Pubdate: Sun, 06 May 2001
Source: Montreal Gazette (CN QU)
Copyright: 2001 The Gazette, a division of Southam Inc.
Author: Catherine Solyom The Gazette; AP contributed to this report


Legalization Goal Of Million Man Marijuana March

There was something sweet in the air yesterday and it wasn't just spring.

As the Million Man Marijuana March meandered through town at high noon, 
glassy-eyed Montrealers cheered for legalization and set aside the 
fleur-de-lis in favour of a pointy green leaf.

Without a doubt, it was the happiest demonstration in recent history.

"It's a simple message. I love cannabis," said Ted Jackson, smiling broadly 
as he sported a giant velvet leaf on his head. "And if we legalize it, we 
can help people who are suffering from all kinds of illnesses and save a 
lot of money in law enforcement."

The "law" was all but invisible yesterday, with just a handful of police 
clearing the way along Mount Royal Ave. and Saint Denis St. toward downtown.

The only victims of violence were the balloons that occasionally got too 
close to one of the many joints being passed through the crowd.

The lack of a police presence is a sign that things are evolving, said 
Marc-Boris St-Maurice, the head of the federal Marijuana Party, which 
organized the third annual event.

"People don't feel like they are sitting ducks any more, just waiting to be 
arrested, like when we used to have smoke-ins in the park 10 years ago. The 
police have evolved.

"Now they are more concerned with fixing the route and controlling traffic 
than with civil disobedience and marijuana use.

"That's a big step forward."

But the issue of marijuana's murky legal status has not been resolved, 
St-Maurice said.

With one million smokers in Canada and only 4,000 arrests for possession 
every year, the odds are that most people will never be arrested, he said.

But leaving it up to police discretion is far from ideal, he contended, 
because officers can ignore the law when it's convenient and apply it when 
it's not.

St-Maurice should know. He and another party member are currently in court 
facing charges of possession and trafficking dating back to a police raid 
on the Compassion Club in February last year. The two find themselves in 
legal limbo, awaiting the testimony of Health Canada researchers in a 
Montreal court on May 14.

While the medicinal value of marijuana has been recognized by doctors - and 
judges - across the country, and patients with certain illnesses have 
received exemptions from the law prohibiting its use, the growing and 
distribution of the plant by groups like the Compassion Club remain illegal.

St-Maurice had good and bad things to say about Health Minister Allan 
Rock's proposal on April 13 to rectify the situation: "It's a valiant 
attempt, but it's so far off the mark. We think a doctor's recommendation 
should be the only criterion, but the federal government's regulation 
includes 27 pages of bureaucratic loops to jump through. That's not fair 
for patients. We already have a solution and it's called the Compassion 
Club, but the government makes no mention of it."

Carrying signs that read "Intelligence is cultivated" and "Educate, don't 
incarcerate," marchers said they wanted legalization, pure and simple, not 
a government bureaucracy to control who grows what where.

A few interesting ideas on how the government could turn a profit from 
legalization drifted out of the haze.

"They should sell it in depanneurs, just like they sell beer," said 
Francois Marceau, following a boom box blaring hip-hop and reggae music 
down the street. "If you consider that 72 per cent of Quebecers have smoked 
marijuana, the government could make a lot of money just from taxes."

Another merry marcher said the government should set up SPQ outlets - 
Societe du Pot du Quebec - and sell marijuana to people 18 and over.

"Instead, it's the Hells Angels making multimillion-dollar profits," he 
said, "just like the Mafia made its fortune during Prohibition in the 1920s."

The march ended around 3 p.m., giving way to the "Cannabis Cup" - a series 
of concerts in the park at the corner of de Maisonneuve Blvd. and St. 
Urbain St.

Local band Loco Locass summed up the atmosphere. "Last time we saw this 
much smoke was in Quebec City, and that wasn't so much fun," the lead 
singer said, passing around a joint of his own.

In New York, several thousand people marched through lower Manhattan 
yesterday to protest against laws criminalizing marijuana use.

The parade route was lined with police officers. No arrests were reported.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom