Pubdate: Mon, 09 Feb 2015
Source: Calgary Herald (CN AB)
Copyright: 2015 Postmedia Network
Author: Brian Hutchinson
Page: B1


Briere Seeking to Grow Retail Opportunities

This city has its own Prince of Pot, cannabis promoter Marc Emery. 
But he's minor royalty next to Don Briere. Or Donald Joseph Briere, 
as he's known inside the Canadian justice and penal systems. He was 
once this country's most prolific marijuana producer and distributor, 
with 33 illegal growing operations hidden across B. C.

In the late 1990s, before an informant ratted them out to police, 
Briere and his cohorts were growing and selling two tonnes of pot annually.

"That's a lot of weed," he laughs. "We were outlaws. My share was $ 
5-million a year."

He made B. C. bud famous. And he paid a price.

Briere was convicted in 2001 on charges that included drug 
cultivation, possession for the purpose of trafficking and possession 
of a prohibited firearm.

He was sentenced to four years in prison.

While on parole in 2004, he was busted again, this time for running 
an illegal marijuana shop on Vancouver's hipster high street, 
Commercial Drive. For that blatant infraction, he was convicted and 
sentenced to another 2.5 years behind bars.

Briere is now 63, and with all the legal hassles and two heart 
attacks behind him, one might think he'd have retirement in mind. Far from it.

The irrepressible pot impresario is back in the marijuana trade, 
making his mark in retail.

He's selling potent cannabis products from a chain of eight stores he 
has opened - and has managed to keep open, despite admitting he sells 
his product for " recreational" use - over the past 20 months in 
Vancouver. Weeds Glass and Gifts does a brisk business.

He's got six more shops on the way, including new outlets in Surrey, 
North Vancouver, Whistler and Sechelt, a vacation paradise just up the coast.

Briere says he's also looking at potential stores in Toronto and Montreal.

These aren't dimly lit backrooms where shifty-eyed dealers slip 
greasy dime bags into the pockets of nervous adolescents. Business is 
conducted openly, inside shops on busy streets. They have regular store hours.

The products are fresh and plentiful. The quality is consistent, and 
so, he hopes, is the customer experience.

He's hired a full-time accountant, and recently took on a young 
Vancouver lawyer, Ian Ramage, who now serves as the chain's vice- 
president of operations and in-house counsel.

On a recent morning visit to Briere's flagship store in downtown 
Vancouver, customers selected bags of dried marijuana and edible 
cannabis products from dozens of trays. One fellow paid $ 5 for a 
heavy hit of highly concentrated cannabis oil, served from the 
store's "dabber bar." In the back office, Briere used a microscope to 
examine new product. "Quality control," he explained.

Officially, Weeds sells marijuana to people with medical needs only. 
Customers are required to obtain a membership card; for that, they 
must produce a note from a qualified health service provider, 
confirming they have a legitimate ailment - from multiple sclerosis 
to insomnia to headaches - that might be soothed with cannabis. Weeds 
employees will refer potential, non-card holding customers aged 19 or 
older to a local naturopath.

Weeds doesn't yet own the local market; competition is fierce in Vancouver.

There are now 61 so-called medical marijuana dispensaries in the 
city, according to the Vancouver Police Department, with more opening 
all the time. Medical marijuana is astonishingly popular in a city 
reputed to be a fitness and health leader.

Three years ago, there were just a few dispensaries in Vancouver, and 
maybe a handful of others in the rest of Canada, says Jamie Shaw, 
president of the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis 
Dispensaries, an organization that promotes and aims to regulate the 
sale of cannabis for medical purposes. Now there are approximately 
100 across the country.

None of the Vancouver dispensaries have been issued city business 
permits. It's a curious situation: Unlicensed, unregulated marijuana 
stores operate throughout the city, but few people - aside from 
prohibitionists, of whom there are almost none anymore - seem concerned.

Vancouver police spokesman Sgt. Randy Fincham says the city takes a 
"a priority-based approach" to marijuana. Police know where all the 
pot shops are and they make regular visits, but they won't consider 
disturbing an operation unless there's a complaint made and public 
safety is at risk. For example, police will intervene if a store 
sells marijuana to minors, or is deemed unsanitary. Inspectors from 
Vancouver Coastal Health, the local health authority, and the 
Vancouver Fire Department also make regular visits to the unlicensed stores.

"We don't call them dispensaries," says Fincham, acknowledging that 
the term is, for many outlets, a semantic manoeuvre.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom