Cornwall ON – It’s almost time for 4:20 2011. There’s a tradition growing that people go to Parliament Hill to celebrate peacefully and help create debate about the legalization of Marijuana. Last year Spanner McNeil was present and this is a re-publication of his coverage from Cannabis Culture.
Could you imagine how fast we could clean up the Federal deficit if we legalized and taxed Marijuana?
Parliament Hill April 20, 2011- Drug crazed youth went wild in uncontrolled criminal mayhem on Parliament Hill. Thousands chanted, “Off the pigs.” Khaki clad youth held up copies of the Chairman’s little red book singing, ”Eat the rich.” Long haired bearded students wearing Karl Marx t-shirts were shouting,”Down with the system. Revolution now.” Women in white helmets made speeches on top of burning overturned police cars.
Riot squad buses formed a double line on Wellington Street while hundreds began trashing local banks. Five columns of shield wielding police waded into a crowd swinging their sticks all afternoon while black clad anarchists threw tear gas grenades back into police lines. Is that what you thought?
No. No it wasn’t that way at all.
The marijuana rally in Ottawa on Tuesday drew over seven thousand people with half of them on Parliament Hill and the other half at Major’s Hill Park. They were nestled in circles and semi-circles passing joints talking to friends and new acquaintances. They sat and lay all over the front lawn. They sat on the steps. They drank bottled water and rolled copious amounts of pot.
The 420 event drew lots of reporters. I kept meeting square shouldered people who wanted to know where the party leaders were. ‘Where were the organizers? Where is the boss? Who is the guy or the group who can take credit for this? Where is the leader?’
They were so frustrated. It was funny to watch their faces and drooping microphones. I felt a little sorry for them but we work for different media outlets so I couldn’t just give it away. I knew where the leader was. The big top secret leader was right over there. I took a picture. What a privilege. Three thousand leaders at once. Click.
I wanted to talk to them and I moved from picnic blanket to flag to lawn chair introducing myself, asking people why they were here and what this was all about. Pretty much everyone I could see or talk to was between eighteen and thirty.
A man answered me. “Anger management. Cures you of that pretty damn fast.”
“I smoke for the pure sensation of the high. I feel like a new age hippie. I do it to have fun. I smoke just to smoke.”
“Why keep it illegal? I know there would be taxes on it but they gonna help a lot of people on the street. Keep the heroin and crack and stuff off the streets but why keep the weed illegal?”
I noticed a big group sitting together. “There’s a bunch of us coming in from Hawkesbury. There will be more later. I’m the mom.” Laughter. A middle aged woman surrounded by twenty somethings introduced herself. “If it’s a crime spree why isn’t anyone doing anything about it? Look at the people, they aren’t doing anything bad.”
“I’m the mom and I don’t see these kids going berserk. I don’t see them drinking or doing hardcore drugs.”
“We’re here celebrating marijuana.”
“I think it’s fantastic here. It’s a nice day too. We’re from Arnprior. We came just for this event.”
I walked over to another group.
“I don’t want to be in on this.” One person said.
“We’re here to smoke weed. Four twenty, you know. Everyone is sitting down in the park.”
“I could go drinking and driving or I could sit at home, smoke a joint and eat.”
“I don’t want any pictures taken.”
“Here to celebrate 420, I guess. Good cause. If it was raining I probably wouldn’t be here.”
“How do you feel about Marc Emery’s extradition.” I asked.
“My geography sucks.” Laughter.
“We’re from Shawville.” Some had been to 420 before, some not.
There was a group of people erecting a small banner on the grounds. “Russel is our town. We just made a sign so everyone here from Russel will support our town. We know a lot of people. We’re asking people to sign the flag.”
“We had to find parking. We made a sign.”
A man reached for some rolling papers. “I kinda have this thing where I think one community or country will look at all the benefits it has and just mass produce it like fruit. It’ll sell like parsley at the grocery store. Cheap as tomatoes. Why not? You could sell it for very little actually.”
Always present, I asked security what they were doing here today, what they though might be going on and if they had a point of view.
“I don’t see anything. There’s not much going on around here. Just enjoying the weather. Thank you.”
A man held out his Marijuana Exemption Card. “I have a medical marijuana certificate. I’m a grower as well. It was a difficult process to go through. I had to go to different specialists, my family doctor to state my case. My case is different then most people in that I have P.T.S.D. I did over eight hundred autopsies, sometimes on people I knew. I get nightmares. It helps me so I can come out in public and be around people.”
