Q&A: Chris Goodwin, the guy whose “weed bar” got raided (and is already back up and running)

Q&A: Chris Goodwin, the guy whose “weed bar” got raided (and is already back up and running)

Chris and Erin Goodwin. (Image: Brodie Helsdon)

In December, pro-pot activists Chris and Erin Goodwin opened Good Weeds, a marijuana lounge and dispensary on the Danforth where just about anyone could buy and smoke weed. The party came to a sudden—if not totally surprising—halt last Thursday, when police raided the place and arrested the owners; the business was, of course, illegal, though cops tend not to take action until they receive a complaint. A mere day later, Good Weeds reopened, albeit as a BYOB operation (that’s B for bud). Chris Goodwin says it will take more than a night in the slammer—and a pending court date—to keep him from fighting for a pot-friendly future. Here, he shares the details of the raid, his commitment to civil disobedience and why it’s time for stoners to get out of the basement.

Did you get any advanced warning about last Thursday’s raid?
No, we didn’t. It was just a regular business day. We probably had 80 to 100 customers in and out of the store that afternoon. The police showed up at about 5:30 p.m. and, by 5:31, Erin and I were in cuffs. They escorted everyone out and we were taken to 54 Division. Erin was then taken to 55 Division, and I was taken to College Park at 2 a.m. It wasn’t my first night in jail, but it’s always brutal. It’s hell, really. Erin was saying that it feels as if they turn the air conditioning on to make it even colder. We were at bail court by 11 the next morning, and we were both released. There were some cameras and media gathered when we got out, which was sort of exciting. Part of the reason we do what we do so openly is to get attention for our cause.

You’ve been a pro-pot activist for a long time. Can you give us a quick personal history lesson?
Almost 20 years ago, I read The Emperor Wears No Clothes by Jack Herer. It outlined how the war on drugs in America was a fraud and talked about reefer madness in the 1930s. I became a hemp activist, met Marc Emery [Canada’s most famous cannabis activist] and became involved with the larger movement. I was still in high school the first time I was arrested. My mother found five fivers of oil. She claims that she called the police to ask for advice on what to do and then they showed up at my house and took me in. I spent the night in jail. My life completely changed. Six months later, I did my first 4/20 smoke out in Hamilton. About 50 people showed up, and I was arrested again. This latest arrest was my 14th.

Police say Good Weeds was raided following a complaint from a community member. Any idea about who that might have been?
We don’t know yet. We hope to find out in the disclosure, but it may be blacked out, or they may claim a “confidential informant.” We’re at least hoping to find out the nature of the complaint. We were doing our best to be good, responsible neighbours—no loud noise, no loitering out front. From our perspective, the neighbourhood felt super friendly. A lot of the neighbours and nearby business owners told us they were happy we weren’t another dive bar. The previous business, Paradise Billiards, had a history of violence.

You say that you didn’t expect Good Weeds to be raided, despite the fact that selling pot is still illegal in Canada and despite the fact you’ve been arrested so many times. Don’t take this the wrong way, but what were you smoking?
This is a conversation I’ve been having for a long time. When I first broke the law, my friends and my supporters said the same thing: “You’re going to get busted.” And I did. With Good Weeds, people say, “What did you think was going to happen?” But my job is just to do it again—do it bigger and smarter and then do it again after that. I believe that the will of cannabis culture will outlast the will of law enforcement in practicing what I believe is tyranny. They’re going to do what they’re going to do and I’m going to do what I’m going to do, but I believe I can outlast. It’s like the Survivor slogan: outwit, outlast, outplay.

You’re certainly doing your part to disprove the lazy stoner stereotype.
Marijuana makes some people lethargic, but that’s never been the case for me. I think the whole stoner-in-the-basement thing has more to do with prohibition, with having to hide what we’re doing and trying not to get caught.

What’s next for Good Weeds?
Our place is back up and running, now as a vapor lounge, [meaning customers have to bring their own weed]. Erin and I aren’t allowed to be there right now—one of the conditions of our bail—so we have friends running it at the moment. It’s funny: since the raid, we’ve gotten a bunch of resumes from people who want to work for us. As far as the trial, we are set to appear in court on February 26th, but the whole thing will probably go at a snail’s pace—a year, 18 months—now that it’s in front of the courts. Who knows, maybe marijuana will be on store shelves by the time this is sorted out. A friend of mine was saying that maybe Erin and I will be the last people arrested in Canada for this kind of thing. It’s not likely, but that would definitely be an interesting way to go down in history.


January 27, 2016

An earlier version of this post spelled Marc Emery's name incorrectly.