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Marijuana cafe owner says cannabis laws should be done away with

at 20:00 on September 1, 2004, EST.

VANCOUVER (CP) - A Vancouver cafe operator who offers marijuana on her menu says people need a crime-free method of getting the weed and she's going public to raise awareness on the issue.

"Every law to do with cannabis has to be taken off the books," said Carol Gwilt, owner of Da Kine Smoke and Beverage Shop on Vancouver's hip Commercial Drive. "There's nothing criminal about cannabis." Normally, Gwilt's customers can get a menu and select some pot before someone goes into the back to get the order.

But there was no pot on the premises Wednesday, Gwilt said.

"I want to protect my assets," she said.

The store, which has been open for four months, is decorated in an Egyptian motif. Display cases contain multi-coloured glass pipes for smoking pot. Plant food sits on shelves opposite.

A plate of cookies is on the counter next to the till. Gwilt won't say if they contain marijuana or not.

"I'm just trying to be a business person," Gwilt said. "There's obviously a huge market.

"I don't consider what we're doing illegal. We want a lot of these stores. We want these across Canada."

She said she gets her marijuana from the Canadian Sanctuary Society, a group formed by former B.C. Marijuana Party candidate Donald Briere to help people legally acquire marijuana for medical use.

Gwilt claims crime in the area has dropped since she opened. She said people needing medicinal marijuana should be able to get it in a non-criminal situation.

And, she said, it will keep people away from pushers dealing in heroin or crack cocaine.

That's something she knows about. She said her son died of a heroin overdose two years ago at age 24.

The Vancouver Police Department, which has raided other city marijuana cafes in the past, is watching Da Kine.

"This is a business that is on our radar," spokeswoman Const. Sarah Bloor said. "We're in discussion with the city and our hope is to have the (business) licence removed."

But city Coun. Jim Green said yanking Gwilt's business licence is pretty low on the city's list of priorities.

"We've not had any complaints," he said. "I never heard of it (the cafe) until yesterday."

Green also noted there's a tolerance in Vancouver to these kinds of establishments.

"We're looked at as the enlightened part of Canada."

Customer Andy Kale thinks the police should worry about bigger drug problems than a marijuana cafe.

"This is a great safe inhalation site," he said. "I don't have to be bothered by crackheads."

Kale and Gwilt say the situation will also draw attention to the plight of B.C. Marijuana Party founder Marc Emery.

The activist was jailed last in August after being convicted of trafficking for passing a joint while speaking at a University of Saskatchewan political rally.

Across the street from Gwilt's store, Angela Vane runs The Spirit Within. She sells psychotropic drugs such as the vision-inducing ayahuasca or kava kava, which can produce a mild narcotic effect.

Vane agrees that street crime in the area has diminished since Da Kine opened.

Vane, who's been open for two years and gets her plant drugs from South America, wants other drugs legalized as well.

"We're giving people what they need - mind medicine, body medicine," she said.

Vane expects Gwilt's store to be raided. She said two undercover police officers were in her store Tuesday night.

Gwilt, though, says she willing to discuss options with the police.

"I want to work this out," she said.

Vancouver is home to Canada's only government-sponsored safe injection site for intravenous drug users.

Signs demanding activist Emery's release cover the outside of B.C. Marijuana Party headquarters in downtown Vancouver.

Inside, the smell of pot wafts through the party's store. Piles of cut marijuana sit on desks. Next door at The New Amsterdam Cafe, about a dozen people are rolling joints.

Party spokesman Chris Bennett wouldn't be surprised if Da Kine gets raided by police. He said he hopes her large clientele stands by her when it happens.

"They're definitely cracking down across the country," Bennett said, noting a cafe in Hamilton, Ont was recently raided.

Bennett said the police should not even be part of the equation.

"They're servants of public policy," he said. "They should do their job and leave policy to the public and the politicians."

Copyright, Canadian Press [color:"green"] [color:"green"] [color:"green"] [color:"green"] [color:"green"]

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I live 2 blocks from Da Kine. I've never gone in, but it's known as a place to score sh!tty, expensive weed/hash. I eat at the sushi place next door sometimes which always REAKS of weed, I guess they share the same ventilation system. I, personally think these things are a bad idea. I think weed should be 100% legal, but still sold in a subtle fashion between friends and smoked in private for the most part. It keeps it cheap and safe (free from police harassment).

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