gas in warfare – the Second Battle of Ypres, April 22 – May 13, 1915. This was the battle where many Canadians died in a poppy field and the famous “In Flanders Fields” poem came from – which resulted in the poppy being used as a symbol to remember the sacrifices of war – all very ironic considering how much has been forgotten about the war against the opium poppy and it’s users. An even more interesting (and ironic) fact is that the German chemical company which unleashed this gas was none other than Bayer – inventor of Aspirin, the poppy-based pain-killer Heroin and chief financial backers (along with Prescott Bush and his business partners) of the Nazi party. Bayer now wants to have a monopoly on cannabis medicine by marketing and distributing Sativex cannabis tincture – because it has a label on it it’s “real” medicine. Perhaps that’s why the Cenotaph is located across the street from today’s Pot Block … to remind us all to not get burned by Bayer again.

The Plaza Theater on Grandville St. played anti-cannabis films “ASSASSIN OF YOUTH” and “MARIHUANA – WEED WITH ROOTS IN HELL”. “Passions unleashed by innocent fun” promised the marquee. Lineups were around the block.

According to history professor Catherine Carstairs, “From 1946 to 1961, more than 50 per cent of all narcotic convictions took place in Vancouver while another 24 percent took place in Toronto”. Truly, Vancouver was the drug mecca (and, perhaps, drug enforcement mecca) of the Canadian scene. During this period, BC only experienced 6 arrests – total – for marijuana offenses. The following paragraph is particularly interesting:

“In Vancouver, where most users lived in residential hotel rooms in the Downtown Eastside, peddlers often congregated in the cafes and beer parlours at the corner of Hastings and Columbia.” p.70

Hastings and Columbia is less than a half-block from where the Supervised Injection Site – “Insite” – is currently located. The Vancouver School of Drugwar History and Organic Cultivation – the “Herb School” – is also within a half block of Hastings and Columbia.

December 1962
According to eyewitness “Portland” Al (who managed the nearby “Balmoral” nightclub), Jimmy Hendrix and Tommy Chong played guitar together in the same band – Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers – in December of 1962 at the famous “Smiling Buddha Cafe” on Hastings near Columbia. He said Jimmy kicked ass, but the manager at the Buddha didn’t have an ear for music and let Jimmy go after ten days. Jimmy’s grandmother Nora Hendrix lived at 827 E. Georgia – just a short walk from the Buddha. The house still exists, and is currently being renovated.

In a local historical publication, we have this description of how drug distribution kept going in the 1960’s after all other businesses had gone away:

“When the Vanier Park site, on the west side of the city, was completed, the museum artifacts were moved out and the Carnegie building was boarded up. The social and cultural core was gone; the low point for the neighbourhood had arrived. It had now truly become Skid Road. Always the center for of the drug trade – since the turn of the century, when opium was legal – narcotics became the pre-eminent economic activity for the area.”
“Hastings and Main – Stories from an Inner City Neighbourhood”, 1987, p.14

But fear not – a museum has returned to the neighborhood! Vansterdam’s latest addition to it’s map is the Herb Museum – located at 343 E. Hastings – just a block and a half east of the Carnegie building at Hastings and Main.

Cheech and Chong meet in Vancouver – by most accounts in the “Shanghai Junk” comedy/burlesque club at the corner of Main and Pender.

October 1969
The LeDain Commission into the “non-medicinal” (there’s that bizzare concept again) use of drugs held public hearings in Vancouver. The testimony was overwhelmingly in favor of a more tolerant drug policy. Among those who gave testimony was geneticist Dr. David Suzuki. Suzuki stated “I feel marijuana is not harmful in pregnancy,” and “We must admit our present hypocrisy in banning marijuana and LSD while our governments are making money off worse things like alcohol and tobacco . . .the results of scientific studies are now being distorted to fit public opinion – a situation not unlike that in Galileo’s day.” In April of 1970 the Le Dain Commission released an Interim Report which recommended that cannabis be taken out of the Narcotics Control Act and placed instead in the Food and Drug Act, that jail be removed as a possibility for unpaid drug-possession fines, and that the police, prosecutors and courts exercise discretion to minimize the negative impact of the laws against simple possession.

