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"Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do."
Johann von Goethe
"Marijuana is one of the least toxic substances in the whole pharmacopoeia."
Professor Lester Grinspoon, Harvard Medical School, USA
"When are we going to learn that we can't use the law to nag."
Marge Simpson

Opening a Coffeeshop

Can I be prosecuted for opening a "Bring Your Own" Coffeeshop?
Yes you can. It is an offence to knowingly permit or allow your premises to be used for the consumption of cannabis. The maximum penalty is (under both Class B and C) 14 years and an unlimited fine.

What guidelines should I use to keep it trouble free/police free?
Don't tell the police you're opening a coffeeshop for starters. What seems clear is that the police will take action against establishments which very publicly tolerate cannabis. This happens for two reasons.

  1. You become a problem which members of your community will demand the police do something about.
  2. It's easy to prove you knowingly allowed your premises to be used for the consumption of cannabis.

Equally, if you open a coffeeshop that is less blatant about it's true intent then you're hidden from negative public scrutiny and the police will probably have to mount a lengthy undercover operation to prove you know people smoke cannabis on your premises. Police are very short of resources and will only divert undercover officers in cases of high priority. Keep what you're doing quiet and you'll be a low priority.

What really seems to work is finding an establishment with two rooms. The first, smaller one, is visible from the street and no illegal activity takes place here. The second, much larger room, is the smoking den. It's separated from the small room by stairs or a door - anything that prevents passers-by seeing in. This way, even if the local Tory Grandee passes by or even wanders in to ask for a glass of water they won't see what's going on and thus won't have anything to complain about.

As for safety, dope smokers are a pretty placid bunch - unless they've run out of course. If your cafe is in a dodgy area a doorman might be your best investment. But in general I think trouble is unlikely.

Any suggestions on stuff I should sell, i.e. cakes, drinks but what else?
The type of food and drink you choose will depend on the sort of people you expect to attract. Some people just want a choice of toasties, chocolate and coke. Others want a whole gastro-pub type thing. If start-up costs are limited just go for the basic munchie food (try and remember what makes you salivate and ask your friends what they like) and once you're open ask your customers what else they'd like to see.

I already have the idea's for decoration, candles, music. But what else would people like to see?
For me it's all about comfort. Make the place as comfortable as possible and everything else (lighting, music etc) will flow from there.

What's best, Town or out of way location?
Generally the best location will always be the one with the most passing trade. However, in this business you can be too public and the more people you put yourself in front of the more chance you face of someone objecting.

Nonetheless, I still believe town is the best option. You have to think a few years ahead. Either we've become more liberal and cannabis cafes are more out in the open. Or in the worst possible scenario you've been busted but your good location means you can sell the lease on to someone else.

Do I need to inform anyone that I am planning to open one?
You'll need some kind of licence to sell food. An A1 for basic stuff and an A3 if you plan to operate a more restaurant-like establishment. There are also health and safety and fire regulations to abide by. Call your council, tell them you're opening a cafe (don't mention cannabis) and ask their advice.

Will it be worth the money and hassle, Could it be a success?
Yes, yes and yes. It will be hard, at times utterly dispiriting. I'm sure there'll be moments you regret ever opening. But every good adventure has it's dark parts. And what you're doing is something very brave and very needed.

There is a huge demand for comfortable and friendly spaces where people can enjoyably consume cannabis. In order to prove this, just tell your friends your intention and watch their faces light up. It's a risk for sure, but a calculated one. The risk is you get busted and lose money (it's unlikely you'd get a jail term for a first offence unless you really wanted one). The reward is that you might make a very nice living for you and your family.

Plus - and this should not be forgotten - you'll be doing a great service for the country. British drug policy is an unmitigated disaster. It's costs, both in human and fiscal terms, are enormous and deeply damaging. We have to begin the end of prohibition - and this starts with coffeeshops.

The fundamental principle at stake is that a regulated supply of drugs is inherently safer than an unregulated one. What coffeeshops provide is a much needed opportunity to test this hypothesis. The last few months have shown that Britain is not quite ready for such a step. Too many influential people (i.e. the editors of The Sun and The Daily Mail) oppose reclassification even in its most limited form.

Therefore, we've got to find ways to convince them cannabis is not a threat to society. Partly this comes through the establishment of places up and down the country where people can peacefully get high. The more of these the better. The more of us there are the more defence we all have.

But fundamentally, the more the public can be exposed to cannabis the more they'll be desensitised to it. They'll have an experience that runs counter to the Cannabis Kills rhetoric of the reactionary press. They'll be able to see that cannabis smokers are not a problem and thus they'll be less likely to oppose further change.

By taking this brave step you'll be helping make Britain safer. You'll help ensure we have fewer problems with drugs. You'll help create a more tolerant society. And you'll help those six million cannabis smokers who deserve a better deal.

Do it!