Pubdate: Thu, 04 May 2000
Source: Hour (CN QU)
Copyright: 2000, Communications Voir Inc.
Contact: :  (514) 848-9004
Address: 4130, St-Denis, Montreal, Quebec, Canada H2W 2M5
Author: Charlie McKenzie


Charlie Mckenzie Gives Us The Inside Dope On His Decades In The Front Lines
Of The War Against The War On Drugs

Marijuana and its open-minded missionaries have come a long way. Shunned as
a thing accursed in Emily Murphy's day (see related story), pot has come
full circle and into the mainstream. Even bastions of such right-thinking
thought as Lord Wannabe's National Post are jumping on the bandwagon. At
last count, two private-member's bills, assorted party resolutions and
committee recommendations, and an all-dressed Senate inquiry were worming
their way through Parliament in the lofty pursuit of marijuana reform.

This Saturday, thousands of demonstrators in over 80 cities and 19 countries
are expected to take part in the third annual Millennium Marijuana March. An
estimated 5,000 Montrealers participated in last year's festivities and
organizers expect three times that number this year.

They're also getting more co-operation than anticipated from surprising

"The police," said Bloc Pot head and march co-ordinator, Marc-Boris
St-Maurice, "are co-operating fantastically. They have been helping us with
the march route, crowd concerns and even the show after at Place Pasteur. We
are in constant consultation with each other. To me, this is community
policing at its finest."

Times have definitely a-changed. When marijuana reformers first took to
Canadian streets three decades ago, "community policing" had a much
different meaning, but then, they definitely answered to a different

Gastown: Je me souviens.

Vancouver, circa 1970-72 was a hippie Mecca in this hemisphere, second only
to San Francisco. Thousands of young people hitchhiked the Trans-Canada for
the "west-coast experience" that was as much a part of that overblown era as
roach clips and Day-Glo posters.

As then Director of Youth Referral Services for the city of Vancouver -
essentially a street worker with a desk - I was responsible for
administering a network of youth hostels and emergency shelters to
accommodate the incoming hippie hordes. It was a constant struggle, with a
hostile administration led by a certifiably insane mayor named Tom Campbell,
who despised the counterculture, and potheads in particular.

Things came to an head in the summer of '71. Gastown was rapidly becoming a
major - read: loadsadough - tourist area, and the very idea of dirty,
dope-smoking hippies cluttering up the scenery and interfering with the flow
of commerce greatly riled the powers that were. The police pitched in with a
particularly odious bit of fascism called "Operation Dustpan," designed to
hassle and arrest pot users and street dealers from the area. Tactics ranged
from illegal searches of everyone found in certain bars, to mass arrests for
items such as roach clips and rolling papers, to deliberate trashing of
popular hangouts such as Goldie's Last Chance Saloon, where I personally
took my first toke.

To protest, the local wing of the Youth International Party - the "Yippies"
- - called a "Smoke-in" for Saturday, August 7. That night, a few hundred
freaks gathered in the heart of Gastown to smoke a ceremonial eight-foot
joint. More symbolic than practical, consisting primarily of wet leaves and
branches, it took forever to light. Thousands of curious tourists and
innocent bystanders paused to watch and join in the festivities. Traffic was
soon blocked in all directions, but most were partying too hard to notice,
or even care.

Suddenly, after a brief, half-hearted warning to disperse, the police went
berserk. A squad on horseback in full combat regalia charged down Water
Street and panic swept the crowd. Riot cops and undercover narcs suddenly
waded in with flailing nightsticks. When the melee subsided, dozens had been
arrested, and dozens more injured. According to unsubstantiated legend, one
woman suffered a miscarriage when a policeman on horseback chased her into a
crowded restaurant.

No cops were ever charged for the Gastown Riot, but months later, an
official inquiry by B.C. Superior Court Justice Mr Thomas Dohm blamed
protest organizers and city youth workers for "creating the climate of

This Is Your Brain On Drugs

Although people have been marching and protesting to end marijuana
prohibition for over 30 years, if U.S. policy makers have their way, they
will be marching 30 years from now.

The U.S. is the world's largest marijuana-consuming nation, but experts
agree that their government's paranoia remains the biggest single obstacle
to global marijuana reform.

No one can offer a rational explanation why this is so in the home of the
allegedly free and brave, but when it comes to this innocuous little herb,
official America definitely has a big bug up its butt. Long before Nancy
Reagan came along with her "zero tolerance" and bullshit war on drugs,
marijuana was considered a threat to life, liberty and the American way.

I can personally attest to its subversive properties.

Being young and foolish and a citizen of both the U.S. and Canada, I joined
the Canadian army at 17, and the American army three years later. In the
spring of 1966, I was stationed in New York City waiting to be discharged.
The antiwar movement was beginning to take hold and one seductive night in
the Village, a beautiful, long-haired nymph, smelling of patchouli lured me
to her room at Columbia University with promises of "great sex and good pot"
if only I would desert the army and go to Canada.

I was leaving the army anyhow, and planned to come home anyway so I declined
her proffered pot. As the war dragged on, Richard Nixon, Elvis and I came to
same conclusion: Drugs - particularly marijuana - did as much to undermine
the U.S. military's effort in Southeast Asia as the Viet Cong and Jane Fonda

In happy hindsight, the hippies were definitely on to something. Pot and the
peace movement worked extremely well together.

The War Continues

Today's marijuana advocates still face numerous obstacles, but they can at
least count on a wider support base from a more enlightened public. For the
first time in our nation's history, a clear majority favour scrapping the
marijuana laws altogether. Ailing pensioners and AIDS victims are of one
mind on the medical question, while recreational users, past and present,
are coming out of the closet, literally left and right. CCRAP leadership
candidate, Stockwell Day, is only the latest campaigning hopeful striving
for "hipness" by revealing his pot-puffing past.

I suspect he'll not be the last.

Things definitely seem to have changed for the better, but a word of caution
from an old soldier: Don't believe everything you read in the papers, or
anything you see on TV. While it is true that there have been some
significant and successful court challenges, and there even a goodly number
of sincere politicians seriously trying to change things, marijuana remains

Away from the safety of numbers - few arrests are expected at the Millennium
March; the cops are not that stupid - 10,000 Canadians will still be
arrested this year for marijuana possession. They will be handcuffed,
fingerprinted and photographed, then join the 600,000 other Canadians
branded with criminal records for the same indiscretion.

The war on drugs is not over by a long shot, and unbelievable as it sounds,
after all this time, they still take prisoners.

That's the real crime.
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