February 1, 1971
A benefit concert occured at the Garden Auditorium in Vancouver to raise money and awareness for Michigan pot activist John Sinclair. Sinclair was busted for two joints handed out by him in the course of his duties as a “Green Panther”. He was given a ten year sentence. A benefit concert was held in Michigan in December of 1971 at which John Lennon performed. Sinclair was released two days later.

July-August 1971
Mayor Tom Campbell was halfway through his term, and had already announced that he would not run again. He decided that his parting gift to the city would be to clean up Gastown once and for all, and thus began “Operation Dustpan.” Undercover police donned wigs, fake tans and ratty clothes, and attempted to infiltrate the Gastown scene to make as many arrests as possible. On the first weekend 33 busts were made. The August 2nd Vancouver Sun reported 109 arrests in ten days – 59 from Gastown.
The August 4th Sun reported that BC’s Attorney General urged the federal government to “cancel parole and sentence remissions for drug traffickers”. His telegram did not distinguish between soft and hard drugs. The August 7th Sun reported on a series of drug raids which had wrecked a “young people’s cafe” – the Last Chance Saloon – at 2064 West Fourth.
In response to the police harassment brought on by Operation Dustpan, the Gastown community set about organizing a “Grasstown Smoke-In & Street Jamboree,” which was advertised and promoted in the Georgia Straight. The August 6th Straight printed that the Smoke-In would be put on by “a group of concerned Gastown People in co-operation with Vancouver’s Youth International Party.” The Smoke-In was to be in support of the following five point program:
1.Total solidarity with the more than 100 people arrested so far in Operation Dustpan.
2.An immediate end to the harassment and intimidation campaign which is being carried out in Gastown by Tom Campbell’s police under the codename Operation Dustpan. We want an end to campaign which is designed to drive all poor people out of Gastown. We want an end to arbitrary police questioning and illegal searches. We want an end to Gestapo practices such as blocking the doors of a pub and searching everyone – without exception – who happens to be in that pub.
3.An immediate end to the physical brutality currently used by Vancouver police against long hairs in Gastown, Native people in Gastown, older residents of Gastown, Hip People in the Fourth Ave. area, and poor people generally.
4.Legalization of marijuana. We want marijuana legalized so that the drug laws can no longer be used as a weapon to drive poor hip people out of Gastown, or even send us to jail, while more affluent people who may also smoke marijuana are made welcome in the area’s emporiums of plastic.
5.We want Larry Killam, Ian Rogers, and the other big businessmen who own and control Ga$town to donate at least 10% of their profits for the next month to a legal defense fund for the victims of Operation Dustpan.
An accompanying article, titled “How Not to Get Busted at the Grasstown Smoke-In,” advised protesters to arrive in groups and cooperate in destroying each others evidence in the event of a bust. It also explained how to identify and defuse “agent provocateurs,” get the badge and license plate numbers of violent cops, and in the event of a police show of strength, to not play “24 hr. stand-off,” but rather go for a pub crawl.
The article did not promote any kind of antagonism or violence, and asked those who attended the rally to give the police no justifications for arrest. It encouraged restraint and withdrawal against any attempts by police to “manufacture a police riot.”

August 7, 1971
The evening began peacefully enough. About two thousand people gathered, many of them tourists and passers by who stopped to join the celebration. A ten foot joint was passed around, there was music and singing, and young and old alike peacefully protested the increasing brutality of marijuana prohibition and Operation Dustpan. At about 10pm Vancouver Police Officers charged the crowd on horseback. The description of what happened next filled the front pages of local newspapers. They all got a healthy dose of “Rodneyking-o-phobia” – fear of being caught on film using force without justification.
The Gastown Merchants Association put on a “love in” the following weekend, ostensibly to give police and youth a chance to make up their differences. The Georgia Straight dismissed the event as being organized by merchants more interested in maintaining Gastown as a commercial entity than supporting the civil rights of their pot smoking clientele. Mayor Tom Campbell didn’t attend, explaining that he feared there would be a riot if he showed up. Chief of Police John Fisk said that officers could attend if they wanted to, but that he didn’t see why any of them would want to go. The actual event lasted from 8pm until 2am, and police estimated attendance at 15,000 people. The Gastown Merchants Association spent $4,000 on giving away watermelon, hot dogs, and of course free alcohol. There was a minimal presence of uniformed police, and some of those that did attend were reported as holding sticks of incense and flowers given them by the youths. No arrests were made, despite open violation of drinking laws and what the papers called “a pervasive smell of marijuana.” However, the owner of the Europe Hotel did report that Vancouver Police had rented some of his rooms for crowd surveillance. Ed Hicks, a spokesman for the Gastown Merchants Association, suggested that such festivals could be held every week.