“Why do people drink? Alcohol is a far more dangerous drug.” His friend said. Some had cirrhosis of the liver and it’s pretty obvious when you see the liver, so the alcohol does a lot more damage then pot will ever do to you. As well, there is a difference in the attitude change.”
“My oldest daughter is twenty two and the other is twenty. I’d rather have them smoke pot then drink.” Said a mom. There were several mothers on Parliament Hill watching over their broods.
“A peaceful protest will get you just as far as a non-peaceful. The non-peaceful gets you more or less bad publicity. Like last year when we were here the Tamil were outside the gate and they were on the edge of getting rowdy to not so they weren’t allowed on the Hill. We’re allowed on the Hill. We’re all sitting around smoking pot. No one is bugging us. You know I get my picture taken by the RCMP every year but you know I’m not doing anything wrong so. We’re just passive.”
“I know a lot of people at work who smoke but they’re professionals. They are afraid to say it. I’m a medical professional but I wouldn’t talk about this at work.”
“Why are people criminalized because they choose to smoke a joint? Prohibition does not work so the time has come for people to start thinking about this and engage in a rational and adult discussion. Mr. Harper talks about international drug cartels. I don’t want to be dealing with international drug cartels. Let me grow a little bit. You know, I’m not hurting anybody. And Ignatieff, his whole, ‘You may as well be pointing a gun at your head theory.’ That’s so old. That is so ridiculous. Time to move on.”
“I see some folks over there killing a couple of doughnuts.”
“Yeah, you know. Are they carrying guns? Are they starting a fight? I don’t think so. Everyone is sitting down. I’ve never seen such a quiet gathering.”
“Imagine if this was a liquor rally.”
“Oh, what’s going on over there?”
“Yeah, I was wondering.”
A fellow is wandering around yelling at people.
“Yeah. Several people pegged him for a provocateur. Sometimes zany people are steered and motivated into peaceful groups and rallys. Sometimes you need a bit of security so that speakers and people aren’t accosted. Because we’re such peaceful people sometimes we don’t think about that. A guy like that can sometimes create a problem.” A man said.
“There’s enough RCMP, secret service there and town cops and everything. We’re protected. I feel safe.”
“I’m not falling all over the place. I think I’m carrying on a good conversation.”
“We made it this far with our grey hair without causing any trouble.”
“Why can’t you sit at home relaxing and smoke a joint? As opposed to drinking a mickey and then puking. The whole thought about marijuana has to change.”
A man with a pony tail said. “The law making decisions all seem to be from one point of view. Both parties should get together and have some mutual agreement.”
“Yeah, well prohibition failed in the twenties with alcohol, right. So Al Capone and those boys came up here and produced it.”
I found another group of people sitting on a picnic blanket. “I’m gonna say that the most dangerous people in Canada to democracy might be people under thirty because they don’t vote and only conservatives vote. What do you think of that?”
“I think you’re right on the money in terms of that. I know that I only voted when I turned eighteen. Since then I didn’t vote.”
“Yeah uh…basically most of the people I know. Most people under thirty I know. People who smoke weed don’t vote. Pretty much untapped, that population of voter. I think it could be problematic for this government for sure.”
“How is it problematic for the government if they give everyone here minimum mandatory jail time?” I asked.
“Well I don’t know how they’d succeed in doing that today. I know there is some awareness of the coming crime bill. I personally have not done anything politically active so much more than sign a petition against that though.”
“Do you vote?” I asked another man.
“I haven’t voted since I started to take journalism at Algonquin College. I sort of gave up voting…but I’m getting more back into the news now. I think a lot of people are just real lazy. The current generation is sort of like in a trance with all the technology too. Everything is sort of like the push of a button. To wait in line just to put your name on a piece of paper in front of a government building? That’s probably not going to happen anyways. People don’t really want it. They just made the choice against it. A lot of people do. I mean when I turned eighteen I couldn’t wait to vote. Like, I went out right away. Municipal by-elections up in Thunderbay, where I live. But then I got a new take on things down here. I gave it up because I thought it would make me look partisan and because I didn’t really care all that much. People voting with my sort of views, well there are very few I would say.” His cell phone rings and some friends are going to get water and pop.
A small group was passing a bong. “I come here every year and I’ve yet to see one violent act.”
