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UK: Cannabis cafe owner quits for Amsterdam

Alan Roden

Evening News, Edinburgh

Saturday 04 Sep 2004

THE owner of Scotland's first cannabis cafe today announced he was quitting
the Capital to work in an Amsterdam coffee shop.

Paul Stewart, 37, who opened the Purple Haze Cafe in Leith earlier this
year, said he was fed up with the "backward" nature of Scotland's drug laws.

The former landscape gardener, who is trying to sell the lease on his
Portland Street cafe, hit out after receiving a UKP500 fine on Wednesday
for allowing people to use cannabis on the premises.

Stewart, who lives in Leith, pleaded guilty at Edinburgh Sheriff Court to
the charges but escaped a maximum three-month jail sentence or a UKP2500
fine. He still faces charges for selling magic mushrooms at his cafe.

Speaking today, he said: "I've had enough. My business has been ruined by
this venture and I have nothing left. I invested UKP45,000 in the Purple
Haze but I have lost so much money I will now struggle to pay the UKP500 fine.

"I will be paying the money back at a rate of UKP10 a week. All the
attention and the coverage of my cafe was great at first, but it quickly
died down and I stopped running the place as a cannabis cafe after just
four weeks.

"It is still open as a normal cafe, but I have so few customers I usually
shut at about 2pm. Times are very hard, which is why the lease is up for sale.

"Once I have sold the place, that's it. I'm off to Holland and I will try
to get a job in a coffee shop in Amsterdam."

In the Netherlands the sale of small quantities of cannabis for personal
use in cafes is permitted. The outlets, which draw millions of tourists
each year, allow patrons to buy marijuana over the counter and openly smoke
joints without fear of arrest.

In the UK, cannabis was downgraded from a category B to a category C drug
on January 29 - the same day Purple Haze opened for business. People in
Britain are not usually arrested for possession, although it remains an
illegal substance.

But Scottish police indicated at the time they would continue to take a
tough line on use and possession of cannabis, in contrast to many English

Stewart, who is willing to sell the eight-year cafe lease for offers over
UKP15,000, said the Scottish system was "morally wrong".

He said: "I opened the cafe to show the problem with the laws on cannabis use.

"We made our point and we couldn't believe the extent of the media
coverage. There were over a hundred people on the first day signing up to
become members, including [MSP] Tommy Sheridan, but I'm down to just a
handful of customers now.

"I've had enough of the harassment I get from the local authorities here in
Edinburgh. It's been very stressful.

"There was a police vigil outside my cafe every two days or so. Scotland is
just so backward.

"The politicians are too timid over here, but in Holland their outlook on
life is fantastic.

"However, I will still come back to Scotland regularly as it is my home and
I have a son over here. And if anyone else wants to try setting up another
cannabis cafe in Edinburgh I will give them my full support."

Cult book publisher and author Kevin Williamson is planning to open another
cafe in the Capital. Mr Williamson, who is the Scottish Socialist Party's
drugs spokesman, said Purple Haze was a "test case" and he had been waiting
to see what punishment Stewart received.

Following the UKP500 fine, Mr Williamson said its was a "token slap on the
wrists", adding that plans would be drawn up to open another cannabis cafe,
this time in the city centre.




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