Now that the cloud of smoke has cleared from Queen’s Park in Toronto, I’d like to report on my impressions of this year’s Global Marijuana March (GMM). The most noticeable difference this year from years past was the lack of the Freedom Festival; the GMM in Toronto used to be a cultural hub for people who use pot and supporters of sensible drug policy reform but also a reclamation of public space, a music festival and a movement which showed that drug policy is inter-sectional and affects everyone in our society. It was a safe space for various communities to gather to show their support for reformed policy but also (and just as importantly) it was a cultural melting pot (pun not intended) of people just being people. This is an important point as it goes to show that drug policy reform, whether in the form of decriminalization or legalization, is not going to look like the apocalyptic vision many scare tactics have led us to believe, but more like just any other day (maybe with a few more people having fun in the outdoors and of course with less unjust arrests and less taxpayer’s money being spent on enforcing non-violent “crime”).
The Freedom Fest was a draw for people from all over Ontario and it seemed like both this year and last year, less people were coming from outside of the city for the event. The city refusing to provide permits these past two years for public gatherings at Queen’s Park meant lack of music stages, public speaker stages, harm reduction and drug policy info booths, as well food vendors in the park, which visibly reduced attendance (or at the very least, created a perceived smaller attendance as less people stayed for the whole afternoon). This goes to show how prohibition just pushes people and the drug trade into the underground and legitimate businesses lose out on money that instead gets diverted to the black market. The Freedom Fest was just one of many large public gatherings which have been getting shut down in Toronto in recent years or pushed out of the city’s downtown core (i.e. The Muhtadi International Drumming Festival which also used to take place at Queen’s Park annually but has been moved East of the downtown core to Woodbine Park) and it’s definitely having an impact on nightlife, youth culture and, in turn, tourism.
That being said, most people I saw weren’t there for a vocal protest (although I’m sure many were as my experience is subjective) but rather were happy and relieved to have the opportunity to be free to partake in their normal everyday lifestyle without judgement or prosecution (even if just for a day). It was more a form of non-violent civil disobedience than anything else as people from all walks of life lit up to celebrate what should already be their right as part of the Canadian Charter. With public opinion and policy quickly changing in favour of regulation instead of prohibition, and many parts of the world (including several US States and Uruguay) reforming their drug policies for more accepting and pragmatic ones, there was an air of calmness and expectation that change will come soon so long as we are publicly supporting it.