To say Gary Youds has been a figure of controversy during the last 20 years is somewhat an understatement. The 50-year-old ‘Cannabis Crusader’ and owner of Kensington’s underground Amsterdam-style coffee shop, ‘The Chillin Rooms’, has been arrested approximately 50 times, yet continues to re-open his premises — defying the law time and time again.
Labelled “a martyr to cannabis” by one judge, Gary Youds believes he has now won the war, with plans in place to open his cannabis café (an exclusive members club) legally and officially, with legal consent and big backing. I caught up with this enigmatic figure for a coffee in Liverpool to discuss his story and his plans for the future….
Rather ironically, I met Gary sitting outside ‘Leaf’ on Bold Street and I was struck by one of the first things he said to me. “See this nice coffee shop here,” he boldly stated, “well, imagine if the police raided it and seized every single thing in it but it opened up the next day. This is what’s been going on with me and The Chillin Rooms for the last 17 years but now the war is over.”
After only a few minutes chatting to the diminutive man over a cappuccino, I was struck by how he does not come across as your typical criminal — in fact, upon meeting Gary you’d struggle to call him a white collar criminal at best. A laid back and thoroughly positive soul with an attitude of peace and love, it’s almost impossible to imagine him committing crimes or hurting anyone.
We had only been sitting outside for around five minutes, before someone approached us and said he recognises Gary, congratulating him for his campaigning — such is his cult fame amongst Scousers. Observing things around us, he continued: “See all those bars in Concert Square. Well, you know the violence that occurs there every weekend. Let me tell you….there has been no violence in The Chillin Rooms in 17 years.”
I was keen to learn more about Gary as a person before he became Liverpool’s answer to Mr. Nice (he’s met Howard Marks a few times) and he told me: “Back in 2002 I was a successful property developer, building hundreds of houses. The lads who worked for me all enjoyed a smoke and I found they worked better, rather than skipping work with a hangover. I then took a proper interest in cannabis and ended up attending a Cannabis Conference alongside leading experts and professionals.”
Gary continued: “The more I learnt about cannabis use and the laws that oppress it, the more I became baffled. I learnt that around 20,000 people would be incriminated in order to prevent 1 ‘potential’ case of psychosis. When you look at the devastation from alcohol and cocaine, it is ridiculous, unfair and illogical to demonise cannabis in such a way. I don’t drink. I don’t take cocaine. I am a good father of two. I am a good person in society. So why make me an evil person in the eyes of the law when I work hard, enjoy a smoke and there are people off their heads in Liverpool fighting? In fact, I’ve given people jobs and reduced crime by opening The Chillin Rooms.”
As I chatted further with Gary, I came to understand his logic and frustration. As we sat on Bold Street, amongst the hustle and bustle of the city, I started to think about the trouble that’s caused by alcohol and cocaine and began to ask myself if I’d ever seen anyone act aggressively whilst stoned (them, not me). Gary certainly didn’t seem as though he was about to act all macho and smash a cup of coffee over me for questioning him or looking at him funny.
I asked Gary about how and why he created The Chillin Rooms and he told me: “I created the space in 2003 as after visiting the Cannabis Conference as I wanted to offer people somewhere that’s chilled out, alcohol free and a safe environment. It was amazing! We had live music from the best musicians in the region and we had the best underground scene going. Everyone was so laid back and friendly and just happy to be there. But inevitably, we soon got busted.”
Despite there being no crimes at The Chillin Rooms other than smoking cannabis, the venue was raided several times in the first 6 months of opening. During the past 17 years, the underground coffee shop on the outskirts of Liverpool has been raided countless times — becoming a war of attrition between police and Gary. That said, Gary and The Chillin Rooms developed a cult following in the process.
Gary explained: “It’s been a constant war these past 17 years. The Chillin Rooms always was and always will be a members club — somewhere that good people, and only good people, can come to chill, relax, enjoy a smoke and enjoy top quality live music. I’ve been constantly terrorised by the police, always worrying about undercover cops, but I will never give up. I’ve been arrested around 50 times, been in jail 3 times, they’ve arrested my Mum when she’s completely innocent, my twin brother won’t speak to me because of the heat on him, it’s been unbearable. But I will never give up this fight and now I’ve won.”
Intrigued by what he means by “won”, I asked Gary about what’s going on at the moment and how he sees an end to this ongoing battle. He offered me a pre-rolled spliff (one I politely declined due to later engagements) before confirming: “I’m on the brink of something ground breaking. At the end of October, The Chillin Rooms in Kensington will open officially and legally as a members club where people can come and smoke cannabis freely.”
As I looked around to make sure neighbouring well-to-do Bold Street couples couldn’t hear us, he elaborated: “After years of battling with the law and proving to them time and time again that what I am doing is good, I finally have the green light to open The Chillin Rooms legally and officially. Following this, I have plans in motion to open a 400 seater coffee shop in North Liverpool, with a food court and a hotel above it. I have lots of backing and aim to open 700 Chillin Room coffee shops all over the world in the next 5 years.”
Speaking further of his vision, he told me: “My dream is to make The Chillin Rooms a global empire and it starts here in Liverpool. My aim is to get rid of drugs and drug crimes and believe that through a cannabis community we can do this. I want to show people how to grow and turn it into a business — making their habit work for them, not the other way around. I truly believe we can make the world a better, more peaceful place this way.”
He summarised: “Big things are about to happen with The Chillin Rooms so watch this space. We’ve set up a CIC and have a business model — you’re about to witness Liverpool’s first legal and completely safe cannabis café and the start of a green revolution. This isn’t the Dutch model though, this is the Scouse model. We’re going to offer a great environment for our members and our cannabis, grown by our in house growers, is going to be a lot cheaper than on the street and free from artificial chemicals.”
Gary’s claims are certainly optimistic but it would be foolish to doubt someone with so much determination. After all, Gary has become a leading figure in the legalisation of cannabis — featuring in many magazines and appearing in podcasts alongside the likes of Tommy Chong of Cheech & Ching fame. Meeting with Gary that afternoon on Bold Street was an enlightening experience — not only for his company and great conversation, but for his energy and enthusiasm. Whether his dreams come true remains to be seen, but I guess time will tell and I am a firm believer that the world needs more visionaries and revolutionaries like Gary.