As it turns out, Montreal's first cannabis cafe will not open on Oct. 1, as
scheduled. The cafe owner had planned to sublet space in a building on St.
Denis St., but on the weekend the landlord said he wouldn't allow it.

Still, the idea has an air of inevitability. In Vancouver, Toronto, London,
Ont., and Saint John, N.B., entrepreneurs have already exploited the
ambiguity in Canada's drug laws by opening such coffeehouses. The
businessperson behind the abortive effort on St. Denis St., Marc-Boris St.
Maurice, says he's already scouting for a new location.

And that might be just the first of many. When I suggested in jest yesterday
that his pot cafes might become as common as Tim Hortons, he replied
seriously, "Maybe one day." Patrons would be able to bring their own pot for
personal use - and buy a coffee or perhaps a marijuana-laced muffin or
brownie.

Yesterday, Montreal police said they'd arrest smokers at such a cafe. Judges
in some other provinces have ruled that possession of small amounts of
cannabis is not a crime, but police here are not recognizing these
non-Quebec judgments. However, St. Maurice says he is confident that a
Quebec court will soon reach a similar decision.

Let's assume that, like it or not, these establishments will spring up in
large numbers. Before this wave reaches Montreal, let's focus on just one
aspect of it - its potential effect on kids.

Everyone on all sides of the contentious issue of pot can probably agree on
one thing: that it's not a great idea for adolescents to get into the
toking-up habit. The teen and pre-teen years are when you need to deal with
reality, find out what you're good at and get some sort of direction for
your life. For that, I bet even the Bloc Pot and Marijuana Party, which were
behind the St. Denis St. venture, would concede that cannabis is unhelpful.

Federal Justice Minister Martin Cauchon and other advocates of the
banalization of marijuana have never seriously addressed the question of
minimizing pot's accessibility to youth. Nor have municipal authorities.

The location of St. Maurice's would-be shop illuminates this sad hole in
society's consciousness. The St. Denis St. cafe was to have been in the
basement of a building just south of Sherbrooke St. One floor above was a
skateboard shop frequented by adolescents.

If the scheme has fallen through for the moment, it isn't because public
officials had late-breaking qualms. No, it's because a building owner
happened to have a conscience.

There are two ways the Tremblay administration can play this.

The first is the manner in which, decades ago, the Drapeau administration
responded to an earlier trend - topless bars. They sprang up everywhere. One
on Gouin Blvd., for example, was right around the corner from a leafy
residential street. From their porch, homeowners could watch a 10-foot babe
in all her blinking neon glory.

Finally, city hall responded. It adopted a policy that all new topless
joints had to be in a very few well-defined parts of the city, none of which
abutted residential areas. But this was very late. Many places had
"grandfathered" rights to stay.

Later, city hall also took tardy action when arcades multiplied across
Montreal.

The Tremblay administration can follow suit, doing nothing and keeping its
fingers crossed that the courts in Quebec will make it hard for pot-cafes to
come to Montreal. Or, it can get ready and adopt a zoning policy that
confines all such future establishments to neighbourhoods far from places
where adolescents congregate, including schools.

Even under Cauchon's proposed law to decriminalize marijuana, the
trafficking of pot would be criminal. Organized crime would still be in
charge, and its minions would be swarming near such coffeehouses (since
these establishments themselves could not sell cannabis). Gangs are already
common enough. We don't need to intensify their presence in places that our
kids can hardly avoid.

It's pathetic that about the only rampart left for the control of cannabis
is municipal zoning. Let's at least make the best of it.


Pubdate: Tue, 09 Sep 2003
Source: Montreal Gazette (CN QU)
Webpage: http://www.mapinc.org/cancom/15F6C765-C993-4030-8B79-5B3C67A946E3
Copyright: 2003 The Gazette, a division of Southam Inc.
Contact: letters@thegazette.southam.ca
Website: http://www.canada.com/montreal/montrealgazette/