Daniel Greig

Spirits were high at the 17th Global Marijuana March in Queens Park in Toronto. The gathering marks an end to the “High Holidays”, which unofficially began on April 20th at Dundas Square for 420. This year’s march was a first for me and in spite of the underlying political tension that unfolded, the overall atmosphere was one of celebration. Acoustic guitars and bongos were abundant, though certainly not in numbers comparable to the elaborate marijuana mechanisms that smoked, vaporized and tailored optimal digestion of THC in every conceivable way. Cannabis was sold openly throughout Queens Park North in a variety of forms, from edibles to dabs. Marijuana themed superheroes were common, with a special appearance by “Peter Parkour” who showed up at the CSSDP table to discuss one of the ever-present topics of the day: decriminalization vs. legalization.

 

Though there was more or less consensus on the simple fact that current marijuana policy in Canada is inadequate and harmful, the views on how to make reform happen and what it would look like when accomplished were diverse. Advocates of decriminalization are quick to claim that prices would rise unreasonably if cannabis were to become legal, while the positive effects of full regulation, such as preventing easy access of psychoactive substances to developing brains was a convincing stance taken by many a legalization enthusiast. Undoubtedly, either option is better than the present state of affairs. While the legal nuance of cannabis policy was a topic of casual conversation, differences in how to go about effectively implementing changes of any kind turned out to be the source of a much more apparent and literal divide.

Marc Emery returned to Toronto as the Grand Marshall of the Global Marijuana March, accompanied by Jodie Emery to speak to the present and future state of cannabis culture and activism. Though there were many that were excited for the return of the Emerys, their presence was a point of contention. Some claimed that Marc Emery has outgrown his title as “Prince of Pot” after controversial statements at this year’s 420 Vancouver celebration about youth and cannabis, as well racist remarks at the annual conference hosted by CSSDP.

Making such claims as having smoked with “hundreds of minors” at a political rally is probably not the most effective way to advocate for cannabis legalization. There were also claims made by Hashmob that Marc and Jodie Emery were “fooled into acting as rally cops”, keeping the march moving quickly and efficiently and thereby minimizing impacts of the activists’ efforts. The end result was effectively two separate Global Marijuana Marches, which elicited such sentiments as “you march, we protest”. One group marched behind the parade float blasting hip hop, while the other chanted loudly in order to make their presence known by disrupting intersections for as long as possible. While slowing the march worked for those who couldn’t catch up with the float, other disabled marchers complained that they had to be on their feet for too long. While Jodie Emery danced with other women leaders behind the float, Marc Emery was notably absent as the Grand Marshall as he posed for photos behind the hashmob instead of protesting.

 

#GMMTO #hashmob walking down Yonge Street: “Whose streets?!” #TOpoli

A video posted by Lisa Campbell (@qnp) on

It is unfortunate that such a divide had to occur as it reflects poorly on cannabis culture and could easily serve to harm the cause in the long run. Without working together it might prove difficult to achieve evidence-based drug policy that focuses on minimizing existing harms and maximizing potential benefits. If you’re interested in learning further about the events at the march, you can get a fairly good idea of the background controversy through Jodie Emery and Matt Mernagh’s exchanges on Facebook and Twitter. Though the march began with close calls and near arrests, as it returned to Queens Park when 4:20pm rolled around it was hard to notice anything short of cannabis camaraderie. Activists and entrepreneurs from all walks of weed were spreading their message, which was inevitably some variation on the message. Lets change policy!

The turn out at the CSSDP Toronto table was impressive! Transform Drug Policy Foundation donated “How to Regulate Cannabis: A Practical Guide” which is a useful and well received resource. We were lucky to share a table with NORML Canada, who are currently campaigning in support of the Liberals after their recent promise to legalize and regulate cannabis. Part of NORML’S current campaign tactic includes sending thousands of postcards to Stephen Harper from marijuana users demanding the end of marijuana prohibition, which resulted in quite a bit of entertainment throughout the day!

While there is certainly much work to be done in the fight against marijuana prohibition and the Global Marijuana March was an inspiring occasion to attend, there is still much room for positive growth both in policy reform, as well as the cannabis community. Interestingly, a very possible legislative threat to Ontario cannabis culture comes not from the cannabis legalization debate itself, but from the realm of e-cigarettes. Bill 45, which has an unnecessarily extensive reach on the regulation of vaporizers of all kind threatens not only the sale of all vaporizers online, but the display of such products in stores as well. It could also be applied to target and shutdown vapor lounges and social clubs with the overall impact of eliminating jobs and businesses. This is an important piece of legislation that should certainly not be without opposition as it would serve only to set back any attempts towards a sensible policy on cannabis and the surrounding culture. Now more than ever it’s time for the movement to work together to push legalization forward, as we’re at a critical point. Though tensions were high at the Global Marijuana March, hopes were as well! Instead of fostering division, hopefully in the coming years the march will be a day to celebrate the successful efforts made in support of the 2.3 million cannabis users in Canada. While it’s not quite time to parade yet, if we work to create an inclusive cannabis culture where all voices are valued we can achieve change together.

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