September-October 1971
To contain public outrage, BC Attorney General Les Peterson ordered Justice Thomas Dohm of the BC Supreme Court to hold an inquiry. Although the public anger was primarily directed against the police, the inquiry was not into police brutality, but rather simply “the disturbance.”
Justice Dohm spent ten days listening to public testimony from 48 witnesses, and presented his report to the Attorney General on October 7th. Dohm’s report was printed in its entirety in both the Vancouver Sun and Province. Dohm clearly states in his report that “the violence erupted only when the police intervened,” and that the police used “unnecessary, unwarranted and excessive force.” Nevertheless, Dohm still placed much of the blame upon Ken Lester and Eric Sommer, the two Georgia Straight writers who were the main organizers of the event.
Even though he admitted that their actions were peaceful and non-inflammatory, Dohm claimed that “the motives of these two promoters, Lester and Sommer, were bad. Their evasive attitudes persuade me that they hoped that the crowd gathered would have a violent confrontation with the police.
“Their efforts failed to work up the crowd, which compromised many gullible young people who were there out of curiosity. The police, however, overreacted and provided the confrontation desired by Messrs Lester and Sommer.
“In my opinion, Messrs Lester and Sommer, who testified at this inquiry, are two intelligent and dangerous, radical young men. Their true motivation is their desire to challenge authority in every way possible.”
Considering what the authorities get up to, that’s not such a bad idea.
Then the 70’s and 80’s hit, and things are quiet for a while.

Irreverent English major Dana Larsen co-founded LEAD – League for Ethical Action on Drugs, at Simon Frazier University.

Smoke-ins begin again in Vancouver – in part as a result of the book “The Emperor Wears No Clothes” by Jack Herer coming up into Canada and causing a hemp-history sensation.

Activist and psychonaut Ian Hunter provided drugwar education projects with the “Institute for Adversarial Irony” and initiated hemp retail activism with the Total Hemp Corporation. Both are run out of 328 West Hastings.

Rogue entrepreneur and moral crusader Marc Emery moved to Vancouver on March 1st, 1994. On April 11th, Marc started up his hemp/head shop “Hemp BC” (at first just selling High Times magazines door to door), and on July 7th – with Ian Hunter – Hemp BC got it’s own retail space at 324 West Hastings, from the husk of a fire-bombed Albanian communist bookstore. In November, Hemp BC began to sell medicinal cannabis seeds over the counter. The store became a popular stop for a toke, and gains much positive media attention. Emery began publishing the “Marijuana and Hemp Newsletter”.

January 1995
Marc Emery hired Dana Larsen to edit the “Marijuana and Hemp Newsletter”, which in a few months became “Cannabis Canada” magazine. Meticulous historian Chris Bennett began his fascinating series on the ancient history of cannabis use as a sacrament.

June 18, 1995
“Users off the hook” read the headlines in the Province as the policy of stopping prosecuting simple drug possession was officially announced (or, more accurately, “leaked”). It was in a letter from Senior federal drug prosecutor Lindsay Smith to the VPD. Arrests would only be made if there was an aggravating factor, such as if the person was “a known gang member”. “We were simply indicating the system is badly overtaxed and we have more drug cases than we can deal with,” explained Tony Dohm, of the justice department. The seed of Vansterdam sprouts that day.

September 1995
As fund-raising, business-building and philanthropy takes more and more of his attention, Marc Emery hires Edmontonian David Malmo-Levine to be Hemp BC’s in-house rabble-rouser. “The weed flowed like tapwater and the ‘get stuff done’ energy was on “11” all the time” explained Malmo-Levine – “I felt like I died and went to pot-activist heaven.” Malmo-Levine’s fall edition of his magazine – Potshot – announced the “Amsterdamcouver” no-bust policy.

