Pubdate: Mon, 18 Apr 2016
Source: London Free Press (CN ON)
Copyright: 2016 The London Free Press
Author: Dale Carruthers


Pro-marijuana activists hope the prime minister's pledge to legalize 
pot stops London police from cracking down on this week's so-called 
420 demonstration.

Wednesday marks the first 420 event, a global movement held each 
April 20 to celebrate cannabis culture and push for its legalization, 
since Justin Trudeau took office promising to liberalize Canada's pot law.

In last year's throne speech, the new federal Liberal government 
vowed to legalize, regulate and restrict access to marijuana.

While their counterparts in other Canadian cities like Toronto and 
Ottawa turn a blind eye to public puffing at the gatherings, London 
police have had a zero-tolerance approach for the past five years, 
arresting and charging anyone who takes a toke at Victoria Park.

"It would seem reasonable to tolerate the event as most other police 
forces do," said London 420 organizer Eric Shepperd.

Last year, more than a dozen officers kept close watch on protesters 
who gathered near the park bandshell, even bringing a large mobile 
surveillance camera to record the demonstration. When the clock 
struck 4:20 p.m., a man carrying a medical-marijuana licence took a 
hit from a pipe and was promptly arrested by police, who said his 
paperwork had expired.

Before 2011, hundreds of people flocked to Victoria Park and openly 
smoked marijuana on April 20.

But that changed when former police chief Brad Duncan took over, 
replacing predecessor Murray Faulkner.

"I think it was just the optics of having a thousand people in the 
park, in 2010, smoking marijuana," Shepperd said of the ensuing 
crackdown, calling it "a reactionary move."

Critics have blasted the heavy-handed approach, saying it's a waste 
of police resources.

It's unclear what the police will do Wednesday.

"It's still an illegal activity." a police spokesperson said when 
asked if the zero-tolerance policy on marijuana use will be enforced.

Under Canadian law, marijuana is considered a controlled substance.

Hundreds of people are expected to attend the London demonstration. 
Weather has played a major factor in crowd size during past years, 
but forecasters are calling for sunny skies and a daytime high of 18 
C Wednesday.

Marijuana has been a divisive issue since Trudeau made the election 
promise to legalize the drug, a move that could create up to $5 
billion in tax revenues, according to a recent report from CIBC World Markets.

But it's not about creating a cash cow, Trudeau has said, and that 
all revenues will be used to address mental-health and addictions issues.

The Liberals have tapped former Toronto police chief Bill Blair, now 
an MP for Scarborough Southwest, to play a lead role in the 
legalization process. 
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