On Jan. 25, CLN spoke with Don Briere, the owner of WEEDS Glass and Gifts.

His Surrey store was recently raided by the RCMP, and he told us how having stores across BC gave him first hand experience of the difference between the Vancouver Police and RCMP.

Don also tells us his biggest issue with the Robson Square cannabis market, why he’s filed a constitutional challenge against the City, and how dispensaries help fight organized crime.

CLN: Hi Don, thanks for calling. Can you tell us about the raids in Surrey?

Don Briere: Yeah, our Surrey store on 108th and King George Blvd. was raided just a few days ago as we were trying to help the people affected by the opioid crisis, making this our fourth store that’s been raided in Surrey.

The  first one, Da Kine Glass and Gifts, was raided about a year and a half ago and just recently, I’ve had charges laid against me on that case.

It’s a major waste of taxpayer resources in every way, shape, and form. People are dying and they’re stopping us from helping them.

How are you helping the employees that were caught in the raid?

We cover all legal fees. We have over half a million dollars in legal fees and climbing.

How was your staff affected by the raid?

They were okay, the police didn’t really terrorize them. But they did come in with full battle gear. The police had their helmets and balaclavas on with their guns and protective armour- everything!

WEEDS operates on RCMP territory in Maple Ridge, Kamloops, and the North Shore, among others, and the Surrey RCMP are the ones that are always raiding us, but that has to do with who’s giving the orders- and it’s the mayor of Surrey..

WEEDS pays all the same taxes as everybody else, and do you know the one thing dispensaries do that nobody else does?

Dispensaries take money away from organized crime- because where do the gangs get their money? They use grow-ops to trade cannabis for cocaine and guns and so on.

But the very worst thing about organized crime is that they steal children into a life of crime and human trafficking, where they addict them to drugs- I’ve seen drug addicted strays working in grow-ops for organized crime.

Do you think the media and general public sees the effect that dispensaries have?

A lot of people do and we’ve had a lot of positive coverage.

But then I see headlines like “Ex-cop cashing in on new pot laws” while they’re still upholding the old laws. We have Juliano [Fantino], a former top cop saying, “Anyone who smokes pot is the same as a murderer!” while collecting a huge government paycheck. And now, overnight, he says, “I’m running a pot store!”

What a hypocrite. We’ve known for a long time that cannabis is not dangerous. Now the evidence is so overwhelming. It’s a good medication and it’s good for recreation. Instead of having a beer or a drink, you can use cannabis.

There really are no downsides, but maybe I’m just biased because I’ve seen what tobacco and alcohol does.

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What do you think of edibles?

I think they’re fantastic. You can dose yourself, too. You can have a quarter of a cookie. Or a tenth. Whatever you want, and you don’t OD.

And you know the antidote to having too much cannabis? Orange juice. It counteracts cannabis’ effects.

How many WEEDS Glass and Gift Shops do you have?

We have a total of 19 stores across Canada in six provinces.

So with Vancouver going through the licensing process-

It’s not just Vancouver. There’s Victoria and Kamloops just passed a bylaw at an open meeting where people showed up by the hundreds and said “Listen, dispensaries are wonderful”.

When our store opened in Williams Lake- one of the few towns in BC that’s losing its population because of struggles with alcoholism and drug addiction- everybody could see the positive effects of cannabis.

There’s less violence, less drugs, and less theft. The whole community benefits.

How can cannabis help in the fight against the opioid crisis?

Opioid overdose deaths have dropped 30% in states with legal medical cannabis and that’s huge! Imagine we saw a 30% drop in car crashes- people would be dancing in the streets. They’ve also seen a 12% drop in violent crime in districts where cannabis is legalized.

The drug war is not only a failure, it’s a farce. If you look at the example of Portugal– over a decade ago, they decriminalized all drugs. The crime rate has dropped, the abuse rate has dropped, and money going into the court system has dropped, too.

I don’t know if you know but Oregon decriminalized drugs just a few months ago, too. That’s huge.

With WEEDS dispensaries across BC, what differences have you seen in the approach of the Vancouver Police versus the RCMP?

In a lot of places with RCMP, they’ve raided us. In Surrey, it was 4 times. They raided Maple Ridge once. In Prince George, they didn’t raid our stores but other dispensaries got hit. In Williams Lake, even though the RCMP was overwhelmed by the support from the people, they still raided us once! But when the Williams Lake location reopened days later there was spectacular amounts of public support, and even the police were there.

So we’re not dissing the police. We’re looking at the people giving orders from the top. The drug war has destroyed large sections of the population and it really hurts the economy. Just look at the difference in costs between spending money to keep someone in jail for cannabis versus that person working and paying taxes.

