Some parents in high dudgeon as kids purchase pot accessories
Ex-cabbie thrives in hip-hop head shop
Fifth Avenue Clothing in Iqaluit sells a wide variety of hip-hop apparel and marijuana paraphernalia.
It's a popular destination for teens, both from Iqaluit and from other Nunavut communities as they pass through town.
Elie Boulos, the store owner, knows his business will only attract more controversy as its popularity grows.
But he says he's only being a good capitalist. People often moan about the sad state of the private sector in Nunavut. Well, he's found a niche market.
It's baggy hoodies and bongs.
The store, which has quietly operated for the past year and a half, is tucked away behind Tumiit Plaza, in a second-storey space that once held a hair salon.
"It's not a head shop. It's a clothing store," Boulos says.
In fact, it's both. But it's the paraphernalia that's drawing a lot of attention.
A glass display holds pipes in in all shapes and sizes, from modest wooden models to a large water bong in the shape of Spiderman's head.
There's also a big selection of oversized, fruit-flavoured rolling papers. And, scattered around the store, there are all manner of tools for a marijuana smoker.
Grinders to break it up. Electronic scales to weigh it. Blow-torch lighters to smoke it.
Canadians like cannabis. The United Nations 2007 World Drug Report found marijuana use is more prevalent in Canada than in any country in Europe, Asia or Latin America.
And marijuana is immensely popular in Nunavut, where, during the last federal election, the Marijuana Party won more votes than the Green Party.
Boulos receives occasional phone calls from angry parents who have caught their kids with a pipe. He says he never sells paraphernalia to kids under 19.
If an older teen ends up purchasing goods for a younger friend, that's beyond his control.
Still, the fact remains that the majority of his clients are under-aged teenagers, and until recently, pipes and other paraphernalia stood in a display prominently placed near the entrance.
To appease the fears of parents, Boulos is moving the paraphernalia into a separate room.
He's also taken flak for selling a hallucinogenic herb, called salvia divinorum. It comes in a black vial, sells for about $50, and, when smoked, produces a euphoric high that usually lasts between a few minutes to half an hour.
The drug is legal in Canada, and can be purchased in head shops and cigar and botanical stores across the country.
Salvia is becoming increasingly popular with teens today. Youtube is full of videos of teens tripping on the drug, who appear to be seized by several minutes of uncontrollable giggling and, in some cases, drooling.
Users describe a brief period of powerful hallucinations and loss of control over their bodies. No studies have shown any evidence of the drug causing neurological damage or physical addiction.
Still, Boulos has fielded angry phone calls about the sale of the drug. He says he's never sold it to under-age kids, although students at Inuksuk High School say their peers are using it.
Asked if he's still selling salvia, Boulos says he's out and doesn't plan to re-stock his supply.
But, later that afternoon, he tells a customer he plans to continue selling the drug when his next shipment arrives in several days. He just won't be putting the black vials on display – he plans to keep them behind the counter.
Boulos, 27, moved from Ottawa to Iqaluit six years ago to drive cab. He bought the store from a friend four months ago.
He plans to visit Cape Dorset and Rankin Inlet soon, and to bring his wares with him. He won't say if he'll just be selling clothes, or paraphernalia as well.
He points out Fifth Avenue isn't the only store selling paraphernalia in Iqaluit. Baffin Flowers also sells glass-blown pipes, which a salesperson said have been selling-out quickly.
Similarly, Boulos complains NorthMart has begun to horn in on his hip-hop apparel market by offering a growing selection of trendy caps and clothes.
Still, his store is the favourite clothing outlet for many of the teens who troop around Iqaluit, ball caps aslant, bandanas and chains dangling from baggy jeans, who dress like their favourite hip-hop stars.
Loitering in front of NorthMart last week, Tommy Kelly, 19, wore a Doggfather baseball cap, a West Coast Connection tee, Johnny Blaze jeans, and sneakers inspired by the Al Pacino gangster flick, Scarface.
Most his clothes came from Fifth Avenue. He says it's his favourite store.
Dressing like a gangsta isn't cheap. Kelly figures his outfit costs about $350.
That's why thrifty hip-hop heads in Nunavut shop online.
Eating a burger at the Caribrew Cafe for lunch, Jeff Burke, 16, is decked out in a Blue Jays cap, an Avirex hoodie, a striped golf shirt by the same brand, and baggy jeans. The silver detailing on his hoodie match the silver chains that dangle around his neck.
Most his clothes come from Dr. Jay's, a store based in New York that has an online catalogue and ships to Nunavut.
His sweater cost about $40. Even with $20 tacked on for shipping, that's significantly less than most similar hoodies in Fifth Avenue, which often sell for $90.