Vancouver Smokes With Pot-Driven Tourism

Discussion in 'Marijuana News' started by Superjoint, Jun 9, 2001.

  1. By Alison Appelbe, Correspondent

    A world map on the wall of the Marijuana Party of British Columbia bookstore and drop-in-center in downtown Vancouver invites visitors to insert a pin on where they live. The portion devoted to the United States is chock-a-block with thousands of small colored pinheads.
    "And that's just since March," said Marijuana Party activist Christina Racki of the bookstore's new method of tracking tourists to a city with an international reputation for tolerance towards the recreational use of marijuana.

    Tourism Vancouver spokesman Walt Judas pointed out there's no way of telling how many tourists visit the province or Vancouver in search of marijuana, which remains a prohibited drug. But he said there's little question thousands of visitors from the U.S., Asia and elsewhere come for that very reason.

    "This is obviously a cultural side to the city that isn't very public but it exists, and now, with the Internet, it doesn't take much to find out about the hot spots," said Judas, who added that dozens of marijuana-related websites originate in Canada's westernmost province.

    Many of those websites are involved in the marketing of marijuana seeds, and several promote bed-and-breakfast accommodations that tolerate or promote marijuana use.

    A May 26 article in The Vancouver Sun, the city's major daily newspaper, called the city "the next Amsterdam," in reference to the Dutch city known worldwide for it's lax attitude toward drug use.

    The paper reported that British Columbia, and particularly Vancouver, have reached a state of "virtual decriminalization," with an estimated 350,000 regular marijuana users in the province.

    Statistics show that police seldom pursue charges for possession of small amounts of marijuana and that jail terms are rare.

    "In the downtown core of Vancouver, you can smoke a joint on the street and no one's going to care," said Dana Larsen, editor of Cannabis Culture magazine, and one of 79 Marijuana Party candidates who ran in the recent provincial election. Larsen's bid for office was unsuccessful.

    Until 1999, several downtown coffee houses allowed public use of marijuana, but the flagrant disregard for what remains a criminal offense led to their closure.

    Now, visitors are drawn to the Marijuana Party bookstore, which serves as a drop-in center for those lobbying for legalization of marijuana in Canada.

    "Vancouver is a counter-balance to, say, Louisiana and Texas, and that's a good thing because we're a working model," said David Malmo-Levine, a long-time activist who has been charged with drug possession several times in the past decade. "The Americans come here and see how tolerant a city this is, and they get jealous."

    "But what they need is to understand that they have the power to change their own government," added Lacki. "I actually find it pretty pathetic that they all come in and are so surprised," by the city's attitude toward drug use.

    Lacki also pointed out what he considers a contradiction between America's place on the world stage and the way it addresses drug use by its citizens. "They're supposed to be the free-est country in the world, but they're all too afraid," to decriminalize or legalize certain types of drug use.

    Authorities said marijuana growing operations are routinely raided and illegal growers prosecuted in British Columbia, but the practice remains wide spread. And while the province has taken a more relaxed attitude toward marijuana use, other Canadian provinces remain tougher, statistics show.

    In Ontario, 71 percent of arrests for marijuana possession resulted in a criminal charge. In Quebec, just over half of those apprehended with the drug end up in court.

    In fact, 30,000 arrests are made every year in Canada, and an estimated half million Canadians have amassed marijuana-related criminal records over the past 30 years.

    Last month, five major national political parties, including the governing Liberal Party, formed a cooperative committee to examine the non-medical use of drugs.

    The issue has proved to be one on which many politicians of different stripes have found common ground.

    Liberal Justice Minister Anne McLellan declared that she is "quite open" to the discussion, while Conservative Party leader and former prime minister Joe Clark called for the decriminalization of marijuana on the grounds that youths should not be saddled with a criminal record that could block them from pursuing many careers.

    Similarly, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Canadian Association of Police Chiefs have also supported decriminalization for small amounts of marijuana on the condition that the government step-up anti-drug education and treatment programs.

    However, the Canadian Police Association, which represents 30,000 officers, remains opposed and argues that the use of so-called soft drugs is the gateway to harder drug use and would increase health care and policing costs.

    But while opposing legalization, the association believes that possession should result in a penalty similar to a traffic ticket, rather than a criminal record.

    Prime Minister Jean Chretien welcomes the committee debate, but remains opposed to removing the possession of marijuana as an offense from the Criminal Code.

    The Canadian government approved the medicinal use of marijuana in 1999, and now grows the drug under contract for its own research.

    Lacki and other marijuana activists believe that U.S. officials will pressure their Canadian counterparts to resist change as it considers further decriminalization. "Our own government admits there's going to be heat from the States," she reported.

    Malmo-Levine isn't happy about news reports. "What we don't want, is to give the (U.S.) DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) another excuse to get on the phone and order another raid of 'Vansterdam,'" he said, using a Vancouver nickname that reflects relaxed drug laws in the Netherlands.

    Judas also said that tolerance of wider drug use can pose problems for the tourism industry.

    He said that older, more affluent tourists, particularly the thousands who stop in Vancouver before or after a cruise to Alaska, are affronted or disturbed by the behavior and cultural impact of 12,000 heroin and cocaine addicts who frequent Vancouver's downtown Eastside.

    "If we we're concerned about anything, it's that a lot of people who come downtown are cruise ship passengers who aren't accustomed to seeing a lot of this stuff," Judas said. "Some people end up (in the downtown Eastside), and that's really shocking to them."

    Author: Alison Appelbe, Correspondent
    Published: June 08, 2001
    Copyright: 1998-2001 Cybercast News Service

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