The open air Robson Square Market. Photo courtesy of Terry David.

The open air Robson Square Market. Photo courtesy of Terry David.

As a dispensary owner, how do you feel about the open air market at Robson Square?

I think it’s not so much whether the open air market is going on, it’s whether the material is safe. We don’t know what’s being sold there. Open markets are fine as long as the products are safe for the public.

It should be regulated in the sense that if they’re going to sit there and make money, they should pay a reasonable fee.

It’s the same thing with multi-million dollar casinos only paying $6,000 a year for a business license, and they want $30,000 for a business license for a pot store? That’s bullshit.

Could you tell me a little more about the raid on Da Kine Glass and Gifts?

It was open for a few months, the RCMP came in and arrested 3 people- two staff and one guy with bad knees who had two canes.

Basically, charges were dropped on two of the people, and I didn’t realize they charged me because I was there as soon as I could.

I asked what was going on and they said the premises was locked down. Then they guarded my store for 36 hours waiting for a warrant! How many thousands of dollars did that cost?

We have several areas where the RCMP operate and they leave us alone and take care of us. If we call them during a robbery, they come.

But here in Surrey, they raid you.

How have you been treated by the justice system?

I’ve served over 7 years in prison for standing up for people’s rights. I was taken prisoner, my family was held hostage, and I was held in isolation at a maximum security compound while they looted and raided my businesses and stole everything that I had.

They tortured me with sleep deprivation and they gave me food that was not really fit for human consumption. I was given inferior medication that caused my liver to shut down and I was in intensive care for 11 days while they tried to figure out what was killing me- and it was the pharmaceuticals they gave me!

The list goes on. I’m seeking, let’s say, $30 million in compensation and I’m going to donate it all to charities and hospitals.

From that raid on Da Kine, you said you’re facing charges.

Yes. Possession for the purposes of trafficking from over a year and a half ago, but I just got the charges very recently. It actually came in the mail. I guess they couldn’t find me or they were busy with everything else going on.

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Police guarding Da Kine Glass and Gifts Sept. 29, 2016. Photo courtesy of Vancouver Sun.

Are you suing the city?

Yes. We’re doing whatever we can because cannabis laws have been ruled unconstitutional by the Allard decision and people need reasonable access to cannabis. Looking at it from that point of view, what the city is doing is misusing our tax resources, and it’s criminal.

So we’re filing a lawsuit against the mayor of Surrey and city council because anyone who says, “It’s wrong”, or, “Cannabis is bad so I’m enforcing this law”- we call that Willful Blindness and Willful Negligence. After enforcing these laws, it becomes a Criminal Misuse of Public Tax Resources. Then, we can go after you for Proceeds of Crime because you stole that money from the public.

[Editor’s note: Don has launched similar constitutional challenges against the cities of Vancouver and Abbotsford]

Are you doing it on your own?

It’s a corporate thing. Nobody else is really standing up for people’s rights. They’re raking in the money and raping the system, like Juliano [Fantino].

Would you consider teaming up with other dispensaries?

Sure, if they’d like to contribute but they seem to be living in their own little fiefdom. It’s like one guy gets a big yacht and doesn’t want to work anymore because he’s an overnight success.

I think some people will join us but other than that, that’s it.

How long have you been in the cannabis industry?

28 years. Do you know about the Da Kine shop on Commercial Drive in 2004? Carole [Gwilt] and I did that back.

There was a six-part special on it by Pot Tv because it was the first shop of its kind in North America selling cannabis over the counter- and I did that while I was on parole. I got caught for that and ended up doing 2.5 years in prison for that.

It’s on YouTube.

Do you think doing that put a target on your back?

It definitely put me under the spotlight. Everybody wants to talk to me now! But the thing is, I had the courage to open the store, the strength to keep it open, and the backbone to tell the truth about it and I will not back down.

Myself and a lot of other people are the reason why Colorado and these other places legalized cannabis because 25 years ago we started sitting on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery and we refused to back down.

Do you think it will continue getting better?

It is getting better. Hell yeah. Do you think what’s happening today would’ve happened 10, 20, 30 years ago?

In Florida they just had a 70% vote in favour of medical cannabis in the last election. It was 68% the previous time, and they needed 70% for it to pass. Here I was thinking that 51% was a win!

Would you like to add any final thoughts?

My biggest thing is that I’m standing for the people and their rights. We pay taxes, same as everybody else, and the only thing we do that they don’t is take money from organized crime because it’s organized crime that buy the guns and drugs and doing these shoot-outs in the streets.

We love our country, we’re proud Canadians, and we support the police, even though they’re under orders to harass us.