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BCCLA condemns mayor Owen’s crusade against Hemp B.C.

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association condemns the City of Vancouver’s continuing harassment of Hemp B.C. and the Cannabis Café. In the latest of a series of strikes, the City’s lawyers have indicated that they will seek an injunction to close the stores down pending a “show cause” hearing before City Council.

Hemp B.C. sells pipes and other paraphernalia for smoking, and is an unabashed promoter of the medical and recreational use of the drug.

Said BCCLA spokesperson John Westwood today: “For decades pipes and bongs have been sold by numerous stores in Vancouver and in every major city in North America. The City and the Vancouver Police Department have targeted Hemp B.C. for no other reason than that the store has been successful locally and internationally in promoting its wares and in publicizing its view that marijuana ought to be decriminalized.”

In response to questions as to why Hemp B.C. has been singled out, both the Vancouver Police Department and the City have said that one of their main concerns is the “harm” that Hemp B.C. causes by advocating the use of marijuana.

Westwood noted, “This has become a free speech issue. Advocacy of a viewpoint on the decriminalization of marijuana or any other subject is thankfully not a crime in Canada—nor a reason to refuse a business license.”

The BCCLA is also concerned that enormous amounts of scarce resources are being spent trying to shut down this little store on Hastings Street for an alleged crime that ought not be on the books.

“Let’s step back and look at the big picture,” said Westwood, “It is a widely held belief—now backed up by medical research and court decisions—that casual recreational use of marijuana is not a serious medical or social problem. The antiquated law making it a criminal offense to possess a small amount of marijuana has no basis in reason—let alone the law making it a crime merely to sell the pipes and bongs which may be used to smoke it.”

“The law is a paternalistic anachronism, traceable to a time when the dire consequences of having a toke or two lampooned in Reefer Madness were actually taken seriously,” he said.

The BCCLA points out that this is not just the view of greying hippies and tattooed youth: The former Deputy Chief of the Vancouver Police Department, the Chief of the Ottawa Police Department, the Canadian Police Association and the Canadian Bar Association have all come out in favour of decriminalizing (but not necessarily legalizing) possession of small amounts of marijuana. They have recognized that there is simply no public interest important enough to warrant using the heavy hand of the criminal law to prevent Canadians from possessing small amounts of marijuana for personal use.

The chronology of events which has drawn the Association’s ire is as follows:

  • In March of this year, Shelley Francis (a.k.a. Sister Icee) bought the store from well-known pot promoter Marc Emery, and applied for a business licence.
  • In April, Vancouver police enlisted U.S. naval intelligence operatives to go undercover and buy marijuana in the stores. They tried and failed. So they went out on the street, bought some dope, and went into the Café where they smoked it. With information gleaned from this clandestine operation, police obtained a search warrant and raided the stores, carrying off various pipes and bongs, Sister Icee’s new computer, and stacks of business records.
  • Shortly thereafter, the store’s owner was charged with three counts of selling instruments for illicit drug use, which is still an offence under Canada’s Criminal Code. A trial date has been set for July, 1999, at which time Sister Icee will defend herself and challenge the constitutionality of the law.
  • In July, citing evidence of the alleged crime supplied by the police, the City sent Sister Icee a letter denying her a business licence, and announced a September “show cause” hearing.
  • In August, Mayor Philip Owen (who had for months railed at the national and international publicity Hemp B.C. was receiving) was quoted in the New York Times as saying that “[T]he stores will be toast by September.” After criticism from the BCCLA and the store’s lawyer Brent Lokash, Mayor Owen has apparently agreed not to participate in the show cause hearing.
  • In early September, it was learned that the City has hired an accountant to determine whether the stores had been dutifully paying their PST and GST and fulfilling other Revenue Canada obligations.
  • Later that month, the store’s lawyer filed a petition in court asking that the “show cause” hearing be put off until the criminal charges have been dealt with. The hearing was adjourned pending the court’s ruling on the petition.
  • Then, on September 30, the Vancouver Police raided the store again, confiscating more pipes and bongs, and cash. No charges have yet been laid.