November 1995
On November 2nd, a North Vancouver hemp store called “The Joint” was raided by police. Activists respond with a demonstration, and the North Shore News covers the story. On Nov. 22nd, the first police raid on Hemp BC goes down. Four people are charged with possession.

December 5, 1995
The Wall Street Journal covers Marc Emery and Hemp BC. A flurry of other media cover the story of the Wall Street Journal covering the story.

January 4, 1996
The VPD drug squad makes the first major raid on Hemp BC – stealing client lists, computers, mushroom grow kits, scales, marijuana seeds, pipes, bongs, and rolling papers. It is the first case of seeds forming a trafficking charge in North America. The police explain their lack of action previously as being a result of their inability to sprout the marijuana seeds. “Bad gardeners” observed one marijuana supporter. Emery hires long-time pot lawyer and NORML Canada co-founder John Conroy, QC, to represent him in court. In the ensuing days, Hemp BC employees agree to a pay-cut, and suppliers ignore former debts and resupply the store. A week’s worth of media attention help the store get back on it’s feet quickly, and within three weeks Hemp BC openned up it’s “Little Grow Shop”.

July 1, 1996
The first of many “Cannabis Day” celebrations occured. The rally begins at the Art Gallery and then marches down to Sunset Beach. The crowd is estimated at 5000 people.

August 7, 1996
The 25th anniversary of the Grasstown Police Riot was celebrated at the Gassy Jack statue in Gasstown. The anniversary is now celebrated every five years.

October 1996
David Malmo-Levine quit Hemp BC and started the “Harm Reduction Club” – a cannabis buyers club for those over 13 who promised to read a “safer-smarter-smoking guide” and to avoid driving while impaired. On October 19th in Grandview Park on Commercial Drive, the Club had it’s first public sale of memberships and joints – 250 people signed up. The Club moved into Malmo-Levine’s basement suite apartment at 1527 E. 4th ave.

November 1996
CBC television’s “Big Life” host Daniel Richler Interviewed Malmo-Levine at the Harm Reduction Club basement as sales raged on in the background. At the introduction to the show, Richler announces the arrival of “Vansterdam” – the first time the term was used in any media.

December 4, 1996
VPD raided the Harm Reduction Club. Malmo-Levine and his partners Chad and Jeremiah spend the night in jail, then opened up the club the next day “for donations only – no takeaway herb”. Club members donate 250 dollars and smoke 750 dollars worth of cannabis. Noticing the “donation system” is unsustainable, the Harm Reduction Club temporarily closed down as it looks for a new location.

December 20, 1996
The Harm Reduction Club opened it’s doors in a small ex-barber shop at 420 Grove Avenue in Burnaby, BC – just 20 feet away from Hastings St. After a series of 4 robberies from young, jealous local thugs, the Club was finally raided and shut down February 28th by the RCMP. Malmo-Levine and his lawyer Paul Hundal managed to get Chad and Jeremiah’s charges dropped. Malmo-Levine then became self-represented and takes his pot-dealing case all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada – with some financial help from Marc Emery and legal advice from John Conroy.

February 1997
Hemp BC moved across Hastings Street to where Cannabis Culture headquarters stands today.

April 1997
Hilary Black, the forward-thinking ex-employee of Hemp BC, started up the BC Compassion Club Society, a medical-necessity cannabis distribution club. The club evolved quickly and began to provide other herbs and other “alternative” medicines for it’s members. It’s first office was at Pender and Homer. It later moved to Commercial and Hastings, then up the street to the back of the Grassroots Hemp and Drum store at 4th and Commercial, and then finally found a home up Commercial Drive a few blocks past the skytrain station.

July 1997
Hemp BC opened up the Cannabis Cafe, the first “BYOBud” cafe in Vancouver. Located at 301 W. Hastings, it – along with Hemp BC – closed down in 1999 when Vancouver’s city government denied Hemp BC a business license.

