VANCOUVER - B.C.'s largest city is so renowned for its tolerance of
marijuana, many tourists assume selling the drug is legal, say employees at
marijuana-related businesses.

"There's no open buying and selling in Vancouver, yet unfortunately a lot
of people come with that impression," said Scott Hearty at the B.C.
Marijuana Party headquarters and bookstore, one of a dozen legal
hemp-friendly businesses.

Frequently asked where to buy the drug, he said he prefaces his remarks
with a "buyer beware" spiel, then adds: "Walk around for half an hour and
you're going to be approached by half-a-dozen people trying to sell it to you."

Further fuelling such tourism is an article in the summer issue of
New-York-based High Times magazine that rates Vancouver the best
international destination for tolerance and availability of the cannabis weed.

Titled "High Places," the article singles out Vancouver for its physical
setting, outdoor activities and public realm in which the consumption of
marijuana is unlikely to attract police attention. It also claims marijuana
is widely grown, stating: "Having an indoor grow-room in the city is almost
as common as having a den."

The High Times article rates Amsterdam, where marijuana can be purchased
legally, the second-best destination after Vancouver, followed by
Barcelona, the Lake Lugano region of Europe and centres in Jamaica and

While Tourism Vancouver does not promote the marijuana culture, executive
vice-president Paul Vallee said visitors are drawn to a relatively
easy-going lifestyle, and if marijuana is involved, so be it.

"People come here for the same reasons that people live here. It's about
life and attitudes."

On the other hand, Mr. Vallee said, visitors can be frightened or repelled
by the crime and dereliction associated with widespread heroin and cocaine
use in the city's Downtown Eastside.

"There's been a fair amount of media coverage about Vancouver's drug
problem, and that has a negative image," he said.

Similarly, Mr. Hearty was quick to disassociate a marijuana culture
centered in the 300 block of West Hastings Street with hard drug use in the
nearby Downtown Eastside. "You go down to Main and Hastings and you'll find
a much different atmosphere," he said.

He attributed the success of a cluster of marijuana-driven businesses on
West Hastings Street -- currently facing little or no intervention from
police -- in part to hard work and a dignified approach to challenging the

At the Kitsilano Hemp store -- where pipes, rolling papers and hippie-era
clothing are sold -- clerk Valerie Van Breugel agreed the lack of law
enforcement attracts foreigners.

"I've lived in a lot of cities outside America, and this is the most open
city in the world."

However, she added that some visitors -- possibly those from U.S. states
with particularly restrictive laws -- are surprised by the degree of tolerance.

"A lot of people are confused because we sell pipes so openly."

Pubdate: Thu, 18 Jul 2002
Source: National Post (Canada)
Copyright: 2002 Southam Inc.
Author: Alison Appelbe
Pubdate: Thursday, July 18, 2002