Inside Surrey's New 'Cannabis Cafe and Hotel'
Owner Jonathan Falkus is going to charge "about a tenner" for the night, which comes with free tea or coffee and a joint.
"As you can tell from the empties, we've had a few people over this weekend," says 57-year-old Jonathan Falkus as we stumble past his overflowing recycling bins, crammed to the gills with bottles, and into the front room of his flat.
Located in the middle of a Guildford housing estate, Jonathan refers to his flat as a "Cannabis Café and Hotel". But, inside, it looks less like a fledgling business initiative intent on getting UK cannabis laws changed – or a hotel of any description – and more the home of a man who very much enjoys smoking weed.
The place is full of paperwork, dog-eared Dali prints, ashtrays and multi-coloured bongs. Sat on one of the four deeply indented sofas, Bruce Springsteen pounds out of the boombox next to us. As Jonathan flits about, dolling out teas and coffees, spliff in hand, I ask him what he hopes to achieve by turning his flat into Surrey's answer to The Bulldog
"I'd like to see lots of people coming here, changing their views, a few teas, a few coffees, people eating, sleeping – improved by the experience of coming here. Then departing on their merry way with a spring in their step and a joint or two in their pocket," he explains. "I'm looking to have a civilised, pub-like environment. Not a free-for-all. The two rules of the house are: no harder drugs, and don't go upsetting the neighbours."
But trying to carve out a legal niche within an illegal industry is an obvious minefield. I ask Jonathan what problems have presented themselves since his decision to "open" the café to friends and acquaintances.
"While we were doing it unofficially, [the council] were fine with it. I've been getting stoned here with my mates for the best part of ten years. Now we're official, they're obliged to act," he tells me.
"We've had people that looked like undercover coppers hanging about outside. I sent them on their way. But they're usually very polite. They know the problems people get into after alcohol, and they know the problems people get into after a bit of puff. I mean, I've been arrested over 100 times for breach of the peace over the years myself."
Rummaging through the paperwork next to him, he stuffs a letter into my hand. It's a threat of eviction from the council for noise and anti-social behaviour, dated three days ago.
"They have asked us to do various things, like stopping the music and to get rid of my lodgers, one of which is leaving. He isn't suitable for the cannabis café anyway. He owes me a tenner and he won't even give me a joint. Bastard."
Jonathan describes himself as "an ageing hippy" but has that lean, hungry look and demeanour of an ageing punk. And as we talk, it's evident he really doesn't give a fuck who he upsets with what he's doing. Quite the departure from his old job in the 1990s as a head cashier for Lloyds Bank.
"It's actually very similar to this," he says, taking a huge pull of his joint. "You're meeting the public, putting them at ease, finding out what they want, then getting it for them."
When his house was repossessed in the mid-90s, Jonathan became homeless. He eventually got a council property, but ever since being evicted from there in 1998 he's been living in what he deems "uncertain" accommodation. Providing a place for vulnerable people to crash is another one of his motivations for opening the café.
Both his lodgers, Emma and Steve – who are out picking up weed – come from unstable backgrounds, and have found a friend, guardian and spare mattress in Jonathan, who's keen to employ 18-year-old Emma as his receptionist and Steve as a handyman once everything's fully up and running.
Since opening, the place has been pretty low-key. But when a story about his flat appeared on a local Surrey news website last week, Jonathan was inundated with requests to visit. I asked him if he thought that people knowing where he was and what he was doing was risky. Turns out it was him who gave the website the story.
"I gave them those details myself, expecting them to print my name and address," he says with a confused look. "I mean, why be coy? We're running a cannabis café. You don't want to scare off customers."
"You're not worried about a bunch of guys turning up and robbing you?" I ask.
"We don't keep weed here and we don't grow," he asserts. "People tend to bring their own. It's not intended to make a lot of money, just to be friendly to the cannabis community."
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As he gives me a tour of the two rooms, piled full of stuff from previous lodgers, he tells me that the plan is to charge people "around a tenner" to stay the night, plus free tea and coffee.
On face value, the idea sounds alright. The vibe isn't far off your standard smoke-up – hanging out in a flat, skinning up, chatting and half-listening to whatever's blaring out of the speakers. But talking to Jonathan, I struggle to see the business element of his business.
On the sofa next to me sits Alan Pavia, head of the Surrey Cannabis Club – the guy who brought me here. I ask him his thoughts on the setup. He thinks Jonathan's got a blueprint for something viable.
"Well, I think there's a lot of different models that could potentially work," he says. "Maybe this is one of them. I think a model like this could work in a commercial environment. Obviously, in this day and age you'd need licenses for everything and you'd have to do everything by the book.
"The whole situation we have with drugs is exacerbated, and ultimately created, through prohibition," he continues. "So if people really want to see a reduction in harm, then we've got to start there. One thing I applaud about someone like Jonathan is that he had the balls to stand up and go public with this. If only more people could come out of the closet like this."
Sitting here, watching the vapouriser do the rounds, I get the impression it's as much about the message as it is the business. A chance for Jonathan to stick two fingers up at local authorities by highlighting the fact that no one's getting hurt off a couple of joints in his flat. As we get up to leave, I ask him what he thinks the future holds for the plan.
"I intend to keep the cannabis café and advocate the legalisation of cannabis. And that would legalise my business. I think legalisation might be a likely outcome of the election, too," he reassures me, as we squeeze out of the door and back into the sunlight.
"I'm not lazy, greedy or stupid. So basically, I'll be fine."
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