Pubdate: Mon, 26 Nov 2012
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Copyright: 2012 The Ottawa Citizen
Author: Ilana Belfer
Page: C3


'Gradually, we will win,' says B.C.'S Ted Smith

Riding the wave of what some are calling a "cannabis spring," B.C.
marijuana activist Ted Smith brought his "Hempology 101" convention to
the Ottawa Public Library's central branch Sunday.

Smith, on his first tour beyond his home province, where he has held
similar events for a dozen years, said successful legalization votes
in the states of Colorado and Washington have given new energy to the

"There's a certain momentum happening that has never occurred before,"
he said.

The Ottawa event, like all stops on his tour, including Halifax,
Sackville, N.B., and Toronto, featured local speakers, including
activists, scholars and public figures.

"The goal is to plant the seed," said Smith, who hopes to see more and
more campus clubs "sprout up" at universities.

Russell Barth, a public marijuana activist in Ottawa for 10 years,
spoke at the event and said he has noticed a shift in public
perception over time.

"In 2002 or 2003, when you talked about medical marijuana people would
purse their lips, roll their eyes and go, ' Oh, yeah, sure.' Now you
talk to a stranger on the bus and they go, 'Oh, yeah, I've heard good
things about that'. "

Still, Barth said the city has a long way to go, compared to Toronto
or Vancouver.

"Ottawa's not quite as hip as it likes to think," he said. "There's a
lot of pot people, but not that many who want to put their names out
there to change laws."

At the federal level, Smith said the wave of optimism within the
pro-pot lobby is somewhat stymied by the Conservative government.

On Nov. 6, the same day marijuana was legalized in the two U.S.
states, mandatory minimum sentencing came into effect in Canada for
the trafficking, import, export and production of marijuana as part of
Bill C-10, the Conservatives' Safe Streets and Communities Act.

Nevertheless, Eugene Oscapella, a lawyer and criminology professor at
the University of Ottawa, told the crowd that progressive moves in the
U.S. may have some Canadian influence.

"Traditionally, the Canadian federal government has relied on the
excuse =C2=85 (that) 'Even if we want to change the law, we really can't 
anything because the United States won't let us.' That was true under
Bush =C2=85 but that is no longer the case," he said. "With Obama in his
second term, there's at least greater hope that there's room for
manoeuvring in Canada that there wasn't before."

Oscapella said one potentially successful form of activism would be
for lawyers to plead their clients not guilty in all marijuana cases.

"About 90 per cent of all criminal cases are resolved by guilty plea,"
he said. "If we took all those drug cases and pleaded not guilty, the
criminal justice system would become so constipated that no amount of
ex-lax would help it."

The qualm about that plan, he said, would be the ethical issue for
lawyers, because not every client would benefit from such a plea.

Whatever the path, Barth said he is prepared for a long

"What I see coming in the future is much like the civil rights

"There will never be a moment where we can declare freedom. There's
always going to be someone who says we don't deserve freedom and it's
going to keep going back and forth."

At the same time, with a room full of people supporting his cause and
the lingering odour of pot wafting through the air, he saw hope.

"Gradually," he said, "we will win."
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