RCMP focus on headshops might signal new national trend.
RCMP in Prince Rupert recently raided the local bong shop, and are pressuring other stores to stop carrying bongs and pipes.
On June 13, Prince Rupert RCMP seized thousands of bongs, pipes and vaporizers from "Chad's 420." The store had opened just under one year ago, as part of a chain which includes 18 other stores in B.C. and Alberta. Despite being under pressure for their low rate of solving local crimes, Prince Rupert RCMP invested in a six-month investigation, then launched the unexpected bong raid.
This is the second time the RCMP have emptied out a headshop in the last few weeks. On May 1, RCMP and Winnipeg police emptied the shelves of all three locations of "The Joint", a chain of successful bong shops that had been operating openly for over four years!
Hundreds of bong shops shut down
As I reported recently, bongs and other paraphernalia are still illegal in Canada, banned in 1988 by the Conservative government of Brian Mulroney. (The law passed with unanimous consent of all parties, only NDP MP Svend Robinson voted against.)
The law was used to shut down hundreds of headshops across Canada, and also censored pro-pot books and magazines like High Times.
It was very difficult to get a decent bong anywhere in Canada until Marc Emery opened Hemp BC in 1994, and rebooted our national paraphernalia industry. Emery was the first person to forcefully defy the law, and his 1995 article "How to Open a Hemp Store" provided a useful guide to many budding entrepeneurs across Canada.
In a national act of rebellion, 32 new hemp stores opened up across Canada between 1994 and 1997, and 23 of them are still in business. Many started by getting their initial inventory from Marc Emery's wholesale. There were many raids and police actions during this time, as bong shops got busted on a regular basis.
Emery himself was driven out of the bong business in 1998, after repeated raids on his Hemp BC shop. His lengthy rap sheet for minor marijuana offences actually includes a criminal conviction for "promoting vaporizers!" (Without a storefront, he focused on his mail-order seed business, and expanded his seed sales to the USA, a decision with fateful consequences.)
In court, the sentences for selling bongs are usually very light, with a moderate fine being the typical punishment. But the real impact of a raid is the loss of stock; police just empty the store of merchandise and money, making it impossible to stay in business.
After several years of conflict with bong shops being raided and harassed, things settled down in an uneasy truce between cops and bongs. There's now at least a few bong shops operating openly in every major Canadian city, but many smaller towns still don't have a local headshop. However, while they may have slowed down, the raids and harassment have never really stopped.
Expect more raids to come!
The RCMP have been focusing more on small-time marijuana arrests since Stephen Harper became Prime Minister. RCMP arrests for marijuana possession are up 40% across Canada, and have more than doubled in B.C. Also increasing in frequency are the raids and harassment of bong shops.
In 2007, Calgary police raided four headshops in one day, including Bongs & Such, which had been open for years. Police emptied store shelves but never pressed charges, and all the stores remain open to this day.
In January of this year, the Alberta city of St. Albert tried to ban a Chad 420 store with a city bylaw, but they were defeated in court.
Then we had the May 1 raids on the Winnipeg bong shops, and even though The Joint has re-opened all three stores, there's no reason they won't be raided again.
Now we have RCMP in Prince Rupert raiding the local bong shop, and threatening tobacco shop owners with arrest if they don't take bongs and pipes off the shelf. Yet when they opened, Chad 420 was publicly welcomed by the Mayor as an addition to the local business community.
This trend will continue, unless we put a stop to it. We need one of these store owners to stand up to the police, to go to court and challenge the foundation of this unconstitutional law.
Do you think there's better things for RCMP to do than bust bong shops and go after people for possession? It's time for a sensible marijuana law in B.C., so join the Sensible BC campaign and let's have a marijuana referendum.
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