But officials may not buy café's take on the law
Oct. 31, 2001. 02:00 AM
WESTERN CANADA BUREAU
VANCOUVER - Michael Maniotis insists he's no dope-smoking zealot looking to put a joint in every mouth but simply a compassionate man who wants to ease the pain of people suffering debilitating illnesses.
To that end, Maniotis, 42, plans to open the doors today on The Marijuana Teahouse, a 2,000-square-foot facility on the outskirts of Vancouver's rugged downtown eastside, where those stricken with AIDS, multiple sclerosis or other debilitating illnesses can go to try to stop the hurt.
"It provides a safe, socially stimulating environment for people who are medicating with cannabis,'' the veteran restaurateur said in an interview yesterday.
Maniotis, who says he began using marijuana at age 15, does not suffer from one of the debilitating diseases Ottawa recognizes for medical exemptions. But he says he suffers from stress and adds cannabis "does help me walk to work in the morning instead of slumping to work.''
Maniotis said the teahouse, which will allow healthy people to act as "facilitators'' and also use the drug on site, is simply an evolution of Ottawa's move to okay the use of medical marijuana.
But spokespersons for Health Minister Allan Rock, Vancouver police and the city's licensing department are not convinced.
"Mr. Rock's initiative deals exclusively with access to marijuana for medical reasons,'' said Cyrus Reporter, a spokesperson for the minister. "It doesn't venture into decriminalization generally.
"(That) is an issue which should and is being debated by Parliament and the public,'' said Reporter, refusing to get into specifics on the teahouse.
Paul Teichroeb, Vancouver's chief licensing inspector, said the teahouse has a one-day event permit for today's opening party. But before the teahouse can reopen, it will have to get another licence because it originally applied as a restaurant and now wants to be part health care facility and part private club, Teichroeb said.
"We still need the full facts on what they're going to be doing,'' Teichroeb said in an interview. "We also have to ensure what they're proposing to do is completely legal. All the answers aren't available as we speak.''
Vancouver police spokesperson Det. Scott Driemel said the police are aware of the teahouse plans to open but refused to say what will be done.
Similar, so-called compassion clubs operate across Canada selling marijuana to members who have been verified as suffering from one of a list of debilitating diseases. The clubs are illegal.
Other Vancouver cafés selling cannabis have been forced to close, either under police order or an inability to get a business licence.
Maniotis vows to fight in court using the Charter of Rights and Freedoms if there's a move to close him down.
"It's been way too long that people have suffered unjustly for this,'' said Maniotis, who is facing a charge of possessing and trafficking cannabis for an unrelated compassion operation earlier in the year.
The teahouse is run by the Merlin Project, which was launched on July 4, the day Rock detailed the regulations on the use of medical marijuana. It has provided information on how to get a licence to use the drug to deal with illness and has recently begun growing pot in downtown Vancouver.
The teahouse will have about one-quarter of its space designated as "the medicating area,'' Maniotis said.
In that space, which will be walled off from the rest of the café, and ventilated to the outside, he said, people who have medical exemptions from Ottawa will be able to use marijuana. Those with letters from doctors are also okay, he added.
A security guard will also be on duty and customers must be at least 18 years old,
But people with exemptions will also
be able to ask family and friends who are not entitled to use the drug
to sample it with them, he said.
Copyright 1996-2001. Toronto Star
Copyright 1996-2001. Toronto Star Newspapers Limited