Pubdate: Sun, 30 Nov 2003
Source: Winnipeg Free Press (CN MB)
Copyright: 2003 Winnipeg Free Press
Author:  Eilis Quinn, Canadian Press


Chez Marijane was still smoking after grand opening day bust

MONTREAL -- Police arrested two people yesterday as dozens of people
celebrated the opening of a pot cafe by passing around joints and breathing
in air thick with marijuana smoke.

Several police officers from a station less than a block away squeezed into
Chez Marijane and arrested two men who were holding joints, said Hugo
St-Onge, president of the Bloc Pot party.

"To tell you the truth, I'm surprised," St-Onge said when reached on his
cell phone at the police station where he was helping the two men, aged 26
and 51.

"It's a waste of their time, a waste of money. But it's simple possession
and it's illegal."

One of the men arrested has multiple sclerosis, he added.

The cafe does not sell pot but people can bring their own to smoke, said
St-Onge, who called the day a success despite the arrests. "Only about two
or three people left because of the police, the rest are still there."

Before police arrived, customers and cafe volunteers sipped coffee, passed
joints and revelled in having a place they could congregate to smoke dope.

Serge Granger said not even the cold snowy weather could keep him away.

"We need transparency when it comes to drugs," he said, cradling his
14-month-old daughter in his arms.

"Drugs need to be out in the open if we are going to deal with the problem."

Antoine Debast, 23, peered through the thick haze of smoke at the cafe's
hustle and bustle and described the atmosphere as "more like a rave than a
cafe." Police had the cafe under surveillance all afternoon. A police
spokesman would not say why they decided to go in when they did or if they
would return today.

"I can't comment on that but the cafe will be visited in a regular fashion
in order to enforce the law," Const. Michel Kriaa said.

Police said two children, aged between two and five, were present when they
entered. Quebec's child-protection agency was informed.

Earlier, St-Onge was all smiles as he cut a red, black and green ribbon and
declared the cafe officially open.

"It's time to stop the persecution," St-Onge said on the cafe steps as
trucks passed by honking support.

"Here at Chez Marijane (people) can come to express themselves and share
their culture in a friendly and secure environment."

Organizers' plans to open a pot cafe at a nearby location last September
drew howls of protest from the landlord and nearby businesses.

The building housing Chez Marijane previously was home to a club that
provided pot to the seriously ill. Nearby businesses said they weren't
worried about the cafe taking its place.

"Look at all the bars around here," said Yves Martel, owner of a nearby art
gallery, as he waved his arm towards the street. "I'm more worried about the
people who come out of them drunk, aggressive and vomiting all over the

"I've got no problem with (Chez Marijane) being there."

St-Onge said the cafe will be open to "members." Day-long memberships will
cost about a $1, with year-long memberships costing as little as $5. Coffee,
juice and snacks will be available for a donation, he said.

"Above all this is a place to meet and exchange ideas," St-Onge said.

"And if people want to smoke a joint while they're doing it, it's fine.
We're not here to encourage it or discourage it."

Similar cafes have been opening across Canada after rulings by courts in
Ontario, P.E.I. and New Brunswick this year that ruled charges for simple
possession of marijuana were unconstitutional.

The Cannabis Cafe in Saint John, N.B., which opened in April, allows people
to bring their own marijuana to smoke along with a cup of coffee.

Police arrested five people at the cafe in May but charges are still
pending. Meanwhile, pot smokers continue to frequent the store.

No Quebec court has made a similar ruling so possession of even small
amounts of pot is illegal. Montreal police said recently they would enforce
the law. A proposed federal bill that would decriminalize marijuana for
small-time users caught with less than 15 grams died when Parliament shut
down this month. The bill is expected to be reintroduced later.
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