Proposed community centre for pot-smokers splits locals

Matt Riley is aware using a premises to facilitate drug use is illegal. Picture: Christiane Barro.

By CHRISTIANE BARRO

Collingwood could become the next hotspot for pot-smokers if a proposed safe-haven centre for cannabis users opens up in the heart of the suburb.

Free Cannabis Community founder Matt Riley plans to lease a 1500 square metre property on Wellington St to provide a social space for people who smoke marijuana recreationally.

He is asking for public donations to fund the project. 

Local Gwen Renwood said the position of the proposed centre – near parks, a primary school and high-rise commission flats –  would have terrible consequences for families.

“The area’s bad enough now with drugs. If that is allowed to come into our community, what will the children do?” she said.

Mr Riley said weed smokers had “nowhere to go” and this centre would offer them a safe alternative.

“If we can go about everything that we do here in such a way that we’re not upsetting anybody, I don’t think there will be an issue,” he said.

Matt Riley organises monthly 420 picnics but smokers are advised not to light up in Flagstaff Gardens after Victoria Police decided to crack down on the gatherings. Photo: Supplied.

Marijuana user Cole organises private gatherings with other pot smokers in parks, rooftops, car parks and “hidden gym spots” around Melbourne.

“Everyone’s been restricted to finding hidden spots around the city,” she said. “We have to be very quiet and sneak around everyone. We don’t enjoy that aspect.”

This centre would prevent social isolation among cannabis smokers and stop people from feeling like they need to hide their addiction, she said.

“If we had a place to smoke safely and securely, a lot more people would come out of their shells and blossom into these beautiful characters.”

The centre would include a glass-blowing studio, a live music venue, meeting rooms and a garden that would feature hydroponic and lighting equipment.

While the building would not be used to facilitate drug use, Mr Riley said he was aware members were likely to smoke in the facility’s car park and around the centre.

“Obviously it’s the cannabis community so there are going to be dope-smokers in the membership,” he said.

Collingwood residents are worried this proposed centre would invite unwanted drug users into the area. Photo: Supplied.

Father-of-five Matthew Libbis  said he was concerned a community centre for cannabis smokers could attract other drug users into the residential area. 

“It would close that area off to other residents because there’s a risk with it being associated with harder drugs,” Mr Libbis said.

He said this could create a very unsafe environment for children.

“They wouldn’t just come to the area and go into the centre and go home. They would be around and they would be stoned.”

Student Aiden Epsteim said the site – near Melbourne Polytechnic – could cause major disruption for students and local schools if not regulated properly.

“People aren’t in their right state of mind when they’re high so they could be a disturbance to us students,” he said.

Resident Lisa Stone said those who had never tried drugs “will come to do it more easily”.

“What’s next? Mixed alcohol with marijuana, heroin with marijuana, tablets with marijuana. It’s getting ridiculous,” she said.

But local Daniel Griffin said it was “the best idea I’ve probably ever heard”.

“It’s better if they aren’t hiding in dark alleyways and backstreets where all the thugs hang out.”

City of Yarra Mayor Amanda Stone said the council did not condone smoking “of any kind”.

“Wherever people are smoking, regardless of what they’re smoking, it’s going to have an impact on other people and we would not support that,” she said.

The council’s Municipal Public Health Plan has a list of strategies to reduce the rates of smoking in the community, especially in outdoor areas.

Mr Riley is asking for public donations to help fund the project that would “involve countless hours of mostly unpaid work by numerous people over many months”, he said on the Melbourne Free Cannabis Community website.

 Victoria Police declined to comment.