Pubdate: Mon, 22 Apr 2013
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Copyright: 2013 The Ottawa Citizen
Author: Kathryn May
Page: 13


OTTAWA - A fog gathered over Parliament Hill as 10,000 pot-smoking
Canadians lit up for 4/20 Day, the annual counterculture pot party,
which turned into a political rally to put the legalization of
marijuana on the national agenda.

The cold and wind slowed the crowd. A couple of hundred arrived by
early afternoon, huddled in circles on the front lawn of Parliament
Hill under the watch of dozens of RCMP who looked the other way as
they smoked. But by time the climatic countdown to 4:20 p.m. began,
the crowd had grown to 10,000 people and the air was thick with smoke,
the smell of marijuana and the beat of Peter Tosh's "Legalize It".

For organizers, the only disappointment was when Canadian funnymen and
marijuana icons Ricky, Julian and Bubbles of Trailer Park Boys' fame
didn't show up to lead the countdown. They were in Ottawa to shoot
their latest and third movie - as close as nearby Sparks Street - and
organizers had hoped to they would make an appearance.

Otherwise, the crowd smoked, sang, danced, cheered and screamed "vote"
whenever asked what they could do change Canada's marijuana laws. And
rallying the crowd to get people out to vote was Precious Chong,
daughter of Canadian comedian and stoner icon from the standup duo,
Cheech and Chong. She called herself the 'Justin Trudeau of
marijuana', stepping in to fill her father's shoes to help fight for
the decriminalization of marijuana.

She told the story of when she was a child and her family's home was
raided. Her mother tried to downplay it to her daughter, reassuring
her the pound of marijuana they found wasn't that much. She told her
it was like having a "pound of flour or a pound of coffee" and this
was a pound of marijuana. The crowd cheered.

(Another group planning a Parliament Hill protest Saturday, busloads
of Egyptian Copt Christians and their families, decided to move their
demonstration down the Hill to the U.S. embassy on Sussex Drive.)

There were big changes afoot at this year's pot party. Activists,
fired up with the success of two U.S. states legalizing marijuana this
year and an infusion of cash from a long-time activist who won the
lottery, turned this year's event into a rally to mobilize the
thousands of youth who make up most of the crowd.

Kyle Walton, one of the organizers of this year's 4/20 Day, said the
drive to legalize marijuana has reached a tipping point where it is no
longer a fringe issue. This is the first time the Ottawa event had
speakers and a 'policy' luncheon. All the federal political parties
were invited but only the Liberals and Young Greens showed.

"We trying to get away from the image of people coming to Parliament
Hill to smoke pot to people coming to Parliament Hill to change laws,"
said Walton.

"This is a new approach. We are here smoking cannabis on Parliament
Hill to show how absurd the law is when thousands of people on the
steps of the nation's capital can openly break the law in front the

RCMP=C2=85 and most people will agree prohibition doesn't work. We don't
want this event to be a bunch of people smoking pot on the Hill for a
day for next 30 or 40 years. We want every year to a be a year closer
to legalization."

The momentum began when the states of Washington and Colorado voted
last November to legalize marijuana.

The movement got further momentum when Bob Erb, a British Columbia
construction worker and long-time pot smoker and activist, won
$25-million lottery jackpot and promised to donate at least $1 million
of the $25-million to kickstart a legalization movement by time the
next federal election comes around in 2015.

The Ottawa event got $10,000 of the $125,000 Erb pumped into the
dozens of 4/20 events staged across the country on Saturday. He plowed
$60,000 into web design, $60,000 into accommodation, $40,000 into
merchandizing hats and buttons and more into advertising.

Andrea Matrosovs of NORML Women's Alliance of Canada is a regular on
Parliament Hill, lobbying MPs and Senators about the issue and "we
never get turned down for a meeting." A non-user and former school
teacher, she said the movement got another push when the Liberals
passed a resolution at its January convention to legalize and regulate

So far, the Conservative government has been moving in the opposite
direction with stricter six-month mandatory minimum sentences for
anyone who grows six or more marijuana plants.

Colorado and Washington are among the 18 states with medical marijuana
laws but they became the first in the United States to approve its use
for recreational purposes and treat small amounts of pot like alcohol
or tobacco. A similar amendment in Oregon failed but is expected to
return to the ballot.

Many argue they should be the template for Canada.

Lawyer Joshua Kappel, who helped write Colorado's amendment, said the
law will let law enforcement focus on larger and organized crime and
taxing marijuana will generate millions of dollars in new revenues for
the government. He said the campaign that began eight years ago ended
with compromises that won the support of 55 per cent of voters - more
than those who voted for President Obama in Colorado.

Under the new law, marijuana is sold retail, possession is limited to
one ounce, users must be over the age of 21 and public consumption is
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