Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Medicinal pot users welcome at lounge

Vapes on Main opens as a non-profit club

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From left, John Tran, Vapes on Main co-founder Bill VanderGraaf and medical-marijuana user Lee-Anne Kent outside the lounge and resource centre.

JASON HALSTEAD / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

From left, John Tran, Vapes on Main co-founder Bill VanderGraaf and medical-marijuana user Lee-Anne Kent outside the lounge and resource centre. Photo Store

Winnipeg's first lounge for cannabis users touts itself as a refuge for medical-marijuana users -- and a source of information on the health benefits of pot.

Vapes on Main quietly opened its doors earlier this month in rented space on the first floor of an old, two-storey commercial building in the 1400 block of Main Street.

The sign on its front window bills the private non-profit club as a "medical marijuana lounge and resource center."

Retired Winnipeg police officer Bill VanderGraaf, one of the organization's founders, said the group is operating the space on donations and might charge members a "nominal fee" in the future.

"It's breaking new ground in this city, so it's something we're treading on very lightly at this time," he said in an interview Monday.

Coffee and tea are served at no charge. A few sofas and a utilitarian table with plastic chairs constitute the bulk of the club's furniture.

The first thing that greets visitors when they walk into the long, narrow room is the strong odour of pot. A room-divider just inside the front window prevents pedestrians from peering in as they stroll by on the street.

"It smells so nice," Holly Plouffe said as she strode in with a bouquet of flowers to celebrate the new lounge. "I've been waiting for a place like this for a long time."

Plouffe, 50, was in a serious automobile collision when she was 21 and has lived with pain ever since. She has a permit to use medical marijuana as an alternative to prescription painkillers. She tends to eat "cannabis butter" rather than smoke pot.

"Prescription drugs are really ripping up my insides," she said. "When I take them, I start bleeding."

The 40 or so people who frequent the club include a librarian and a retired gym teacher. Some use medical marijuana to control anxiety or chronic and severe pain. Others use it as a substitute for a legal drug they consider destructive -- alcohol.

Alcohol and drugs -- except for medical marijuana -- are not allowed on the premises. Tobacco smoking is forbidden.

While Vapes on Main is a private club, it welcomes visitors who wish to learn more about the medical benefits of cannabis.

"The first thing we tell them is that if you're looking for marijuana, you go see your doctor," VanderGraaf said. "We can provide them with the forms for a dispensary or a (government-licensed) producer that is now up and running in Winnipeg."

The lounge's proponents also seek the legalization -- and regulation -- of marijuana in Canada and permission to grow their own.

VanderGraaf said club directors aren't checking for members' prescriptions at the door. "I'm not interested in what people's health issues are," the retired Winnipeg police staff sergeant said. "I don't need to see any prescriptions."

He said the lounge is patterned after similar venues in Vancouver and Toronto.

So far, Winnipeg police have not come calling. But with a spate of media attention this week, he said he wouldn't be surprised if they do visit.

"Hey, they're welcome. The police are welcome. We are not committing any crimes, nobody is committing any crimes."

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 27, 2014 B1

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