Pubdate: Tue, 18 Apr 2017
Source: London Free Press (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 The London Free Press
Author: Dale Carruthers
Page: A3


The vibe at this year's 420 rally in London will be more celebration
than demonstration.

Hundreds of marijuana activists plan to gather Thursday at Victoria
Park for the yearly event that champions cannabis culture and pushes
for the drug's legalization.

Held on April 20 in cities across North America, the event comes on
the heels of the federal government introducing its long-awaited
legislation to legalize and regulate marijuana for recreational use.

With pot set to be legal next year, combined with last year's
hands-off police approach at Victoria Park, London organizers say
they're expecting the largest turnout in recent years.

"The 420 event is about normalization," organizer Eric Shepperd said.
"It's not just dirty hippies that smoke marijuana. It's older people,
it's business people, it's academics - all sorts of people use
cannabis in a responsible and active way."

London police have taken an inconsistent approach to policing the

Prior to 2011, when Murray Faulkner was the city's top cop, hundreds
packed Victoria Park and openly smoked marijuana.

But police took a different stance for the next five years, under the
leadership of then-chief Brad Duncan, who dispatched dozens of
officers to the downtown park to arrest and charge anyone caught
sparking up.

Last year, with Chief John Pare at the helm and Prime Minister Justin
Trudeau pledging to legalize marijuana, 420 participants were again
left to smoke in peace.

"That's the reasonable thing to do," Shepperd said. "There's no risk
to public safety. There's no real point to heavy-handed policing."

A London police spokesperson said she couldn't comment.

Paul Whitehead, a Western University sociology professor emeritus who
specializes in criminology, said he expects police will have a
presence at the park Thursday, but he doubts they'll arrest anyone for
smoking pot.

"What they'll look for, is for it to be a peaceful day," he

Event organizers say they welcome non-marijuana users to Victoria
Park, where they can meet and speak with medicinal and recreational

"People can just experience what people who use cannabis are like,"
Shepperd said. "With this social change that's going to be happening
as part of legalization, now is the time to be having a nationwide
conversation about cannabis and drug use in general."

The Liberal government tabled legislation last Thursday to end the
country's pot prohibition, a vow Trudeau made during his 2015 campaign.

Under the proposal: adults could possess and share as much as 30 grams
of marijuana; users could grow as many as four pot plants or buy their
product from provincially regulated retailers; and provinces would
decide how pot is sold and distributed, along with the legal age for

The proposed legislation would crack down on anyone caught providing
cannabis to a minor - a new offence that would carry a maximum 14-year
sentence - and drug-impaired driving. Many details still have to be
revealed, including how pot would be taxed, before the drug is
legalized by July 2018.

Some cannabis crusaders, including Shepperd, are critical of the
legislation, saying it's too prohibitive. They also question how
police will enforce a zero-tolerance policy for driving under the
influence of marijuana, a drug that can stay in your system for weeks.

"These things need adjusting, otherwise we're just going to end in
another form of prohibition," Shepperd said. "Now is when the real
fight actually begins."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt