|B.C. -- a Pot-Friendly, Pot-Profitable Province|
Posted by CN Staff on January 20, 2003 at 09:10:43 PT|
By John Mackie, Vancouver Sun
Source: Vancouver Sun
News flash: A new poll has found British Columbia is the most pot-friendly province in Canada.
This will come as no surprise to anyone who remembers the flower-power era of the 1960s, when Vancouver was the Canadian equivalent of hippie mecca San Francisco. Out of the haze of the Easter Be-Ins and psychedelic music scene emerged a B.C. pot culture that has only grown en stronger over the years.
Pot has become an entrenched part of the provincial economy. Depending on who you talk to, growing marijuana is a $1-billion to $8-billion business in British Columbia. Some argue it contributes more to the economy than forestry.
According to a recent poll by the Toronto-based Strategic Counsel, 56 per cent of British Columbians want marijuana use decriminalized. Quebec is the only other province where a majority (51 per cent) of the populace want pot use decriminalized.
Hippies are growing it, but so are lawyers, accountants -- even journalists. Grow-ops are relatively cheap to set up and easy to run, and can be incredibly lucrative. If you have a green thumb, the right strain of high-grade pot and good connections to sell it, you can pull in upwards of $50,000 a year -- tax free -- with a small grow-op in your basement.
Vancouver has developed a worldwide reputation as a pot valhalla, the North American counterpart to Amsterdam. Pot tourists show up by the thousands each year to smoke a joint in North American's only marijuana cafes, the Blunt Bros. and the New Amsterdam, on West Hastings.
"Most people don't even sit down," says Megan, a Blunt Bros. employee. "They walk in, go, 'Oh my God, look at this!,' take pictures and walk out."
Comedian Tommy Chong visited the Blunt Bros. recently, and smoked a joint in the designated smoking room.
"That was quite a shock," said a bemused Chong, who keeps homes in West Vancouver and Los Angeles. "It was so much like Amsterdam it blew me away."
The cafes flank the storefront headquarters of the B.C. Marijuana Party at 307 West Hastings. Pot guru Marc Emery's multi-million dollar marijuana seed empire is also located above the Marijuana Party offices. The concentration of marijuana businesses has given the block numerous nicknames: the Pot Block, the Green Block and Hemp Town.
The ever-enterprising Emery's latest scheme is to open up a retail outlet "like Starbucks" to sell B.C. bud to tourists. He hopes to open it in Gastown, Kitsilano or on Commercial Drive this spring or summer.
"You'll have 20, 25 varieties," he said. "If they're smoking it there, fine, if they're buying it to take away, you vacuum seal it and off they go.
"If I don't do it, someone else is going to do it real soon anyway."
Emery has been charged 10 times for marijuana-related offences, but doesn't seem overly concerned that he might run afoul of the authorities again.
"It doesn't matter," he said. "If you get busted, they take your pot, they put you in jail. Judges are hard-pressed to say you're a bad person because, after all, the majority of British Columbians favour decriminalizing it. They don't think it's a crime. How much of a crime is it if you provide people with marijuana under good safe conditions at a reasonable price?
"That kind of makes you a bit of a folk hero, not a criminal, and the judge will see it that way. He'll be hard-pressed to give you more than a financial penalty, which realistically you'd have to be prepared to pay anyway.
"The lawyers will cost you more than the fine you're going to get. Your real fee is $20,000 in legal fees, $5,000 max in fine. You're not likely to go to jail."
Emery's brazen attitude shows how far B.C.'s pot culture has come from the '60s, when possession of even a minuscule amount of pot could land you in jail.
Peter Trower found out the hard way -- he was sentenced to a month in the old Oakalla Prison in Burnaby in July, 1967, when the police found a joint in the brim of his hat.
"I was the first person ever busted on the Sunshine Coast, which is nothing to be proud of," recalls Trower, 72.
Trower is a B.C. original, a critically lauded poet/writer who spent much of his life working in logging camps. His novel Dead Man's Ticket is set on the Hastings strip in the late 1940s and early '50s, and relates the tales of loggers coming to town to blow their money on booze, drugs and women.
Trower knew the scene because he lived it, both as a logger and a bohemian writer. As such, he was among the first people to be exposed to marijuana, then known as reefer, in the early 1960s.
"I heard rumours about it back in the late '50s," he relates. "Apparently the porters were bringing it in on the trains, the black porters. But apart from that, it was very hard to get, so we never even looked for it. I heard the odd person managed to score some, but it was very difficult to get.
"It didn't become available to any degree at all until the early '60s. Then it started coming in from Mexico. A lot of it was pretty poor quality; I remember trying some and I couldn't even get off on the stuff. Then of course things kind of got rolling."
In 1967, Trower scored a job on a survey crew with a pair of "devout potheads." "We smoked a good deal of herb on the job," he chuckles.
Unfortunately for Trower, a female acquaintance gave the RCMP a list of pot smokers on the Sunshine Coast, and they swooped down on the unsuspecting potheads. The bust was conducted house to house, and Trower was tipped off by a friend before they got to his place. He hid out at his mother's, but the police found him.
"They come chargin' in there," he recalls. " I always wore a cap, and I had a joint stashed in the brim of this cap. I forgot all about this joint, but they searched me and got it. Then they went to my place and found these tobacco tins which had traces of pot in them.
"So I was the first person ever busted in this area, which was pretty embarrassing, because everybody up here thought pot was like heroin, and everybody thought I was selling to kids, which I wasn't. I wasn't selling to anybody."
He feels the judge at his trial decided to make an example of him.
"They brought in a magistrate from Nanaimo who was the brother of Harold Winch, the socialist," he says. "But this guy was right wing. He was the absolute opposite of Harold Winch. I brought in character witnesses who said I was getting steady work, because I was really getting bum-rapped on this.
"And this right-wing judge dismissed all this stuff and said there's some suspicion that you may have been dealing. I was scared. Finally he gave me a $1,000 fine and a month in Oakalla Prison for possession of a minuscule amount of pot. It was just draconian . . . it was just ridiculous.
"So I did a month in Okey, and paid this damn $1,000 out of a little inheritance. The only good thing that came out of the whole escapade is that I got some good jail poems from being in Okey. The only way to get stuff like that I guess is to go to the source."
One of the big factors in the B.C. pot explosion in the mid-1960s was the large number of draft dodgers who fled to Canada to avoid the Vietnam War. Many draft dodgers settled in the Kootenays and the Gulf Islands, where they put their gardening skills to use.
"They couldn't get legal jobs, and a lot of them were marijuana-friendly people in the first place, and so they started growing pot in B.C.," says Dana Larsen, editor of Cannabis Culture magazine.
As it turned out, B.C. was a great place to grow pot.
"B.C. is lush, has cheap hydro, lots of water, and lots of sunny slopes on hillsides," says pot activist David Malmo-Levine, who will be taking his fight to smoke pot to the Supreme Court of Canada this spring.
B.C.'s forests also make for great cover growing outdoor pot.
"You don't grow that much pot outdoors in Saskatchewan because it's flat, and therefore the pot is visible," says Emery.
"But in British Columbia, we have a canopy of forest covering virtually the entire province. It not only heralds good growing conditions, but good stealth conditions, to be able to get away with growing it."
Complete Article: http://www.freedomtoexhale.com/bcf.htm
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
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