Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Author: Chris Johnson, Vancouver Sun
Published: Friday, September 10, 2004
Copyright: 2004 Vancouver Sun
Contact: [email protected]
Dozens of Vancouver police officers arrested six people Thursday evening in a raid on a busy Commercial Drive cafe that openly sold marijuana. Vancouver police spokeswoman Const. Sarah Bloor said the six arrested inside Da Kine cafe face charges of trafficking a controlled substance.
Outside, some in a crowd of over 200 people taunted police officers, who blocked Commercial between Parker and Napier streets for several hours after the 6 p.m. raid, stopping business at about 20 shops and delaying shooting of a Hollywood movie, The Fantastic Four.
The crowd cheered as The Peg General Store played Bob Marley's songs, Get Up, Stand Up, and I Shot the Sheriff, while others smoked marijuana or debated with police manning barricades.
More than 100 people continued protesting late into the night, blaming the media for putting Da Kine in the spotlight and accusing police of wasting money.
Bloor said the city's drug squad executed a search warrant at Da Kine after complaints by Britannia secondary school, the Grandview Woodland Community Policing Centre and others.
She said Da Kine had been "very blatant" about breaking the law. "It was obvious they made this a public event by flaunting their activity."
She said Thursday's raid did "not react" to B.C. Solicitor-General Rich Coleman's comments a day earlier that openly selling pot was unacceptable while city politicians took a "ho-hum attitude." Coleman does not direct police operations or investigations, but said Wednesday he was confident the law would be enforced.
But residents such as Tammie Tupechka, a member of the board that manages the Britannia Community Centre, called the raid a "message of force and intimidation" that was politically motivated and didn't reflect the wishes of most area residents and business owners.
Bloor said the police action had "overwhelming support by other neighbourhoods."
She said police were still gathering evidence in the cafe Thursday night. She did not say whether police would raid other shops on Commercial Drive and Hastings Street that also peddle marijuana and related products.
Near Da Kine, The Spirit Within shop was closed, while staff at Melting Point said they had no customers. A man who works inside the B.C. Marijuana Party's shop on Hastings was nearly in tears as he rushed to the scene on Commercial.
People in the crowd chanted: "We support Da Kine." Others mocked the police, yelling: "It only took four months to figure it out," referring to Da Kine's spring opening.
Howard Plummer, who gets marijuana from the Compassion Club on Commercial, said he saw Da Kine owner Carol Gwilt being taken from the cafe in handcuffs. "People looked shocked when it happened," he said. "They stopped all the transit and business here for nothing."
Some residents criticized the police for using overwhelming force. At least 40 officers were seen blocking off the area.
"This store didn't bother anybody. They didn't force anybody to buy," said Sylvia Salfate, a 78-year old immigrant from Chile. "We don't smoke, but this neighborhood is very open-minded. Now (the police) are pushing it into the street."
Said Len Hewer, "[Police] prefer having dealers in parks than having people peacefully buying marijuana in a legitimate business with a licence and paying taxes."
The issue exploded last week when Gwilt publicly admitted marijuana was being sold on the premises.
Business at Da Kine boomed with increased media coverage and the legal limbo left by the city.
In the days before the raid, Vancouver police said they were aware of stores selling marijuana and investigations were continuing into them.
Several Vancouver city councillors have appeared unconcerned that stores on Commercial Drive have been selling marijuana over the counter.
Vancouver Mayor Larry Campbell said Tuesday he did not condone the illegal sale of marijuana in city cafes, but he did not see what the "big deal" was about it.
Three members of city council were to conduct a hearing Sept. 15 to determine whether the shop's business licence will be revoked.
On Thursday, the city announced the hearing had been rescheduled until Oct. 6 because legal counsel for Da Kine was unavailable.
The city has said there was no suggestion marijuana might be sold in the shop when Da Kine was granted a business licence May 4.
Gwilt maintains the marijuana is sold not by Da Kine, but by the Canadian Cannabis Sanctuary Society, a non-profit society to which Da Kine donates operating space.
Purchasers are asked to fill out an "application for registration" with a declaration that "ingesting cannabis has therapeutic benefits to my medical condition and my general state of well-being that outweigh any health risks associated with it."
Earlier this week, tourism officials said the open sale of marijuana is hurting the city's tourism business, while shop owners claimed they attract tourists to Vancouver.
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