Pubdate: June 18-24, 1998
Source: Monday Magazine (Victoria, BC, Canada)
Author: James McKinnon


In Victoria, civil disobedience is bad business

Edge Wise by James McKinnon

Chief of police Doug Richardson looked like he could use a quadruple whiskey.

He wasn't the only one. Each city councillor's face was a mask of discomfort
as they gathered last Thursday to address a most unseemly matter. MARIJUANA.

Gripping the podium, Richardson began pressing his case that city hall
should refuse to renew Ian Hunter's business licence.

Hunter's crisp white suit could not conceal his crimes, after all. He'd been
convicted for openly growing pot and selling marijuana seeds as an act of
civil disobedience, and for having traces of magic mushrooms in the office
of his Johnson Street hemp shop, Sacred Herb. Furthermore, one of his
employees had sold pot to an undercover cop.

Though the courts had not linked Hunter or his shop to the larger crime, the
courts had still found him to be a heinous nogoodnik. For disgusting the
morals of good people everywhere, he had been served a fine of...$500.

With the charges laid before them, several councillors looked as though
they'd never exhaled. A contemptuous flexing of jowls began - perhaps
explained by the fact that they were about to take a bong hit of Grade A

It wasn't going to be easy to condemn Hunter. Even those few bureaucrats
whose minds are unaffected by the '60s "experience" could not recall even
one other business licence being brought before council for any comparable
reason. Restaurants with poor food-safety records had never suffered similar
persecution; nor had grocery stores caught selling cigarettes to kids, nor
vendors of questionable meats. In fact, Hunter had to be found even more
shocking to community standards than prostitutes who are legally welcome to
buy a business licence, even though their business can't be practised
without a crime being committed.

To nix Hunter's business licence, then, he had to be declared more than an
exception. He had to be proven a freakish aberration, like a circus clown
with a smack habit, or a John Denver tribute band.

But hypocrisy is a dangerous drug - like a barbiturate stirred into Mexican
brandy - and its addicts get shirty when they're jonesing for a fix.

When the defence had been heard - including the usual ululations comparing
dope-head persecution to blacks' struggle for civil rights - the councillors
promptly made to shut out the public and hang Hunter in private.

Eyes cool as a yeti's, councillor David McLean declared the debate should be
public. Councillor Bob Friedland agreed. With no one to enable his penchant
for secrecy, mayor Bob Cross lurched forward, his jaw sweating as he scanned
the public gallery.

"There may be acid-crazed hippies out there," his eyes seemed to say. "Who
knows how they'll respond when the hammer comes down? In my neighbourhood in
Metchosin, we know how to keep the granolas out of the garden. I'd give my
right wing for a barrel full of buckshot!"

Then each councillor stood to speak his or her piece.

"Guilty," deadpanned McLean, Helen Hughes, Jane Lunt, Chris Coleman, Bea
Holland and, later, Cross. Civil disobedience or not, Hunter's cannabis
crimes were linked to his shop. He was not Chamber of Commerce material.

But in the midst of the lynching stood Geoff Young, the city's most
unpredictable beancounter.

"We are being asked to impose a remedy which is far, far greater - that is
Mr. Hunter's livelihood and his ability to operate in this city - than the
one the courts provide," he said.

With the city manager and solicitor squirming in their seats, Young
continued his heresy. The court's small fine seemed out of whack with the
effort the police put into snooping around Hunter's business licence, he
noted. What if every business was just as thoroughly investigated? Surely a
few tightly rolled joints, a mysterious mushroom or two would turn up in the
desks of even respectable citizens.

I felt a hallucinatory lightness, the momentary sense that Victoria might
make it through this witch-hunt without becoming a laughing-stock.

But then the vote came down. Only Young, Friedland, and Pamela Madoff voted
to support Hunter's freedom to do business. The Sacred Herb will be shut down.

Stumbling home, I found this city had once again sapped me the optimism that
comes with tolerance. I needed a pick-me-up. Perhaps a cuppa of traditional
opium tea?


Much better.

What's that noise? Sirens? Have they come at last for my business licence?

- ---
Checked-by: Melodi Cornett