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  1. Alfa
    OUR POT SHOPS ARE A BUDDING, BOOMING, BRISK BUSINESS

    For better or worse, the retail sector of Vancouver's marijuana industry is
    growing.

    What began as a couple of shops on Hastings Street last year has expanded
    to at least four shops on Commercial Drive that profit in the legal limbo
    left by police and city council, who won't meet to discuss the issue until
    later this month.

    At Hastings and Cambie, staff at the B.C. Marijuana Party bookstore, which
    openly sells seeds but not smokable stuff, told American tourists Monday to
    go to Commercial Drive to buy over-the-counter B.C. bud.

    "People come here all the time asking, 'Where can we get some weed?' " says
    Kaara Heywood, who describes herself as one of BCMP's 30 paid employees.
    "We've been sending people to Commercial Drive constantly. [The shops] are
    new on The Drive. But the culture has always been there. It's just becoming
    more storefront, less underground, more in-your-face."

    On Commercial, The Spirit Within shop temporarily closed Monday, the day
    The Vancouver Sun reported it was openly selling pot across the street from
    the now-famous Da Kine retail marijuana outlet.

    But customers, including some who appeared to be under 19, were rolling
    into Da Kine Monday afternoon. Many customers buy $10-a-gram marijuana at
    Da Kine, and then inhale it for free at Melting Point, which openly peddles
    drug-related products such as $800 "volcanos," used for inhaling through a
    bag, and $600 "bubble bags" used for refining hashish.

    "I got flow," boasts proprietor Marc Richardson, claiming he's paying
    enough taxes to fund the salaries of four police officers.

    He says he left the hemp-growing business in Manitoba to procure marijuana
    for the Compassion Club on Commercial before opening Melting Point,
    "Canada's only inhalation station," a year and a half ago. Since then, he
    claims, he's sold about $100,000 worth of volcanos. "This business is
    liquid cash all the time. There's no depression, no downturn."

    Richardson estimates that Da Kine, meanwhile, is making $100,000 a month,
    and generating another $100,000 for about 50 nearby stores and food joints.

    Heywood says shop owners are "a huge family organization" hoping to expand
    their businesses -- and cons
    ciousness -- to free-spirited neighbourhoods in
    the West End, Yaletown, Kitsilano and throughout the city, which some
    American tourists call "Vansterdam, British Colombia."

    "If Da Kine is allowed to stay, then of course other businesses will have
    their own storefronts," says Heywood. "It will start a domino effect."

    But some residents around Commercial Drive complain that "Vansterdam
    tourists" from the suburbs are parking in their spots, driving while
    impaired and threatening the safety of their children.

    "We have a whole lot of high people with car keys in their hands," says
    Eileen Mosca, a mural painter and president of the Grandview Woodland
    Community Policing Centre. "Their only parking is on our streets."

    She suspects pot businesses are moving away from Hastings, which is "a tad
    too seedy," to more upmarket Commercial. "They want to make this a
    mainstream business, so they're moving it."

    Mosca says she's not on an anti-marijuana crusade, but against governance
    by "nudge, nudge, wink, wink."

    "The level of naivete among city officials is just incredible. Our city
    government has decided that the laws of Canada don't apply to the Republic
    of Vancouver."

    She says potential drug businesses should at least have to get the consent
    of neighbourhood residents and business owners before they open their doors.

    "It's very hard to get a cold beer and wine store in Vancouver," she says,
    pointing to Avanti Pub's unsuccessful bid to open an off-sales store on
    Commercial Drive after residents and shop owners complained. "It appears
    that anyone can open a marijuana retail [outlet] in the city without
    residents having anything to say about it."

    She says the media attention around Da Kine is "the most brilliant for-free
    advertising gimmick a business could do."

    But Richardson says the pot shops are a bonus to the Drive. "We're not an
    organized syndicate that needs to launder funds. Just check my income-tax
    statements."

    Pointing to displays of artistic glass bongs priced up to $2,625, he says
    he's comforted to see passing police cars. "They're protecting my investments."

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