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New Zealand: Pot clubs go nationwide

Cannabis clubs – where users flout the law by meeting to smoke and buy the Class C drug – may soon open nationwide.

Next month founding members of New Zealand’s first cannabis connoisseurs’ club, Auckland’s Daktory, plan to meet fellow users throughout the country to help set-up Daktories in other cities.

“We have demand from virtually every city in the country,” Daktory founder Dakta Green told Sunday News.

” I would expect to see in the next 12 months Daktories in every major city in this country, every city should have at least one – 2010 is the year people within our culture are demanding changes throughout the world.”

Auckland’s Daktory, in New Lynn, plans to offer “degrees in Daktology” later this year – formalised study on all aspects of the cannabis industry including hands-on cultivation techniques.

For the first two-and-a-half months the Daktory was open cannabis was sold from the venue, and at one point almost 20 different strands of cannabis were available.

That was stopped, not by police, but by demand Green said: “It got too popular and too busy.” Cannabis is again for sale from the Daktory, as it’s planned to be at all newly established cannabis clubs.

The Daktory’s nationwide plans follow more than a year of hassle-free law-breaking by club members.

In the 14 months since the Daktory opened – in November 2008 – there hadn’t been a single police raid on their Delta St premises until Sunday News asked questions of police this week.

Police national headquarters refused to comment, as did Waitakere police, but yesterday four police cars swooped on the Daktory.

Officers executed a search warrant and Daktory members said they confiscated lighting equipment and lap-top computers.

Detective Rhys Wilson wouldn’t comment on what police had seized, but said a number of exhibits had been taken and police had a considerable amount of work to do at the address. Police charged one man with cultivating cannabis and further charges against him were likely, Wilson said.

The Daktory boasts more than 2000 members who pay a monthly fee to smoke (mainly, their own cannabis) within the club’s spacious warehouse.

Members, whose names remain confidential, must be at least 18 and sign up for a year’s membership. Green, 59, said the oldest club-member was “in their late 70s”, and that doctors, lawyers, court officials and business people were among the membership.

Schoolteachers were most highly represented, he said. Green, who changed his name from Ken Morgan by Deed Pole, runs the Daktory. He holds the company shares in trust, but plans to turn ownership over to a community trust in the near future.

That model is planned to be replicated nationwide: “We are a model for that to happen”.

Dad-of-three Green, who is also a Norml – The National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws – board member wants cannabis legalised. The Daktory, like Norml’s aptly named Mary Jane bus which is parked there, is a protest vehicle.

“We wish to legalise cannabis, but we also wish to live like it’s legal,” Green said.

“So in my home [Green lives at the Daktory] we have a motto `live like it’s legal’. We just think it’s wrong and there’s no reason to continue with serious criminality of something that is as relatively harmless as cannabis.”

And Green and his members certainly `live like it’s legal’ at the Daktory.

Next to one coffee table, cannabis spotting knives sit on an element, a gas bottle connected beneath. Plastic bongs, bucket bongs and cannabis smoking pipes are scattered about.

When Sunday News toured the premises this week, more than a dozen cannabis plants were being grown on a sunny window-sill and two others under a heat lamp, in a metallic, heat-reflecting box, locked off from the lounge area.

In Green’s upstairs kitchen, half a dozen cannabis bongs – plastic, metal and glass, small and large – were scattered about and White Rhino strand cannabis buds were present in a glass container.

Under the Misuse of Drug Act 1975 possession of cannabis is punishable by three months’ jail and or a fine of up to $500 and possession for supply and cultivation of cannabis is punishable by up to seven years’ jail. Possessing cannabis utensils is also illegal. Last month, when asked about the Daktory, New Lynn sergeant Grant Watson said police’s position on cannabis was quite clear – it’s illegal.

“It doesn’t matter where you are, in a private dwelling or anywhere, smoking and possessing cannabis is an offence against the Misuse of Drugs Act and carries a fine and/or a term of imprisonment,” he said.

Before busting the Daktory yesterday, police had targeted motorists leaving the Daktory during the new year period. Green took issue with this because “it’s a waste of police resources” and he believes that type of policing is illegal.

“I refuse to be subjected to arrest, harassment by police and imprisonment because I am part of a culture that celebrates and glorifies cannabis for people within our culture,” he said.

To prove Daktory members were being `harassed”, on January 2, Green drove around the block from his home with a Daktory member filming from the back seat. Green said his plan “worked beautifully”. In a video, now posted on You Tube, and proudly shown to Sunday News, Green is pulled over almost immediately by police. After showing officers his licence he is soon let go – free of charge.

The stunt doesn’t mean Green is against new legislation making it illegal for motorists to drive under the influence of drugs. Daktory members are advised to have a sober drive and to rest between smoking and driving. Members “farewell me with clear eyes”, Green said.

Earlier this week, before the raid, Green said he wasn’t surprised the Daktory hadn’t been shutdown by authorities.

“It’s my house and I’ve been told by police in the past, `don’t smoke in public, smoke in private and we will leave you alone’.”

Green’s issue with cannabis laws’ are that ordinary people are being locked up for using a substance “scientifically proven to be less dangerous than alcohol and cigarettes”. He said cannabis was part of popular culture and “the fact that everybody is doing it is a damn good reason to stop locking a few of us up”. Norml claims someone is arrested on cannabis-related charges every 37 minutes in New Zealand, some 15,000 annually. Green also wants to see the cannabis industry “out of the hands of what are criminals by definition, and put in the hands of the community where it can be properly controlled.”

He said at the moment the black-market cannabis trade was “out of control”. The Daktory, Green said, was a “safe haven” for users and ensured they weren’t put in danger while trying to buy cannabis.

Despite championing cannabis law reform, Green – who also pushed for Saturday trading and in the 1980s ran a casino on a boat beyond police jurisdiction – doesn’t advocate cannabis use. He was against it until age 40.

“Cannabis is not for everyone. I don’t advocate to anyone to take it up, but I do advocate that cannabis is not a dangerous product.”

“Very few over-indulge” in cannabis at the Daktory – it’s more coffee-shop than nightclub in that respect, Green said.

Visitors to the Daktory – open Wednesday to Sunday – could expect to see people: “Sitting around enjoying a quiet chat and a quiet toke, perhaps listening to the music, and generally relaxing. It’s a very laxed out place,” Green explained, quick to dispel beliefs it was a “stoners club”.

The Daktory is a comfortable venue, like a recreation-centre. There are dozens of couches, armchairs and coffee tables spread around an open-plan space.

Coffee is available – food is planned – and there’s a pool, fus and a table tennis table plus a projector screen, a library – which includes a copy of Shakespeare’s complete works – and music.