“There’s no teachers, nurses or professionals here today. None of them want to risk their job. Yet many medical personal are frequent users.”
“Oh. Right on.”
“Cannabis Culture!” They shout.
“We’re here to celebrate marijuana. The plant.”
A half dozen women sat back enjoying the sun. They were fearless. They were unphazed by a hundred loaded guns. Minister Nicholson was unable to confront these women, our first line of defense.
“It should be legal for a number of reasons. One, not all pot heads are criminals. It’s not a criminal thing. People don’t do it to be bad.”
“They waste our tax payer money.” A woman said. “They could be after real criminals to catch and punish.”
“Not pot heads. Pot heads are very unique people.”
“We’re trying to prove a point. Cannabis is part of our culture.”
The woman said. “If this was a group of alcoholics instead there would be fights and aggressiveness but people here are chilling.”
Alan said. “If this was a cocaine rally people wouldn’t sit down and just hang out, blow bubbles and laugh and play guitar. They’d be fighting. This is marijuana. It’s a plant.”
“Do you vote?” I asked.
“I vote.” A woman said.
The man said. “Yeah it’s true. In my riding it’s Conservative, highly Conservative and I don’t even vote because of everything. Because there is no point. My individual message doesn’t get anywhere in this world. Obviously it takes 4/20 on the Parliament to send an actual message to Parliament.”
They know the difference between the government and Parliament. I thought.
“You know why I want that legal?” Another man spoke. “Because I always wanted to work for the government. That’s right.”
“That’s right.” Another well groomed Ottawa University student nodded his head. “I want a government job.”
“I think you’re on to a great idea to bring sleeping bags. I think everybody should work on that.” A woman said to her friend.
Another group of a half dozen or so waved and said hello. “I feel I’m being given respect for being here.” Said a student. “We’re from Ottawa U.”
“Do you vote?” I asked.
“It would be my first time but I will.”
“I will.” Said one woman.
“I will.” Said another.
“What are you studying?”
“Crime and Justice.”
One of the students said, “What people do to themselves is their own business. The law should fit what people’s behavior is. Our law should be focused around what people do and not what the government thinks we should do, so as far as smoking weed they should meet us in the middle you know? So they should focus the laws around peoples’ behavior and not the governments’ morals, I guess.”
A woman said. “You know how cannabis is useful for a lot of things? You could save so many forests by using hemp to make paper and other things we use plastic for. It doesn’t turn yellow like other paper.”
“The government shouldn’t care about which company has difficulty adjusting and responding to the hemp industry. Like they are still going to get to tax the newer companies coming up.”
“It will work out. Taxes.”
“My dad is in the government. I’m not going to say where. But like, my dad doesn’t partake in any of this.”
“Here’s a thing. A friend of mine is a social worker, ok and she works with a lot of these crack heads and heroin addicts that are detoxing and stuff. Sometimes they need to smoke just to calm down. But not all social workers are trained to say, ‘Hey, smoke a joint.’ That’s frowned upon but some would say yes.”
“All the news is out there on the social network. I don’t see what’s offensive about smoking weed.”
“I need a paramedic. I’m out of filter paper.”
A group of people were waving a large flag. “Sign our flag. We’re advocating the legalization of marijuana.” People come by and sign.
“There’s been studies done where people put hash oil on their skin and it helps with cancer and medication. They use hemp for lipstick.”
“Everybody smoking up.” Laughter. The Hill is a buzz with people talking and laughing. At 4:20 pm there is are a couple of big cheers and a massive fog of smoke floats over.
“The world is changing. Come on it’s not a hurtful thing. Have a job, look after yourself, smoke a joint.”
“It should be controlled just like liquor, eighteen and up. You can make decisions at eighteen.”
“People need to have more acceptance. I make a lot of friends through pot. We could be friends.”
“I’d like to grow one big plant in my yard every year.”
I asked about Marc Emery.
He grabbed his hat. “If my friend Devin was here he would like totally own this topic. I can’t really say anything. I hear him talk about the Prince of Pot all the time. Devin was just in Vancouver for the Olympics. He met a lot of people there.”
“What’s going on in the other park?”
“There’s just as many people.”
I spoke with Ron as he looked over the crowd. “Over the years we’ve never had any violence. No ones’ really demonstrating so I don’t know who’s doing this. This happened last year as well. They just show up on 4/20. I think this is just continuing to grow. They’re saying this is where I want to be. This is the capital of Canada. This is Parliament Hill.”
