Pubdate: Thu, 02 Oct 2014
Source: Hamilton Spectator (CN ON)
Copyright: 2014 The Hamilton Spectator
Author: Bill Dunphy
Page: A1


Facility Offers Safe Place for Medical and Recreational Users

Hamilton's pot lovers and cannabis crusaders may have found a new 
home - Melan-Headz Hamilton Vape, a just-opened "vapour lounge" on 
Barton Street East that advertises itself as "420 friendly."

Judging by the puffs of sweet smoke that leak out the front door, and 
the bongs and spliffs and vaporizers bubbling and sparking and baking 
at every table and booth and counter, they are not so much "420 
friendly" as they are madly in love with it.

(The term "420" is a common term for the drug in cannabis culture and 
is believed to have originated in a California high school as slang 
for pot smoking.)

Pete Melanson, the lounge's front man and one of four partners on the 
project, says the idea is to provide a safe and welcoming home for 
the community that embraces the use of marijuana - for medicinal or 
recreational purposes.

"I really believe in the plant," Melanson said Wednesday afternoon as 
he greeted old friends and new customers at the door of the Barton 
Street East facility. "It was a medicine before, for a thousand years 
and now, I just want to go back to the way it was before (it was 

It was the medicinal uses that truly grabbed him. His bouts of 
debilitating and violent nausea have been tamed by his marijuana use, 
and he has signed attestations to that fact from five doctors, he 
says. Many of his clients have similar stories. Tina Swift, a former 
nurse, showed up at the opening in her wheelchair and said using 
marijuana has enabled her to cut back on much stronger narcotics 
prescribed for her pain management.

"I was so anti-weed (before), you wouldn't believe it," the 
56-year-old said with a smile as she sat surrounded by cannabis 
consumers. "I still don't like getting stoned."

Melanson puts his money where his heart is - this is his third 
attempt to build a family business on meeting the needs of marijuana 
users in Hamilton. The first ended when the landlady refused to renew 
the lease on his Fennell Avenue storefront. The second came to a 
crashing conclusion with a police raid and a slew of charges ("15 of 
them," offers Melanson). Those charges included trafficking, 
possession and proceeds of crime arising from the dispensary and 
bakery he and his wife ran on King Street last year. Those are still 
before the courts.

Given that history, you would think Melanson would be hesitant, at 
least when it came to going public again.

Not so. He says he's learned from his mistakes and those of others, 
and while he fully expects the police to come calling eventually, he 
feels he's doing what's right.

"I'm risking my freedom for everyone in here," he says, his hand 
sweeping out to encompass the entire room and the 40 or so pot lovers 
smoking, "vaping" and chatting in the mid-afternoon sun streaming in 
from a large peaked skylight. "But I do have a lot of people behind 
me. "There's no cannabis being sold here ... the police can come in 
here every single day, if they want to."

Requests to interview the Hamilton Police Service about the legality 
of MelanHeadz and the police response to apparent violations of the 
Criminal Code were declined and a reporter was referred to the city's 
bylaw office.

Melanson says the business has a licence from the city as a private 
club and, indeed, everyone is braced at the front door for a 
membership card or fee as they enter.

Rules posted throughout the club (which served as blues bar and a 
nightclub in earlier incarnations) prohibit, not just selling 
marijuana, but "mooching" it, or "lending" it; basically it's smoke 
it if you've got it, but get it yourself.

They don't make money by selling pot, but by facilitating its 
enjoyment and medical use, he explained. The MelanHeadz Hamilton Vape 
team has ambitious plans to make that happen.

"We're in the process of applying for a multi-licence," Melanson 
said, which would allow them to open the kitchen and prepare and 
serve food on the premises.

In the meantime they're focusing on programming - running music, 
comedy and open mic nights, offering live podcasts recorded in the 
club and covering everything from cannabis culture to comedy.

They will not be seeking a liquor licence.

The last concerted effort to cater to the cannabis community, 
especially in such an open and transparent way, was the 2003 opening 
of the Up In Smoke cafe on King Street downtown. The club's 
controversial owner, Chris Goodwin, deliberately challenged police 
and the city's establishment, vowing before he opened that he'd be 
selling pot to customers from the store.

The approach ensured maximum media coverage and careful - and 
repeated - scrutiny from Hamilton police, ending two years later in a 
series of criminal charges against Goodwin that saw him sentenced to 
$3,000 in fines and six months in jail.

What many Hamiltonians may not know is that on his release, Goodwin 
moved to Toronto and, while still on probation, opened Vapor Central 
there. Eight years later he's not just open, but flourishing.

Goodwin said he opened quietly and rode out about six months of heat 
from the Toronto police.

"Since then I've had no trouble," he said Wednesday as he stood 
inside Melanson's lounge, offering his help and advice on opening day.

Melanson is a friend, and in some ways a pupil, of Goodwin's and 
while "I don't agree with him 100 per cent," Melanson says he has 
learned a lot.

Goodwin advised Melanson to be transparent and honest about the 
lounge and what would or wouldn't be allowed inside - and stressed 
the importance of sticking to those rules.

"Nothing under the counter, ever," he said.

The rest of the advice sounded like the checklist for a successful 
franchise: be scrupulous about cleaning - the tables and floors and 
washrooms - and make sure your customers get a consistent, dependable 

Melanson said he's aiming to do just that.

But he's hoping for more. He wants society to change its laws - to 
regulate and control, but not ban or prohibit cannabis.

He's not anxious to face any more charges and says he really didn't 
like the experience of being arrested and jailed while awaiting bail last year.

"I did a week in Barton and I hated it. I missed my wife and my kids. 
I wanted to wake up in my bed with my wife and my kid jumping on me 
saying 'Daddy I love you.'"
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom