Pubdate: Mon, 09 Feb 2015
Source: Windsor Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2015 The Windsor Star
Author: Brian Hutchinson
Page: A6


Busted for Pushing, Briere Expands Business

VANCOUVER - 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. "There's been really crazy growth in the last 
year or two," she says. "The only thing they have in common is they 
all dispense cannabis. Some are non-profit and some aren't."

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 Sgt. Fincham, acknowledging 
that the term is, for many outlets, a semantic manoeuvre.

Briere acknowledges that some customers have no medical use for his 
marijuana, and he agrees that his stores aren't all about health 
care. "Of course not," he says. "We're setting this up to be 
recreational, full on recreational."

Making a profit is not his main objective, he insists. But he's in 
serious expansion mode.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom