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Hamilton pot activists open vapour lounge

Something in the air on Barton Street East

Hamilton Spectator

By  Bill Dunphy

Hamilton’s pot lovers and cannabis crusaders may have found a new home — MelanHeadz Hamilton Vape, a just-opened “vapour lounge” on Barton Street East that advertises itself as “420 friendly.”

Judging by the puffs of sweet smoke that leak out the front door, and the bongs and spliffs and vaporizers bubbling and sparking and baking at every table and booth and counter, they are not so much “420 friendly” as they are madly in love with it.

(The term “420” is a common term for the drug in cannabis culture and is believed to have originated in a California high school as slang for pot smoking.)

Hamilton police chose to remain mum on the issue Wednesday, declining interview requests.

Pete Melanson, the lounge’s front man and one of four partners on the project, says the idea is to provide a safe and welcoming home for the community that embraces the use of marijuana — for medicinal or recreational purposes.

“I really believe in the plant,” Melanson said Wednesday afternoon as he greeted old friends and new customers at the door of the Barton Street East facility. “It was a medicine before, for a thousand years and now, I just want to go back to the way it was before (it was criminalized).”

It was the medicinal uses that truly grabbed him. His bouts of debilitating and violent nausea have been tamed by his marijuana use, and he has signed attestations to that fact from five doctors, he says.

“I’m risking my freedom for everyone in here,”

Pete Melanson, co-partner

Many of his clients have similar stories.

Tina Swift, a former nurse, showed up at the opening in her wheelchair and said using marijuana has enabled her to cut back on much stronger narcotics prescribed for her pain management.

“I was so anti-weed (before), you wouldn’t believe it,” the 56-year-old said with a smile as she sat surrounded by cannabis consumers. “I still don’t like getting stoned.”

Melanson puts his money where his heart is — this is his third attempt to build a family business on meeting the needs of marijuana users in Hamilton. The first ended when the landlady refused to renew the lease on his Fennell Avenue storefront. The second came to a crashing conclusion with a police raid and a slew of charges (“15 of them,” offers Melanson) for trafficking, possession and proceeds of crime arising from the dispensary and bakery he and his wife ran on King Street last year. Those charges are still before the courts.

Given that history, you would think Melanson would be hesitant, at least when it came to going public again.

Not so. He says he’s learned from his mistakes and those of others, and while he fully expects the police to come calling eventually, he feels he’s doing what’s right.

“I’m risking my freedom for everyone in here,” he says, his hand sweeping out to encompass the entire room and the 40 or so pot lovers smoking, “vaping” and chatting in the mid-afternoon sun streaming in from a large peaked skylight. “But I do have a lot of people behind me.

“There’s no cannabis being sold here … the police can come in here every single day, if they want to.”

Requests to interview the Hamilton Police Service about the legality of MelanHeadz and the police response to apparent violations of the Criminal Code were declined and a reporter was referred to the city’s bylaw office.

Melanson says the business has a licence from the city as a private club and, indeed, everyone is braced at the front door for a membership card or fee as they enter.

Rules posted throughout the club (which served as blues bar and a nightclub in earlier incarnations) prohibit, not just selling marijuana, but “mooching” it, or “lending” it; basically it’s smoke it if you’ve got it, but get it yourself.

They don’t make money by selling pot, but by facilitating its enjoyment and medical use, he explained.

The MelanHeadz Hamilton Vape team has ambitious plans to make that happen.

“We’re in the process of applying for a multi-licence,” Melanson said, which would allow them to open the kitchen and prepare and serve food on the premises.

In the meantime they’re focusing on programming — running music, comedy and open mic nights, offering live podcasts recorded in the club and covering everything from cannabis culture to comedy.

They will not be seeking a liquor licence.

The last concerted effort to cater to the cannabis community, especially in such an open and transparent way, was the 2003 opening of the Up In Smoke café on King Street downtown. The club’s controversial owner, Chris Goodwin, deliberately challenged police and the city’s establishment, vowing before he opened that he’d be selling pot to customers from the store.

The approach ensured maximum media coverage and careful — and repeated — scrutiny from Hamilton police, ending two years later in a series of criminal charges against Goodwin that saw him sentenced to $3,000 in fines and six months in jail.

What many Hamiltonians may not know is that on his release, Goodwin moved to Toronto and, while still on probation, opened Vapor Central there. Eight years later he’s not just open, but flourishing.

Goodwin said he opened quietly and rode out about six months of heat from the Toronto police.

“Since then I’ve had no trouble,” he said Wednesday as he stood inside Melanson’s lounge, offering his help and advice on opening day.

Melanson is a friend, and in some ways a pupil, of Goodwin’s and while “I don’t agree with him 100 per cent,” Melanson says he has learned a lot.

Goodwin advised Melanson to be transparent and honest about the lounge and what would or wouldn’t be allowed inside — and stressed the importance of sticking to those rules.

“Nothing under the counter, ever,” he said.

The rest of the advice sounded like the checklist for a successful franchise: be scrupulous about cleaning — the tables and floors and washrooms — and make sure your customers get a consistent, dependable experience.

Melanson said he’s aiming to do just that.

But he’s hoping for more. He wants society to change its laws — to regulate and control, but not ban or prohibit cannabis.

He’s not anxious to face any more charges and says he really didn’t like the experience of being arrested and jailed while awaiting bail last year.

“I did a week in Barton and I hated it. I missed my wife and my kids. I wanted to wake up in my bed with my wife and my kid jumping on me saying ‘Daddy I love you.'”


Article source The Hamilton Spectator

Melanheadz Hamilton Vape front sign

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MelanHeadz Hamilton Vape Lounge

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