HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html At Last, the Toke Can Be Told
Pubdate: Mon, 15 Jul 2002
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Page: A15
Copyright: 2002, The Globe and Mail Company
Author: William Thorsell
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


You don't want to rat on your friends, but conscience calls: A friend of 
mine used to smoke pot, a criminal act in Canada. And friends of his used 
to grow pot for their own convenience and resale to the neighbours. Now 
that Britain is loosening the reins on all this, and Canada may follow, the 
awful truth can be told.

My friend lived in Edmonton in the early 1970s, sharing a house with some 
pals on a street lined with former schoolmates and lovers. Other than 
smoking marijuana, there was no illegal activity among the tribe.

Okay, they probably went over the legal limit on alcohol when driving 
sometimes, and occasionally shared a beer with someone under 18 at their 
fabulous dance parties. But Pierre Trudeau had taken the state out of the 
bedrooms of the nation by then, so socially unapproved sex between two 
consenting adults in private was no longer a matter for the police. It was 
bourgeois heaven.

Getting a buzz off marijuana was the only real criminal act du jour, and my 
friends took it quite seriously, because people sometimes ended up in jail 
for taking a toke. So out came the wet towels.

My friends prepared for smoking by drawing the shades and running the bath. 
They would soak their towels and lay them along the bottom of the doors and 
window sills, so the scent of pot would not drift into the winter night and 
the nostrils of Edmonton's perambulating finest. The lights would dim and 
the music would swell (I am told) as marijuana was passed around, and young 
men's and women's fancies turned to plots of love in the happy haze of 
gentle intoxication.

(Back at the parents' parties, meanwhile, dads high on Canadian Club were 
patting bums, and moms soaked in Beefeater gin were slurring insinuations.)

Much of the marijuana came from a "farm" across the alley -- the attic of a 
sexy young couple who tended their crop under lights for pleasure and 
lucre. My friends would visit the place, climbing up a rope ladder in the 
hall to marvel (I am told) at the sophisticated agricultural scene.

Fluorescent bulbs flooded the attic with appropriate light, while little 
hoses dripped into trays that incubated plants and led eventually to drying 
chambers, where mature stalks hung upside down to age and deliver their 

It was scandalous.

But my friends thrilled at the criminality of it all, while holding the 
criminality in contempt, and enjoyed their pot as much as they did their 
Mateus rose and Bon White (a courageous "wine" produced by the Hudson's Bay 
Co. and sold in jugs).

Mr. Trudeau's government flirted with ending the disarray through 
recommendations of a royal commission to decriminalize pot, but the law was 
not officially changed.

With Mr. Trudeau's blessing, we entered the land of wink and nod: The 
police stopped pretending that possession was a major crime -- except when 
they wanted to bust somebody, which gave the police a lovely degree of 
arbitrary discretion. And the politicians travelled to that most excellent 
of locations for them -- the appearance of seeming earnest but being 
unserious about something that was easier to indulge than accept.

So my friends continued to break a law that had lost its balls if not its 
swagger, and the wet towels were saved for more interesting uses.

In Britain last week, Tony Blair tiptoed through the tulips to define 
possession of pot as a Class C drug, analagous to anabolic steroids and 
anti-depressants (athletes often need both). If the bobbies wish to raise 
themselves to prosecute the consumption of marijuana, they can issue the 
equivalent of a traffic ticket. This places pot in that purgatory of 
officially acknowledged equivocation, like prostitution, which satisfies 
the need to express disapproval while admitting impotence in the face of 
mass enjoyment.

My friends tell me they still take a toke from time to time, despite their 
middle age and the rift in the equation between getting high and having 
sex. I am told that wondrous insights and silly wonders are still enjoyed 
under the moonlight with the provocation of pot from time to time.

Terrible. But what can you do about your friends -- que sera, sera. You 
have seen them through so many fillips, foibles and fibrillations over the 
years. So you stick by them in their criminality, in Canada at least, 
drawing no police attention to their inhalations, while praying that their 
exhortations don't wake the neighbours.

It would be almost disappointing if Canada were to act sensibly by equating 
pot to alcohol, thereby depriving my friends of one of the only little 
thrills remaining to them -- but it should. It's time my friends grew up.

William Thorsell is president and CEO of the Royal Ontario Museum.
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