A makeshift church erected on White Rock’s Marine Drive is the subject of a city bylaws investigation following concerns it appears to encourage drug use.
The complaint regarding the tent structure was received June 4, officials confirmed.
But the man behind the tan-coloured lounge – which is adorned on the outside with signs stating ‘Best Buds’ and ‘Open to all 18+’ – said that aside from one neighbour, negative reaction to the ‘Church of the Holy Smoke’ only started Wednesday, as word of its presence started to draw attention.
“Something smells fishy,” said the man, who calls himself Pastor Robin, noting he received a 30-day eviction notice from his landlord that cited plans to redevelop the property.
“If there’s some improprieties happening here and this is something to get rid of me, I’m going to have a political fight.”
During a visit earlier in the week, Robin told Peace Arch News he has only good intentions.
“Our goal is to keep pot off the beach and off the street,” he said.
Sitting with a coffee mug at a table adorned with various paraphernalia, including a vaporizer and a substance he identified as ‘shatter’ – a chemical derivative of marijuana – Robin said the idea was to create a place where residents and visitors alike are “able to enjoy what they like to do best.”
“We want a site that’s safe for cannabis users.”
It opened about two months ago, and while not yet recognized by the Canadian government, is affiliated with same-named Rastafarian establishments in Australia and South Africa, he said.
There are no church services per se, however, “we discuss all sorts of relevant topics and how to do things” to make the community safer and stronger.
Karen Cooper, the city’s director of development services. told PAN Tuesday that the city is “working with the owner and the resident to take it down.”
Cooper confirmed police are involved, however, “there’s not too much we know at this point.”
Robin – who declined to give his last name – told PAN Tuesday that officials he had dealt with to that point, including police, had “been very supportive.”
Const. Shaileshni Molison, however, disputed the degree of support.
“I wouldn’t say we’re supportive,” Molison said, noting investigation is ongoing. “From a policing perspective, of course, anything that’s criminal or involves any public-safety issues, we would get involved in that.
“Marijuana… is not a legal substance.”
Robin said there is no selling of marijuana “whatsoever” at the site, and that anyone wanting to partake inside must “bring your own stuff.”
“This is not, technically, breaking the law,” he said, noting that if Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is elected, “pot’s legal” and “we’re the ones who are going to set the standard here” for such lounges.
But the establishment has at least one White Rock man concerned about the potential negative impact it could have on youth who frequent the beach.
“What it appears is that they’re allowing some sort of smoke in there, and I don’t think that’s appropriate for the kids,” said Ron Eves, describing it as a “tempest in a teapot.”
“If my neighbours are blazing a few in the backyard, I could care less, but… I just couldn’t see it being a good thing for the kids and the community.”
Robin – who has lived in a house on the property for eight months – was adamant the facility is “adult only and cannabis only.”
It’s also constantly supervised, he said, noting he and others on its board have called police to deal with misbehaving visitors.
“The safety of this community is foremost,” he said.
Robin and others who were visiting Tuesday also lauded the health benefits of marijuana. Robin is confident that smoking pot is what enabled him to recover from injuries he suffered in a house fire four years ago. Doctors told him he’d never walk or be able to care for himself again, he said.
“I honestly believe pot brought me back,” he said.
Erin, 34, said marijuana helps her deal with tennis elbow and other joint pain.
“It’s like smoking a sauna for me,” she said.
There’s also more to the church than smoke, Robin said. He said those behind it also support cancer sufferers at Surrey Memorial Hospital with cannabis-related items; feed the homeless; and provide sanctuary to women escaping abusive relationships.
“We support everybody.”
Robin said he’s also prepared to stand his ground. If the ‘church’ is ordered to shut down, it will become a legal matter, he said, noting “we do have lawyers.”
After Wednesday’s eviction notice, he said he is “ready to take on the world.”