King of Cannabis

By Cori Petersen

Reported as the “undisputed King of Cannabis” in the National Post this Monday (Feb, 9th), Don Briere is ready for recreational use of Cannabis to be legal. Always having an eye on the recreational market, Mr. Briere was once recognized as the most prolific producer and distributor of Cannabis in the country, having 30+ illegal grow-ops in secret locations all over B.C..

At the height of production, Mr. Briere related that he and his aides were responsible for growing and selling two tonnes of Cannabis each year, in the late 90’s. “That’s a lot of weed,” he laughs. “We were outlaws. My share was $5-million a year,” for which he received a four year prison sentence, after an informant gave up information on the operations.

After the millennium Briere went on to run Da Kine Smoke shop on Commercial Drive, a very public store meant to encourage Cannabis laws to change. In 2004 a judge saw the situation otherwise, as Mr. Briere was on parole from the earlier charges that had included drug cultivation, possession for the purpose of trafficking and possession of a prohibited firearm, and he was handed another 2.5 years behind bars. A full account of the event is chronicled in “Pot Inc.” by Ian Mulgrew.

Gracing the cover of The Province last January, Mr. Briere assured the newspaper that his business would continue to operate in the grey area. At the time, a government mandated shut-down of the veteran MMAR (Marihuana Medical Access Regulations), a system that allowed approved individuals to produce their own medicine at a reasonable cost, was looming at the end March, 2014. Luckily the Allard Injunction was obtained, thanks to the hard work of the Coalition Against the Repeal of the MMAR, (recently renamed the Cannabis Rights Coalition), and their lawyer John Conroy. Thus preserving the rights of individuals to continue to produce has also prolonged the grey area in which these clubs have thrived, driving the then number of 30 clubs to double in the year since Mr. Briere was interviewed.

Keeping pace with eight Weeds Glass and Gifts locations is no small task, but to remain open after proclaiming “No Note, No problem” and vowing to continue sales, is an even bigger one. Briere shows no signs of stopping any time soon.

A strange and interesting position for Vancouver to find itself with so many unlicensed, nearly unregulated Cannabis shops operating all over the city with very little opposition. Finding a jury to convict on a Cannabis charge, or to protest against the existence of the shops seems non-existent.

With a VPD stance of “a priority-based approach” to Cannabis storefronts, it’s no wonder such this culture has come to be. Spokesman Sergeant Randy Fincham says VPD is aware of the location of all the various shops and says that they check on them regularly, however they do not interfere with the operations without a complaint where public safety is concerned. Having it’s own police force has allowed Vancouver to tolerate pot shops “We don’t call them dispensaries,” says Sergeant Fincham, acknowledging that the syntax for most is a matter of semantics.

Looking at Canada nation-wide there are over 40 dispensaries operating outside the city of Vancouver, according to the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries. Most of these will fall under jurisdiction of the RCMP. Spokeswoman for the RCMP Sgt. Laurie White wouldn’t state if the RCMP had policy or protocol for Cannabis dispensaries. “We will take enforcement action if there are any indications of contraventions to the [Controlled Drugs and Substances Act],” she says. “It depends on what the information is, what the source is, and that would then drive our investigation.”

That medical Cannabis patients deserve access to their medication is a position held by some at Vision Vancouver and many in the Mayor’s office. The battle in the courts to preserve patients rights to produce Cannabis heats up in a couple of short weeks making the shape the future takes more unclear than ever.

Even with all this uncertainty, the interest in opening a Weeds Glass and Gifts franchise is higher than ever. Six more outlet locations are proposed for Surrey, North Vancouver, Whistler and Sechelt, a delightful vacation escape right up the coast. Mr. Briere says he’s also looking at potential locations in Toronto and Montreal.

A willing landlord rivals the capital investment of at least $40k as the greatest importance, second would be viability of the real estate, in order to start a new location of Weeds. Briere takes care of access to Cannabis by supplying it along with other products from local growers who have their MMAR exemptions. This use of the system was not intended, but it could work this way… or it could end.

Just in case his supply runs dry, Mr. Briere says he’s ready, “I plan to start growing this summer.”

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