September 1997
The Amsterdam Cafe – another BYOBud cafe – opened up at the corner of Cordova and Cambie, by seed Queens Karen Watson and Sita Windheim. On September 2, 1997, Marc Emery Direct Seeds was raided. The police seized approximately $50,000 worth of seeds.

December 16, 1997
Hemp BC was raided by the police. Again. This time the raid became violent, as the police brutally executed a warrant for the arrest of David Malmo-Levine for five-month old mischief charges. In the ensuing melee, five people were arrested for obstructing Malmo-Levine’s arrest, including Marc Emery. The raid took place about one month after CNN’s Impact program portrayed Marc Emery as “Canada’s Prince of Pot”, and three months after Hemp BC took out full-page ads in both local dailies at the start of the Vancouver APEC conference, welcoming world leaders to the “marijuana breadbasket of North America”, and asking them to call off their war on cannabis culture. As a result of the raid, Emery sold his business to his assertive employee Sister Icee, as he had been “red zoned” away from the block by the police.

April 30, 1998
Yet another raid against Hemp BC. Thousands of dollars worth of smoking equipment, computers and seeds are stolen by the VPD – never to be seen again.

July 1, 1998
A 16 year old pot dealer is “unarrested” after the paddy wagon he was in was surrounded by protesters, linking arms and singing songs and complaining to the media until – an hour later – the police relented. He is released to his mother, and is back at Sunset Beach puffing fatties ten minutes later.

September 30, 1998
Still yet another raid on Hemp BC.

October 30, 1998
Due to the ongoing over-policing of the area around Hemp BC, Sister Icee decides to call a press conference, inviting the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association to comment. Ten minutes before the conference was to begin, David Malmo-Levine is arrested across the street for not providing ID to a police officer when asked. While cuffed, he is “hugged” by Sister Icee, Hemp BC employee Michelle and Hilary Black while dozens of onlookers demand to be arrested for the same thing and lawyers and reporters demand justification from the police. Overwhelmed, the police back off.

November 1998
Blunt Brothers – another BYOB cafe – opens up in November of 1998 at 317 W. Hastings.

June 1999
Sister Icee’s Hemp BC shut down after City Council refused Sister Icee a business license after farcical city council hearings during February and March, where city lawyers blamed Icee for things that had occured while founder Marc Emery owned the businesses. In June, the BC Supreme Court ruled that City Council had the right to forbid Hemp BC a business license.

July 20, 1999
The Amsterdam Cafe is raided for the third time. The VPD steal 30,000 dollars worth of seeds. By the end of October the Amsterdam’s lease runs out and the landlord uses the raids as reason not to renew it. Blunt Bros is now the only pot-friendly business on the pot block.

April 2000
“Stranjahs in da Night” – a floating ganjafood party hosted by DJ Girl – finds a home in the ARC at the northern tip of Commercial Drive.

November 2000
The federal Marijuana Party runs in the 2000 federal election and receives .5 percent of the popular vote. Much of the organizing takes place in the BC Marijuana Party’s new office and bookshop – located at 307 W. Hastings – the site of the old Hemp BC. The BC Marijuana Party is formed by Marc Emery on November 28, 2000 – the day after the federal vote. Brian Taylor, rebel hemp farmer and ex- Grand Forks Mayor, heads up the BCMP in it’s first election.

September 8, 2001
The first of many busts on Wreck Beach for pot comedienne and militant nudist Watermelon. She later gets off because they charge her with dealing cannabis resin, and they can’t find any resin.

May 2002
The first of three “Toker’s Bowl” marijuana-tasting competitions kicked off in Vancouver, sponsored by Cannabis Culture magazine and Marc Emery seeds.

November 20, 2002
Drug Czar John Walters comes to Vancouver to address the Vancouver Board of Trade. Marc Emery buys a table for 750 dollars through “Avalon Sunsplash”, his corporate entity. Emery invites activists Chris Bennett, David Malmo-Levine, hardcore med-pot user/activist Michelle Rainey and cerebrally endowed BC Compassion Club spokesperson Rielle Capler to listen to Walter’s speech at the shwanky Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre. Walters lying is met with heckles and the vocal dissent from Emery’s table echoes through the media coverage the next day. Shortly thereafter, the DEA begin their investigation of Marc Emery Seeds.

