Pubdate: Tue, 24 Feb 2015
Source: Hamilton Spectator (CN ON)
Copyright: 2015 The Hamilton Spectator
Author: Bill Dunphy
Page: A1


Cannabis Lounge Owner Standing His Ground As Police Promise to 
'Relentlessly' Enforce Laws

Sitting at the bar of his new cannabis lounge on York Boulevard, a 
joint lying on the counter by his elbow, Peter Melanson admits that 
giving away marijuana as a door prize at his weekly comedy show is a 
bit of a risk.

"It's mine. I give it to Dan (the comedy show host) and he gives it 
to the customer. We're not selling it, we're giving it away."

When it's pointed out that the law makes no distinction between 
selling or giving away "medical" marijuana - you still need a valid 
licence - the longtime cannabis activists laughs, a little nervously. 
Melanson says he is "willing to be charged with something to find out 
what I can and can not do."

Melanson says he has a valid prescription and a designated grower permit.

He believes that society's, and this city's, attitudes toward pot are 
softening. And, with the opening of the city's second cannabis-only 
"vape" lounge, he and his wife, Rebecca Bruce, are once again betting 
pretty much everything they have that they're right. Hamilton police 
under Chief Glenn DeCaire have consistently sent a very different 
message: producing, distributing and consuming cannabis is against 
the l aw and they promise to "relentlessly" enforce those laws. Over 
the past five years, pot possession charges have increased by 61 per 
cent - over the past decade the number of Hamilton youth arrested for 
pot possession has climbed by 123 per cent (although few first-time 
young offenders are subsequently charged).

Popular culture, the news and social media "may skew people's views 
so that they think, 'hey, it's OK (to use cannabis),' but it's still 
illegal," Hamilton police Det. Const. Dave McKenzie warns.

"We still enforce all aspects of the law as far as possession and 
trafficking are concerned."

McKenzie, a chemist-turned-police-officer with more than three years 
i n the service's Vice and Drugs Unit, won't comment on Melanson or 
his activities, but says the police are, and will be, "relentless" in 
combating illegal drug use.

Melanson has some personal experience with that relentless approach: 
he's on his fourth attempt at building a business serving the city's 
cannabis users. Melanheadz is his latest, a cavernous basement lounge 
downtown at York Boulevard and Queen Street North, a former nightclub 
on the edge of the Strathconna neighbourhood.

It's the city's second vape lounge (named for the electronic 
vapourizers customers use to ingest cannabis) - he co-founded the 
first, but split with his two partners, leaving their just-opened 
Barton Street location and setting up his own closer to the core. 
(The original location, now renamed the 4-20 Lounge, remains open.)

Melanheadz is premised on the idea that the community of cannabis 
users in the city should have a legal, safe and accepting place where 
they can socialize and enjoy their medicine. If you have a 
prescription, dried marijuana possession and consumption is legal in 
Canada. His community, built over the years via social media and his 
previous businesses, includes people passionate about the medical, 
social and spiritual qualities of marijuana.

He says he doesn't check his customer's prescriptions when they 
attend the lounge. "It's not my job. I don't have the right to do 
that under the law."

Melanson and his wife still face 15 charges from two years ago for 
providing marijuana to their clients. He says he expects to resolve 
those charges later this year.

In his lounge, Melanson has been wrestling with, among other things, 
a new air cleaning system and obtaining a reliable furnace and 
getting ready for his grand opening on March 5. But unlike most 
Hamilton entrepreneurs, Melanson also wonders how long they can last.

"No word of a lie, I worry every day that they are going to come in 
and shut me down. I don't want to fight them in the courts, but 
that's the only way to change things."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom