Source: New York Times (NY)
Pubdate: 21 August 1998
Author: Anthony DePalma New York Times Service


VANCOUVER, British Columbia--- Fame easily finds a place like this, with
its clirnate so embracing, its surroundings so inspiring and its population
leavened so liberally with artists and new immigrants.

Yet, as a fortune cookie in one of Vancouver's countless Chinese
restaurants might read, fame is fleeting, and what is fabulous one day can
turn foul the next.

Vancouver is quickly gaining a reputation as a haven for illicit drugs and
those who use them ---from the brazen addicts shooting up and buying heroin
and cocaine around the intersection of Hastings and Main Street to the
highpotency marijuana that is raised, sold and openly smoked on streets and
in cafes.

"I heard that you could smoke and nobody bothered you," said Adam, a lanky
19-yearold from Seattle who came with two friends for an overnight trip.
They easily bought marijuana on the street and then---somewhat shyly ---
entered the Cannabis Cafe, a marijuana mecca for many Americans on the West

While one friend picked at a green salad mixed with a few hemp seeds, Adam
took out a joint and, somewhat uneasily, lit it. Soon he relaxed. "It's a
good environment, 'cause you can't smoke cigarettes, you can only smoke
marijuana," he said. "You don't have the smoky bar atmosphere, just a
pleasant smell."

As other customers casually lit up their joints, the smell of marijuana was
as inescapable as popcorn at a movie theater.

"Vancouver is the most tolerant spot in Canada when it comes to different
lifestyles and cultures," said Sister Icee, a 38-year-old Toronto woman
once known as Shelley Francis who has owned the cafe and adjacent Hemp BC
store since April.

Although the police have raided it three times (once since she took over
and twice last year under a different owner) the Cannabis Cafe still
celebrates marijuana. On the wall is a painting of the Virgin of
Guadaloupe, Mexico's patron saint, who stands serenely in her starred gown,
surrounded by tall marijuana stalks. The menu features pasta with hemp
pesto, salads with hemp dressing and quesadillas made with hemp tortillas.

"There's no harm in it," said Sister Icee. Lighting an oversized,.filtered
joint, she said she lived in the West Indies for most of the 1980s and
joined the Rastafarian sect, which gave her her name and introduced her to
marijuana, "the weed of wisdom."

"Marijuana is a plant," she said. "You can't prosecute people for smoking
flowers. It shouldn't be regulated any more than parsley or broccoli."

For Vancouver officials, the Cannabis Cafe is a public relations nightmare.

"We don't like the reputation that things like that bring to the city,"
said Bruce Chambers, chief constable of the Vancouver Police Department.

After the last raid in April, the police charged Sister Icee with selling
drug paraphernalia in the Hemp BC store. On a recent visit, the store
carried shoes, shirts and snowboards, all made with hemp, along with pipes,
bongs and cigarette rolling papers.

Now the city intends to deny Sister Icee the licenses she needs to run the
store and cafe, working through the city council, not the courts.

"They're going to be toast by September," said Philip Owen, mayor of

"Vancouver has been called Vansterdam, and we're not proud of it," said Ken
Doran, an inspector with the police department's drug umt. 	Police have
raided and shut down 82 hydroponic marijuana growing operations this year,
confiscating $14 million worth of the drug.

The growers use basements, attics, sometimes entire houses to put out
high-yield crops, Constable Chambers said.

Police analysts say the marijuana is grown under such favorable conditions
that it contains 12 times the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol ---or THC, the
chemical compound that gives marijuana its punch---than was common just a
few years ago.

Beyond marijuana, Vancouver estimates that there are as many as 15,000
intravenous drug users in British Columbia, most of them in Vancouver,

The area around Hastings and Main is filled with addicts, many drawn by the
cheap rooms or an AIDS-control program that gives out about 2.5 million
free needles a year.

Drugs killed a record 201 people in the first half of 1998, according to
the British Columbia coroner, the majority of them in Vancouver. Then a
medical report indicated a vast need for treatment programs and proposed
that hardcore addicts be given free heroin to keep them from robbing to
support their habits, a position that Constable Chambers conditionally

The city itself is divided and unsure of what to do next. Mr. Owen, the
mayor, and Constable Chambers say that prosecutors and judges are too soft
on people convictod of drug charges.

"People like to point to judges because we're easy targets," said Robert
Metzger, chief judge of the provincial court. "But this seems to be a
social and political problem."

Libby Davies, the member of Parliament who represents the area around
Hastings and Main, has called for more national funds to cope with
Vancouver's drug epidemic. She supports not only providing free heroin to
hard-core addicts, but also clinics where they can safely inject.

Ms. Davies is not concerned that such programs, already tried in Europe,
might cement Vancouver's reputation as the Amsterdam of North America.

"The situation at Hastings and Main couldn't get worse," she said. "This is
not about the city's reputation. It's about saving lives."

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Checked-by: Pat Dolan