Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Support flies in for head-shop owners

Weed advocates protest 'injustice' of police raids

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Hemp Haven owner Jeremy Loewen shows off one of the bongs in his Watt Street store last week. He was raided by police last week and hasn't opened since.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Enlarge Image

Hemp Haven owner Jeremy Loewen shows off one of the bongs in his Watt Street store last week. He was raided by police last week and hasn't opened since. Photo Store

Local head-shop owners who've received warnings from police -- two of whom have been charged with crimes and another two who say they are closing their stores -- have received support from a high-profile medical marijuana advocate and a Toronto author and television producer.

Randy Caine, the founder of Langley Medical Marijuana Dispensary and a candidate for mayor of Langley, B.C., and Brian O'Dea, a former pot smuggler who's now an award-winning author and television producer in Toronto, were in Winnipeg Tuesday. They said they wanted to highlight the injustice they believe has been done to a number of Winnipeg store owners who, among other things, sell pipes and smoking paraphernalia.

The two articulate, soft-spoken critics of heavy-handed police tactics warned of a slippery slope when it comes to civic rights and were advocating for more dialogue with civic leaders.

'These are not criminals. These are young business entrepreneurs employing family people'

-- Brian O'Dea, ex-drug smuggler and award-winning author

Appearing with Jeremy Loewen, the owner of Hemp Haven whose store is closed and who is facing two charges, and Steven Stairs, a Winnipeg medical marijuana advocate, O'Dea said, "I am here because I perceive an injustice has been perpetrated and I want to bring some volume to the matter... These are not criminals. These are young business entrepreneurs employing family people."

Loewen said while he does not know why he was raided and charged, he does not begrudge the actions of the police, who he said were just doing what they thought they were supposed to do.

He figures it's a bylaw issue and "we would like to work that out."

Loewen said there is some talk about forming a trade association. "I think it would be a good idea where everyone operates under the same guidelines," he said.

O'Dea said, "When you get together and unify, perhaps you can direct the conversation in a way that makes rational sense as opposed to the hyperbole and emotion."

O'Dea, originally from Newfoundland, became a large-scale international marijuana smuggler and was sentenced to 10 years in prison in the U.S. after he'd turned his life around and had become a counsellor at a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility in California.

He wrote an autobiographical account of his life as a dope smuggler, High: Confessions of an International Drug Smuggler, which won the 2007 Arthur Ellis Award in the best non-fiction crime category. He's now working at turning that book into a movie and has also been involved in producing and writing reality television shows.

Caine, who flew to Winnipeg at his own expense and also paid O'Dea's travel expenses, said he came in an effort to broaden and facilitate the discussion.

"I'm just trying to enhance the dialogue," Caine said. "Brian (O'Dea) is a friend of mine. We have known each other for several years. I thought his background might help all of us understand the situation. I'm delighted I came."

Steven Stairs, who has Health Canada authorization to possess medical marijuana to control his glaucoma, said he believes it is disingenuous on the part of the government, who on one hand advise medical marijuana users vaporizing marijuana is a safe way to consume it, and then force the closure of the stores that sell such equipment.

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 12, 2014 B4

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