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David Hill, known as Roofer Dave, tends to his illegal marijuana grow operation outside the Vancouver Art Gallery on Monday.John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

David Hill says the sunny southern steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery offer him a perfect and very public spot for his urban pop-up cannabis crop.

He originally wanted to start growing his collection of more than 100 seedlings across the street at the courthouse, but there was too much shade when he scouted locations for his effort to "overgrow the government" and get it to immediately decriminalize marijuana.

For the past week and a half, the burly man nicknamed Roofer Dave and his band of half a dozen protesters have spent their nights sleeping on the steps and their days smoking joint after joint while handing out dozens of marijuana plants to passersby. If the product is on hand, any adult donating to the cause can also take a hit of concentrated cannabis or "dabs" at a ramshackle bar, he said.

Police visit regularly but have asked him only to limit his encampment to its existing three awnings, and to keep the reggae and electronic dance music pumping from his large speakers at a respectable volume. They also warned him he could be charged with trafficking.

"In Ontario, you'd be right, and I'd probably be convicted for admitting to it," said Mr. Hill, as his craggy mug breaks into a smile. "But I said [to the officers], 'I'm here in B.C., so that's not going to hold water.'"

Vancouver's laissez-faire attitude to marijuana stands in sharp contrast with the approach taken recently in Toronto, where police and bylaw officers fanned out last Thursday and raided 43 dispensaries – charging roughly 90 people with drug and bylaw offences.

While Toronto awaits a staff report into how to best regulate the city's illegal dispensary sector, police have stated that their investigation is ongoing and the 40-odd stores that weren't hit last week could face similar action.

In Vancouver on Tuesday, the city announced its next move in the year-long effort to get pot shops licensed. Rather than police raids, the city has sent in lawyers, who have applied for injunctions against 17 of the 55 shops that haven't qualified for licences but refuse to close.

One dispensary is now operating with the city's approval and several others are close to gaining a coveted business licence. Roughly two dozen pot shops could be left standing under these bylaws after the city gains compliance from the other offending dispensaries, a process it has acknowledged could take more than a year.

Constable Brian Montague, a Vancouver police spokesman, said officers from the downtown district told him they have had a good relationship with Mr. Hill throughout his stay. However, Const. Montague said the officers were unaware that the protesters are giving away marijuana plants or offering up dabs.

"They're aware of the little clone plants, but their understanding was that was the only illegal substance that he had," Const. Montague said Tuesday.

Anyone handing out illicit drugs can be charged with trafficking, regardless of whether they are profiting from the transaction, he added. "Just because I give away crack cocaine doesn't mean it's not trafficking."

"I've been giving away weed since I was 15," said Mr. Hill, who admits to various prison stints related to the drug. "I've never been a profiteer."

Rick Lehman, a cattle auctioneer from Phoenix, said he and his family were surprised by the protest as they strolled the streets of Vancouver on Monday after disembarking from an Alaskan cruise.

"It's different, very different, very very different," he said. "You'd be in jail if you'd have done that down [in Phoenix]," he said. "To each his own, just don't force it on anybody else and don't let the kids have it."