QUEBEC'S POT PRIEST SMOKES RELIGIOUSLY
Alain Berthiaume Consumes, Sells and Extols Weed - and He Goes To Jail
Montrealer Alain Berthiaume worships at the altar of the marijuana ministry.
He uses cannabis religiously and believes that you should, too.
"I smoke it all day long and I'm able to function," he says. "I'm a ganja man."
Taking out a thumb-sized cannabis bud from a plastic Ziploc bag, he offers
a sniff. It emits a sweet, fruity aroma. He says with the appreciation of a
connoisseur that it's the Shikasberry variety from Alberta.
Probably nobody embodies the pot culture of Quebec more than Berthiaume. A
talkative, high-strung man of 51, he has built his life and business around
the weed. He is the province's leading advocate for legalization - and has
the prison record to prove it.
Jailed last year for pot possession, Berthiaume spent four months in prison
and is now on parole. Sitting behind a large, metal desk, he is engulfed in
the lingering, pungent odour of pot.
Marijuana seems to pop out of every pocket of his pants, shirt and jacket.
He is a walking parole violation. But he's not worried about the police.
"What more can they do to me? My whole life is pot."
He owns Cannabis Quebec, a glossy monthly magazine for potheads and pot
growers, which he publishes over his store, High Grow, at 5759 Monk Ave.
Here he sells 425 varieties of marijuana seeds at $55 to $131 for a bag of
10. About $500 will buy you a basic hydroponic kit that will produce a
pound of grass every three months.
Business in hydroponics is not great because the market is saturated.
Dozens of $100 1,000-watt lights lie unsold on his shelves. His shop is one
of dozens in Montreal and Laval that supply cannabis growers.
This is why he plans to refocus on hashish kits. Out of the chest pocket of
his plaid shirt, he pulls a small dark brown lump of hashish and hands it
across the desk. Another sniffing, touching opportunity. It's soft and
fresh. Homemade. "That's the future," he says. "No need to import it from
There are new and simple techniques for making hash that will give new life
to the pot business in Quebec, he says.
Berthiaume is clearly on the opposite si
de of the pot spectrum from police
who try to stem its growth and educators who worry about its effect on
Legalizing it will solve the crime problems attached to its cultivation and
sale, and give people freedom to choose their lifestyle, he says. He smokes
about 10 grams a day, but cautions that students should probably keep their
limit to about two grams. It's not what most parents want to hear. But for
Berthiaume, it's a reality.
Doubtless, few people are closer to the culture of weed than Berthiaume. He
lives it, consumes it, studies it. His latest survey of about 1,000
Quebecers, he says, exposes the incredible breadth of today's pot culture.
It claims that 1.4 million Quebecers daily consume cannabis in one form or
Their intake averages anywhere from two grams to 10. That means that, by
the most conservative consumption rate, Quebecers consume almost three
tonnes of marijuana a day. That's a lot of weed. It's also a lot of money.
Nobody buys a kilo of grass on the street. It's sold by the gram. In larger
quantities, it's sold by the pound, usually for about $2,500. These days,
prices have fallen because there's overproduction. Last year's outdoor crop
is still not totally sold, Berthiaume says.
So the price has come down to about $1,640. Even at that level, it means
the daily intake of weed in Quebec is worth $11.2 million. That's $4
billion a year. Which means it's now Quebec's biggest cash crop, bar none.
In fact, it's almost three times more than the value - $1.5 billion in 2002
- of the province's entire crop production. And that includes the
"Everyone is doing it. It's crazy," Berthiaume says. "In every street,
there are people growing weed. In some areas, I would say, it's in every
Berthiaume is thinking of following the example of some pot stores and
cafes in Vancouver that openly sell marijuana. He predicts that by this
time next year he will be operating a marijuana cafe in the Gay Village.
Meanwhile, as he awaits this year's outdoor crop, he's happily expecting a
"Weed likes a lot of rain."