Pubdate: Thu, 20 Apr 2017
Source: Georgia Straight, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2017 The Georgia Straight
Author: Travis Lupick
Page: 12


With Canada now well on its way to legal recreational marijuana, what
is there left for activists to protest at Vancouver's annual 4/20 event?

Plenty, according to organizers of the massive gathering, which is
scheduled to happen this Thursday (April 20) at Sunset Beach in the
city's West End.

In a telephone interview, Canada's most prominent advocate for
marijuana reform, Jodie Emery, was highly critical of legislation the
Liberal government tabled in Parliament on April 13.

"It is prohibition 2.0," she told the Georgia Straight. "It is not
legalization. It is a continuation of the kind of criminalization that
we've seen before, with the introduction of even harsher laws that
will victimize even more peaceful Canadians."

Emery said that this year's 4/20 event is therefore about getting
people involved in aspects of the legalization process that still
remain to be determined.

"The provincial governments and city governments will be drafting a
lot of the actual details, so we have to start reaching out to our
elected officials there and telling them the truth about cannabis,"
she explained.

If passed into law, the Liberal government's Cannabis Act will make it
legal for people to purchase and possess up to 30 grams of marijuana
(as long as it is produced by a company authorized by the federal
government). It would also permit individuals to grow up to four
plants in their home.

Dana Larsen said that's the good news. In a separate interview, the
former vice president of the Canadian Association of Cannabis
Dispensaries added that just about everything else in the Liberals'
plan is bad news. For example, Larsen said, the proposed laws provide
for prison sentences for anyone caught giving even a small amount of
weed to a friend under the age of 18. They also make it a crime to
smoke a joint that was rolled with marijuana that was not grown by a
company approved for production by Ottawa.

"Unless you grow it yourself or you buy it legally, even possession is
still banned," Larsen continued. "There are no comparable laws for
alcohol or tobacco where they restrict the ownership of your alcohol
like that."

Larsen asked why the Liberals have proposed jail time for people who
break the rules with marijuana while similar offences with alcohol or
tobacco only result in fines.

"I would actually be happy if they just took all the alcohol rules and
laid them on to cannabis," he said. "I believe that the rules should
be less severe for cannabis, because it is so much safer than alcohol.
But as a term of public policy, I understand."

In a separate interview, Kirk Tousaw, an Abbotsford-based lawyer who
specializes in drug crimes, said that because it is widely understood
that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol, these tougher penalties
for weed simply don't make sense.

"That is just out of whack with what any rational system of government
regulation should want to do," he said. "You should want to penalize
offences involving the more dangerous substances more harshly, not
less harshly."

In October 2015, when Justin Trudeau was still a candidate on the
campaign trail, the Straight published an in-depth report on the
competing Liberal and NDP plans for marijuana reform. It noted that
during the first six months of that year, only 327 people spent time
inside a B.C. Corrections institution for a drug crime.

However, an additional 1,069 British Columbians were convicted of a
drug offence but were given probation or released on a conditional
sentence. A number of people interviewed who fell into that category
told the Straight stories of how their names were entered into
computer systems that complicated things like international travel and
job applications.

Tousaw warned that under the Liberals' framework for legalization,
people will continue being arrested for marijuana and will be stuck
with records that could haunt them for decades.

"It seems very clear that the government is committed to retaining
significant criminal penalties, including the prospect of lengthy
prison terms for cannabis-related activities that fall outside of the
fairly narrow confines of what is going to be legalized," he said.
"There is no reason that a Canadian with 31 grams of cannabis should
face a criminal record and the possibly of being fined or going to
jail because they are one gram over some arbitrary number."

Larsen emphasized that as long as people are going to prison for
marijuana, Vancouver's 4/20 festival is a demonstration against laws
he described as unjust.

"It remains a protest," he said. "Anyone who thought that this was
going to be a big celebration and that we have nothing left to protest
anymore, they are very wrong."
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