Ron continued. ”I was here when the first Medical Pot license was given out to Jean Charles Parizeau. I was in the Senate that day when it was passed by Allen Rock. I ran the first Compassion Club here in Ottawa. I ran it out of my home for five years. I encouraged a lot of my members to get licenses. After awhile it got a little over whelming.”
I said.” I’m concerned that a message will go out there that you have to be sick to smoke marijuana.”
“I work with a lot of people. I do a lot of energy healing and the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to do is tell somebody why they were smoking pot and it was a mistake. I felt awful afterwords, I thought I should have just let them continue to smoke pot whether it’s healing them, whether it’s helping them for what ever reason. I kinda felt bad that I was telling them it was medicinal. And one day Mike looked at me and he pointed the finger and he said, ‘You medicinal guys are going to get this legalized for us.’ He said it in anger you know…” He laughed. “I saved the first legal cannabis garden from going to seed because the first legal grower Jean-Charles had a male plant growing. He had the plants on a lawn mower he would wheel in and out on the balcony to get sun. I very carefully got a green garbage bag, covered it and got it away.” Ron looked at the lawn covered in people. “We started this seventeen years ago with a hundred people.”
There were bongos, guitars and the Peace Tower bell going off. The Hill had a festive ambiance in a low key casual kind of sun glasses way.
Melanie spoke. “I think there are more important things to focus on like getting the real bad people, educating. I don’t like see anyone beating anyone up. Everyone seems pretty at peace. My daughter is fifteen years old so I’ve talked to her about it. We’ve smoked a joint. We did it in a safe environment and talked about how it’s not always the safe thing to do. I don’t think there’s a lot of education for students, just a lot of don’t do it. There’s no real talk about it.”
A man in his late sixties said, “There are more people here today then were here for the Prorogation Rally. If you could only get these people to vote.”
At about five o’clock, towards the end of the day, a woman walking from The Hill between the podium and the flame, collapsed and hit her head on the central sidewalk to lay motionless. People stood around unsure what to do. A woman said, “I heard her head crack when she hit the concrete. She’s knocked out cold.” A boy/girl team reached for their cell phones. A casually dressed stranger came running through the crowd and leaned in to the inert body.” She shouted. “It’s ok, I’m a nurse.” I wanted to take her photo and credit her but I didn’t want this Ottawa hero nurse to get fired for trying to save someone’s life. The laws against prohibition are more dangerous than the smoke itself. Medical Services arrived in five minutes by my watch.
The brave and the bold are a government’s best friend. They are not the enemy.
The bravest and the boldest were outside the House sitting in the sun looking in while the shy and guilty blinked in the dark. The mob was not trying to crash a door or tear down a fence but to hold down the ground. Tens of thousands across the country, hundreds of thousands across the world trafficked and dealt marijuana by passing a joint from one hand to another while Justice Minister Rob Nicholson beefed up his crime bill from behind the recessed doors of a discredited Parliament. Nicholson’s bill calls for mandatory prison time for marijuana offences.
The Toronto Hash Mob took over the Province of Toronto, while Vancouver erupted in smoke, Montreal waxed bucolic on Mount Royal and London moved to a polite reggae beat. Winnipeg had its own indictable sit down. That’s historical. That’s amazing.
There were tens of thousands April 20th and more to come yet. It’s a day and age of digital photography. A generation around the world is clearly outing themselves in full knowledge of facial recognition technology. Are these the people that Prime Minister Harper and his international counterparts plan on smearing in future political and professional life? Can this wall be taken down?
The buck stops on the front lawn. There was a funny moment at the podium when a fellow grabbed a megaphone and tried to turn the event elsewhere using the 9/11 question. He gave up after a few minutes. See. They are their own leaders on the pot issue. One of the biggest problems this indictable crowd would have in accepting a single leader on the issue is that the use of marijuana crosses all economic, political, spiritual and social boundaries. The prohibition of marijuana creates, maintains and widens the political cleavage between the current political elite and the coming elite on the front lawn.
This was a group of adults rich in their moderate views, expectations, influence, diction, grace, poise and they have day jobs wearing suits. They are going someplace. The weakest of them turn their backs on a hundred guns. Now what?
This country and this Parliament will do well to rapidly fill up with the bold and the brave. The new world order is five hundred feet from the front door. You can see that smoking or not smoking.
Video from 4:20 in Ottawa 2010