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If you were thinking of opening a cannabis cafe - let this be a warning

Sarah Chapman & Mike Hornby, Liverpool Echo , 26th April 2006

THE jailing of a Liverpool cannabis cafe owner should serve as a warning to others, police said today.

Officers welcomed the 12-month term handed to Gary Youds who had opened an Amsterdam-style cafe in Holt Road, Kensington, last year.

Superintendent Chris Armitt of Merseyside police said: "Mr Youds has flagrantly broken the law and despite repeated warnings and intervention, engaged in acts that could bring harm to the local community, and he has been sentenced accordingly.

"We don't condone drug taking or law breaking in any way and will always act when matters of this nature are brought to our attention."

But those who live close to the Chill-in' Rooms said they were surprised by Mr Youds' sentence..

Enid Bristow, of the Needham Road residents association, was one of a group of locals invited to tour the cafe shortly after it opened.

Mrs Bristow said today: "It's sad for Gary, I wouldn't wish any harm on the lad.

"I was impressed when I went round the cafe. It was very nicely decorated, just like a wine bar."

Robert Maloney, who lives on Holt Road, said: "There wasn't so much as a peep from that place when it was open.

"I suppose the police had no choice but to shut it down.

"They can't pick and choose which laws to enforce."

Campaigners for reform of the drugs laws say last year's re-classification of the drug, from B to C, had caused confusion among the public about what can and cannot be done.

Katy Swaine, head of legal services for the drugs advice charity Release, said: "There has never been a decriminalisation of cannabis but there is now a presumption against arrest.

"People do underestimate the seriousness of cannabis possession but I can see where this confusion may have come from."

Steve Rolles, information officer for Transform Drug Policy Foundation, said: "When re-classification happened a clutch of cannabis cafes opened around the country.

"Some continued to stay open for a while, such as the one in Liverpool because the police were pragmatic about them.

"Shutting these places down isn't really in the police's interest because it takes their resources and has no effect on cannabis use."

Air was thick with smoke

THE Chillin' Rooms opened in March last year and was soon attracting police attention.

Liverpool crown court was told yesterday that police raided the premises twice in a month. Each time officers noticed the air was thick with the smell and smoke of cannabis and there were several people inside the cafe.

Users of the cafe were cautioned for smoking the drug and Youds was arrested.

Raids on his semi-detached house in Cavan Road, Norris Green, revealed bags of cannabis and cannabis plants, and cuttings were growing in an out-building.

The 36-year-old pleaded guilty to two charges of permitting the use of his premises to be used for smoking cannabis.

He has a previous conviction from last year for the same offence and he was conditionally discharged, the court heard.

He also admitted cultivating cannabis, producing cannabis, possession of the drug, and possession of cannabis with intent to supply.

Youds pleaded guilty to possessing a stun gun, the prosecution accepted his explanation that he was minding it for someone else.

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