Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Author: Krisendra Bisetty, Derrick Penner and Chris Johnson
Published: September 11, 2004
Copyright: 2004 Vancouver Sun
Contact: [email protected]
Management of the Da Kine cafe vowed Friday to continue selling marijuana, despite a police raid the day before that resulted in the arrest of its owner and seven employees.
The open defiance at the cafe, which police say does an estimated $30,000 worth of business a day, is also against the advice of owner Carol Gwilt's lawyer.
After spending a night in jail, Gwilt and seven employees were released from custody late Friday afternoon after provincial court Judge William Kitchen remarked that it was "silly" for them to remain in jail.
The arrests were made after Vancouver police seized 20 pounds of marijuana, a pound of hashish and $63,000 in cash in Thursday night's raid on Da Kine, which senior police officials characterized as a significant drug house.
Investigators counted more than 230 visitors to the business within an hour and a half during their surveillance, said Insp. Dave Nelmes, head of the Vancouver police drug section.
As customers streamed through the Commercial Drive cafe Friday, business was brisk, and several customers smoked their joints out on the sidewalk, cheering loudly as a representative of the business, Lorne McLeod, faced reporters outside the cafe and vowed it would remain in business.
"They've done their raid, here we are again. And if they raid us again, we'll open again," McLeod said.
"If someone wants to smoke a joint and it helps them, or it's their prerogative, more power to them and we will be here to supply it," he said to shouts of approval from about 40 supporters, some who were video-taping friends, and themselves, smoking pot. Tourists in backpacks and cameras were also drawn to the scene and appeared bemused on hearing of the cafe's predicament. Three teenage girls also carried crudely drawn posters on their clothes calling for Da Kine to remain open.
McLeod lashed out at the police department, likening their actions to "terrorist tactics," saying their arrival in squad teams and "full battle dress" was what one would see in an American movie.
"[They were] acting as if we were gangsters or some threat. We are no threat, we are members of the community, we are taxpayers, we are citizens and we are tired of the terrorist tactics of the police," he said.
McLeod said business licence documents submitted in January 2004 indicated the cafe would be selling pot and police were fully aware of that.
"We are a non-profit society, the Canadian Sanctuary Society, incorporated in 2001. What we want to do is provide to the community a safe, secure environment where they can purchase a product of their choice, where they can utilize that product without having to worry about gangsters or street criminals."
In the past week, Da Kine staff received more than 7,000 applications from people seeking to use marijuana for medicinal purposes, he said.
"We are not drug dealers, we are community activists," he said, adding the laws relating to the use and sale of marijuana were based on "falsehoods." The state, he said, should not be allowed to "tell me what my indulgences should be."
McLeod said he sees no harm in the drug and claimed even local businesses are in favour of the cafe's presence in the area and its contribution in bringing a "new ambiance to the community." He said Da Kine, is a non-profit operation and the proceeds of marijuana sales went to paying taxes, salaries and rent. But he denied the cafe had takings of $30,000 a day, as police claimed.
McLeod also said Da Kine is considering civil action for damages against the Vancouver police department because of the raid. "They tore [the premises] apart."
Tim Felger, a Marijuana Party candidate, criticized Solicitor-General Rich Coleman for saying the open sale of drugs at Da Kine was unacceptable.
Down the road from Da Kine, another store alleged to have been peddling marijuana and related products, The Spirit Within, was closed.
A woman who lives in an apartment block above The Spirit Within, who did not want to give her name, said the store manager was warned Thursday night by the landlord not to participate in any illegal activities.
Meanwhile, police said some of the 33 customers in Da Kine when raided it were 18 years old and younger.
Nelmes said an Aug. 26 tip to the Crime Stoppers line alerted police that Da Kine was selling pot, several days before cafe owner Carol Gwilt went public about selling marijuana and pleaded that the four-month-old business be allowed to stay open.
"This was not a small, insignificant [compassion] club," said acting Deputy Chief Bob Rolls. "This was a drug house and a very significant operation."
He said Da Kine's "flaunting their criminal activity and demonstrating their contempt for the laws of Canada" elevated it as a priority for police.
Dozens of officers, some wearing balaclavas, descended on Da Kine at 5:40 p.m. Thursday to serve a search warrant on the cafe.
Police cordoned off a block of Commercial Drive during the raid. Rolls said the size of the force was unusually large for executing a drug search warrant but investigators based it on their expectation that there would be a crowd of 200 to 300 people on hand, which there was.
"We had enough [officers] there to discourage activities or confrontations," he added.
Nelmes said there were 41 people in the cafe when police entered and 33 were identified as customers. No customers were arrested, but they were all questioned and Nelmes said they were all asked whether they had Health Canada authorization to possess marijuana for medicinal purposes. None produced any such authorization, he said.
Rolls said there is a "strong likelihood" money from sales at Da Kine could have been filtered back to support organized crime, a claim denied Friday by McLeod.
Gwilt and the others were released from custody on condition they stay away from marijuana or any premises, automobile, or person where marijuana is present. The six females and two males are scheduled to appear again in Vancouver provincial court Oct. 6 on charges of possessing marijuana for the purpose of trafficking. That's the same date as a scheduled hearing at city hall on the future of Da Kine's business licence.
Gwilt was also charged with possessing proceeds from a crime.
Kitchen rejected Crown prosecutor Mark Sheardown's request to bar the suspects from meeting each other or returning to the 1000-block of Commercial Drive, where Da Kine continued to sell marijuana over the counter a day after the police raid.
But Kitchen warned them they could go to jail if they offend again.
"Next time, I'll hold you in jail," he said. "It seems pretty silly to be held in jail these days for possession of marijuana."
Outside the court, Gwilt's lawyer, John Conroy, warned Da Kine not to continue selling pot. "I would hope anyone else involved with Da Kine would see the consequences if they continue. They're just asking for further problems from police. My advice [to Gwilt], under the circumstances, is that she shouldn't allow that."
He predicted the court case could take a year.
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