April 1, 2004
Insite – Canada’s first supervised hard drug-injection site, opens it’s doors and begins to record statistics related to it’s harm-reduction services (basically a clean, well-lit place to shoot up and a nurse on hand). A result of grassroots unofficial direct action pressure at other sites, municipal and federal governments relented and provided the money to do a proper job. Two years later, the site records 7,278 unique individuals registered with up to 953 visits per day, 453 overdoses resulting in zero fatalities, and 4,084 referrals were made with 40 per cent of them made to addiction counselling and 368 referred to withdrawal management.

April 25, 2004
An arsonist on the pot block burns Blunt Bros down to the ground. Two other cool businesses – Cabbages and Kinks & Spartacus Books also perish in the flames. The BCMP escapes destruction but incurs tens of thousands of dollars in smoke and water damage. The cops pursue the arsonist for a week and then go back to hunting herb farmers and gardeners. In a manner similar to how the police gave up investigating accused serial killer Robert Pickton back in 1997 or how the police gave up investigating those responsible for the Anthrax attacks against members of the US Democratic party in Oct. 2001, the burning of the pot block was a serious crime, a crime that may have helped the rich and powerful and/or involved possible complicity of the rich and powerful, a crime that the police just don’t seem to care to investigate fully.

May 4, 2004
“Da Kine” (Hawaiian slang for “the kind bud” or “the best”) opens it’s doors. For a brief happy smoky summer, it is truly Amsterdam in Vancouver. It is run by the very personable hemp activist and grow-king Don Briere and his equally personable and knowledgeable lover Carol Gwilt. Da Kine, far from being a “Bring Your Own Bud” cafe, is a fully-stocked marijuana distribution outlet. It’s a “everything is medical” club rather than a “medical necessity only” club. The paperwork is minimal – just enough to get their customers to ask themselves why they smoke. Stress? Depression? Fatigue? Loss of appetite? Lack of sleep? Something more painful or serious? Budder – a butter-like combination of hash and oil, makes it’s first appearance. Then in September, the media arrived.

Put on the spot, Da Kine admits they sell cannabis to reporters, and then even worse, that the police and politicians all know about it. The debate between medical necessity and preventative medicine confuses the issue when the issue should have been centered on the fact that they were open for four months without a single complaint from anyone. The ensuing media results in a ten-fold increase in the already high number of customers – which results in tens of thousands of dollars worth of business every day.

In polls and talk-shows, a majority of Vancouverites support the existence of Da Kine. Unfortunately, the head politicians and head police remain in the minority. After a frightening raid by officers in ski-masks, several employees are led away into paddy wagons as an angry crowd of potheads protest at the police perimeter. Briere and Gwilt reopen the store and get re-arrested the next week. Da Kine closes it’s doors in late September.

November 2, 2004
The Herb School hangs up it’s sign outside it’s 123 A. East Hastings address. David Malmo-Levine and a whack of volunteer activists begin to conduct drug war history walking tours of old Vancouver, leading to the Herb School – complete with mini-museum and a photo exhibit, an art gallery and cultivation classes.

July 22, 2005
The DEA, with the help of the VPD, raid Emery Seeds. Marc is arrested …………….. (I think you can do this better than I can).

May 15, 2006
The Vancouver Seed Bank, located at 872 East Hastings and run by former CC editor Dana Larsen and his multitasking semi-genius partner Rebecca Ambrose, opens it’s doors. The place features a vapor lounge, vapor garden, internet cafe and multi-media blacklight room that is the envy of all other cannabis establishments.

The Future
As you can see from this issue’s centerfold, there are a couple of new herb-friendly projects in the works in Vancouver. Former med-pot refugee Renee Boje and pot-activist lawyer Kirk Tousaw are opening up Shakti – a love-goddess inspired aphrodisiac lounge at ****** on Commercial Drive. Apparently, the Tall Brothers are a regular feature act. And the folks that brought you the Herb School are about to open up a Herb Museum at 343 East Hastings, with hundreds of exhibits from the world of herbs and drugs. Truly, 2008 is shaping up to be the year Vansterdam blooms into full flower.

David Malmo-Levine