Pubdate: Fri, 21 Apr 2017
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2017 Times Colonist
Author: Michael D. Reid
Page: A3


Flying a Canadian flag in celebration, Barrett Blackwood reflected on
a time when the prospect of hundreds of pot smokers gathering in
Centennial Square to collectively partake would have been out of the

"This is unprecedented to me, to be here and see no police," said
Blackwood, 43. "When I first came here [from Nanaimo] in 1980, you
couldn't come to this square and have a cigarette, let alone a joint.
The police station was right there [on Fisgard street] and they'd come
through the parkade and shoo you away."

Blackwood was among several hundred people who gathered at Centennial
Square on Thursday for the annual "4-20" celebration of pot - on April
20 at 4:20 p.m. The origin of the international gathering and its
timing is lost to the haze of history.

He was accompanied by his son Ben, 23, and Princess Chica, his tiny
cream-coloured chihuahua. "She's here to support our 4-20 friendly
mayor and wants to campaign for her re-election," he said, noting
Chica, one of many dogs in the crowd, is a cannabis advocate with a
Twitter account and 1,000 followers.

Centennial Square was a sea of colour with a happy vibe, attracting
people of all ages, wearing cannabis costumes, 4-20 buttons, waving
flags and releasing bubbles. It was a very orderly crowd, said
Footprints Security guard Henriette Fraik. "There have been no
problems at all. Everything's been beautiful," she said as the crowd
thinned out at 5 p.m.

"Ironically, the biggest problems in the past were from a couple of
people who were drinking," said cannabis activist Bill Stewart.

Thursday's crowd, in addition to being high on pot, was high on the
news that the federal government wants to make recreational use of
marijuana legal by July 2018.

"The fact we've finally done this is in itself a tremendous victory,
and they've recognized the right to grow at home," said Stewart, who
uses cannabis to help him cope with chronic pain in his hip and right
knee, which he has suffered since being struck by a pickup truck. "The
grow conditions are ludicrous but it's a start."

Josh Touchie, 23, said it didn't surprise him that there didn't appear
to be much of a police presence. "They have bigger concerns with other
drugs around they need to focus on like fentanyl, drugs that are
killing people," said Touchie, who uses cannabis to control seizures
arising from his brain tumour.

One of the most colourful characters was Carol Francey, 68, a retired
schoolteacher. Dressed like a green giant marijuana plant leaf in a
brown pot, she wandered through the crowd wishing participants a
"Happy 4-20!" and handing out colourful stickers.

"I've been involved with families my whole life and I know that
cannabis is less harmful, of course, than alcohol and it unifies the
community. This is a great community and it's an opportunity to come
out and lessen the stigma and allow people to be themselves and make a
wiser choice in many ways."
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