Vancouver Cops Declare War on Canada's Pot Industry
by Jeff Blundell
TORONTO (CUP) - In what was previously considered the most tolerant place in Canada, an unexpected raid has rekindled an old fight.
Hemp BC, an incredibly profitable Vancouver store specializing in drug paraphernalia and cannabis seeds was busted by the city's drug squad last month.
According to Marc Emery, the store's owner, undercover Vancouver police purchased seeds from his store and used them to grow cannabis plants.
After their first batch failed, the police grew a crop of plants that tested positive for THC, the drug component of marijuana. They then busted the store for selling the seeds.
Detective Bruce Pearce of the Vancouver Drug Squad confirmed that the police had grown their own plants.
"We had an ongoing investigation. We decided to conduct the raid when we were ready, not when [Emery] was ready," said Pearce.
The store's inventory, a truckload of bongs, ventilators, purifiers and seeds, valued at $90,000, was confiscated and Emery, his son and two clerks were carted from the store in handcuffs.
The clerks were charged with trafficking while Emery was charged with selling paraphernalia for drug use and trafficking. Emery's 16 year-old son was released uncharged.
Emery says he does not think he broke the law by selling the seeds. "We don't believe [the seeds] contain any drug value and should not be illegal," he said.
No one has ever been convicted of trafficking for selling seeds in Canada, but Detective Rick Chase of the Toronto drug squad says that the seeds do contain testable levels of THC, the narcotic element of cannabis.
He also commented that the technique used by the Vancouver police was enviable.
"That's an ideal scenario if you have the time and the room.... What better way to prove to the courts that Ôthis is what he sold to me' and Ôthis is what he told me to do' and Ôthis is what we grew?" said Detective Chase.
Robin Ellins, owner of the Toronto hemp shop The Friendly Stranger, says Emery may have gone too far, too fast by selling the seeds.
He says The Friendly Stranger is not in danger of being raided by police because they stay within the law as it is written.
While acknowledging that they are both pursuing the same goal - the legalization of pot - Ellins says Emery and he are taking different routes.
"Emery's approach is different from ours. If we were troops going into battle, and the sergeant was telling us to calm down and wait, Emery would be the guy running ahead and starting all the shooting. But you need that," he said.
This conservative approach conveys greater security for his store, says Ellins.
"I don't expect to see [the raids] happen here because we're not crossing the lines [Hemp BC is] crossing. We don't sell seeds or clones because that's against the law."
Clones are seedlings or clippings used to grow cannabis plants. Emery says their drug value is negligible, but Detective Chase says that is a myth.
"There's an old wives' tale that if a cutting is less than six inches it will not test [positive] for THC. But that's simply false," said Chase.
Emery says selling seeds is an important part of getting cannabis legalized. He says there really is no option to moving quickly for the cause.
"You can't move too fast towards justice. What is the alternative? ÔMove slowly towards justice' - I don't think that's going to be a bumper sticker," he said.
Ellins admits the Vancouver raid has made him at least a little bit nervous.
Last week, Detective Chase made his first visit to The Friendly Stranger in months. Chase says it was unrelated to the Vancouver raid and that Ellins' store seemed to be acting in a legal manner.
Ellins says his approach is more conservative than Emery's because this city is more up-tight.
"Toronto, being what it is, let's call it anal-retentive, is just not ready for [selling seeds]. We're working with Metro Council and Metro Police to bring about change," he said.
Meanwhile 200km down the highway, Hemp Nation is selling seeds and clones in the very conservative city of London, Ont.
That activity got Christopher Clay, owner of Hemp Nation and curator of the Marijuana History Museum charged with possession, trafficking, and cultivation last May.
Clay and Emery are both fighting their charges, saying that because seeds and clones possess very low or zero drug value they should be considered legal for sale. While awaiting his day in court, Emery says he is speeding up his activities and getting more extreme, something he calls "guerrilla retail."
"We used to be cooperative [with the Vancouver police]. They asked us to stop smoking [marijuana] in the store, so we did. But now we're smoking again. We aren't cooperating with them now and we're not going to be," he said.
Emery says he also has plans to open more hemp stores.
"There will be a hemp store in every city in Canada by the end of 1996," he said. "They will have too much economic clout to be stopped."
In addition, Emery says he is doing everything the politicians want businesses to do, such as creating jobs in a new sector and establishing an export market. Pressure from the Yanks.
Emery accuses the Canadian government of buckling under pressure from the US Drug Enforcement Agency. He says that his store was allowed to conduct its business unhindered for over a year until he started receiving publicity south of the border. Emery gained international prominence as a successful businessman and a leader in the cannabis legalization movement last December when he appeared on the front page of the Wall Street Journal.
He was hailed as a business genius for selling hundreds of thousands of cannabis seeds to growers in both Canada and the United States.
He recorded gross sales of $2.2 million dollars last year.
Shortly afterwards, the Vancouver police came knocking on his door asking him to tone down his activities. There have also been rumblings about revoking his business license, he says.
0 But Sergeant K. Dykstra of the Vancouver drug squad says there was no external pressure placed on his department to go after Emery specifically.
He says the office receives many tips and acts on them according to their urgency.
"You would be amazed at the amount of information that comes into this office," he said. "We pick the best off and put the rest in the garbage bin. The rest, we get to them when we get to them."
Meanwhile in London, Hemp Nation has an improved relationship with their local police despite their continued selling of seeds.
After the store was robbed in November, the same officers who had confiscated its inventory in May were returning recovered stolen property - property that included pipes and bongs.
Pipes sold in hemp stores are usually labeled "for herbal tobacco use only." This gets around the law prohibiting the selling of paraphernalia intended for drug use. Detective Chase says both of Toronto's hemp shops have kept to this practice.
"They know as well as I know what some things are used for. But if they are not being sold expressly for the purpose of smoking drugs then that's not illegal," he said.
Chase adds that this line of reasoning could be extended to such mundane products as rolling papers.
"If I go in and ask for something to roll my weed in and he sells me some rolling papers, that's illegal," he explains.
Yet the same papers, sold for the purpose of smoking tobacco are perfectly legal. Ellins says that at The Friendly Stranger he is very careful to adhere to the letter of the law, even while he is trying to change it.
He checks customers, identification (you must be 19 to purchase smoking paraphernalia) and ensures all his products are properly labeled about their government suggested use. But in the end, he has no control over people after they leave his store.
"It's up to the customer to decide what they put in their pipe." he says.
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