VANCOUVER — Walk downtown around midnight and take a deep breath — but not too deep — and you'll experience the unofficial odor of the Vancouver Olympics.
And it's not maple syrup.
"I know the local street dealers have never been so busy in their life," said Marc Emery, the city's self-proclaimed "Prince of Pot" and leader of the British Columbia Marijuana Party.
Vancouver is in the marijuana-friendly corner of Canada, and it's hard to miss. Hastings Street alone has several stores that sell marijuana seeds, and the third floor of Emery's Cannabis Culture Headquarters is a veritable weed smoker's den.
"Everybody's smoking pot up there, enjoying it," Emery said. "It's the party headquarters up there, literally, and I'm the party leader as it turns out."
Bongs, pipes ... and more
During an interview with The Associated Press, Emery took out his own bong, loaded it with what he called "the family weed," flicked his lighter and took a hit. He sat in the back area of the first floor of his store, where customers perused a wide selection of bongs, pipes and marijuana-theme magazines, T-shirts, videos and games.
Never mind that possession of marijuana is illegal in Canada. In Vancouver, the cannabis culture is allowed to thrive — as long as it doesn't cause any trouble.
"Vancouver is a tolerant jurisdiction," Emery said. "That is, the people are very tolerant."
Indeed, while Vancouver police and the Integrated Security Unit for the Olympics have taken steps to control the open consumption of alcohol on the city's streets — including earlier closing hours for liquor stores — marijuana has not appeared as a top item on the priority list for law enforcement at the Winter Games. Anyone spotted with a small amount at a hockey game isn't likely to face arrest.
"If it was a significant quantity we would," said Constable Craig Douglass, spokesman for the ISU. "But who's going to bring a significant quantity to a venue?"
When late-night TV host Stephen Colbert brought his show to the Olympics last week, he asked 1980 U.S. hockey hero Mike Eruzione how many times he had been offered marijuana since arriving in British Columbia.
"Twice," Eruzione replied. "Last night and this morning when I woke up."
Snowboarder's gold stripped
Nearby Whistler, home of most of the ski events, became famous for its weed culture in 1998, when favorite son Ross Rebagliati tested positive for marijuana at the Nagano Olympics and his snowboarding gold medal was stripped. It was later reinstated — after he claimed he had merely been exposed to pot smoke at a party back home.
When the torch relay came through Vancouver on the day of the opening ceremonies, people leaned out the third-story windows of Emery's store and waved a takeoff of a Canadian flag that featured a marijuana leaf in place of a maple leaf.
Letters posted in those windows spell out the words "Free Marc." Emery is a wanted man in the United States, which is trying to get him extradited for selling marijuana seeds by mail to Americans. It's a legal battle he's been fighting for years, linked to his quest for the legalization of marijuana in North America.
"He remains the subject of an extradition request from the United States. At some point in the future I'd expect to see him in Seattle to face his indictment," said Emily Langlie, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's office in Seattle.
Asked if having the Olympics in town has given him a platform to promote his cause, Emery said most of his visitors have been those who already support his view. On Saturday, he said he spent six hours greeting visitors who lined up to have their picture taken with him and his bong.
"I've got lines going out the door," Emery said. "(My wife) Jodi was worried that I'd use up all the family weed. I went through an ounce and a half of pot that day."
So how did he feel Sunday?
"It took me a while," he said, "to get motivated that day."
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