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Providing a safe place to smoke

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Medical marijuana activist Jamie Friesen, Vapes on Main directors Lee-Anne Kent, John Tran and Bill VanderGraff and Vapes visitor Yvan Maltais. Vapes is Winnipeg’s first medical marijuana lounge.

PHOTO BY JARED STORY Enlarge Image

Medical marijuana activist Jamie Friesen, Vapes on Main directors Lee-Anne Kent, John Tran and Bill VanderGraff and Vapes visitor Yvan Maltais. Vapes is Winnipeg’s first medical marijuana lounge. Photo Store

A former cop has helped to open the city’s first cannabis lounge.

Bill Vandergraaf, a 29-year veteran of the Winnipeg Police Service who retired in 2001 as staff sergeant of the homicide, major crime and street gang unit, is one of the directors of Vapes on Main, which opened at 1402 Main St. in mid-May.

"It’s a not-for-profit organization that allows medical marijuana users to have a safe place to gather and meet and share their experiences and stories and also educate the general public who may be interested in taking medical marijuana, providing them with information," Vandergraaf said.

"We’re not doctors or anything, but we tell people who come in, ‘You want marijuana, go see a doctor’. We will provide you with information from the local dispensaries and they can take that into their doctor and have their doctor sign it off, if the doctor is willing."

Vandergraaf said he doesn’t expect Vapes to have any problems with the police, as he doesn’t believe there’s anything illegal going on in the lounge, pointing out that he’s seen similar places in Vancouver and Toronto.

"We’re not providing any illegal products," said Vandergraaf, noting Vapes operates on donations from its visitors.

"People are not allowed to bring in drugs or alcohol, and smoking cigarettes is not allowed. There’s nothing illegal going on. People are in here under the auspices of their prescriptions."

Vandergraaf, who has used medical marijuana since 2007 to battle alcoholism, said entrance to Vapes doesn’t require proof of a medical marijuana prescription.

"We trust that the people who come are applying with any laws that are on the books, and those laws seem to keep changing all the time so we don’t bother checking prescription,"Vandergraaf said.

"If people come in and indicate they’re medical marijuana users, and they’re over 18 years of age, they’re welcome to come in and use the facility."

Vapes visitor Jamie Friesen, who uses medical marijuana to treat hypomania, operates a business called Canna Clauz Consulting & Canna Care (www.cannaclauz.com), which offers such services as cannabis cooking classes and gardening services. Friesen said Vapes offers a valuable service to the cannabis community.

"This gentleman right here (Vapes visitor Yvan Maltais) just said he feels at home," Friesen said. "There are so many people holed up in their houses by themselves, sitting there, medicating, and feeling like they’re alienated. Here, they can come and realize they’re not. They’re fully functional people that can come and talk about their experiences."

Vapes director Lee-Anne Kent, who uses medical marijuana to treat anxiety, said that social component of the club is important.

"There’s the medical benefit, which is the key importance, but the bonuses that come with that are social interaction with others, making new friendships and also gaining new knowledge, not just in your particular ailment, but general knowledge sharing. And recipes too," Kent said.

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