As large crowds of marijuana activists and enthusiasts gathered in cities across Canada on Thursday, the question lingering in the smoke-filled air was simple: what’s the point?
Marijuana is expected to be legalized across the land by July 2018, and legislation has already been tabled in the House of Commons to that effect. Supporters of the legal, recreational use of the drug have seemingly won the day.
But the fight, according to many, is far from over.
The annual rallies held on April 20 (or 4/20) will continue, organizers have promised, not least because the federal government’s approach to legalization still leaves much to be desired.
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“It’s not legislation, it’s prohibition,” said Alex Newcombe, an activist who uses marijuana to control anxiety. “The whole (bill) should be scrapped and start over.”
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Specifically, Newcombe said, as a regular user of pot he takes issue with an “arbitrary” planned limit of four plants per household, and the possession of 30 grams for personal use.
“Thirty-one grams isn’t going to kill me any more than 30 … so there’s a complete lack of clarity,” he said.
“An arbitrary limit of four plants? Really? What’s the fifth plant going to do? Is it going to harm somebody? I don’t get it.”
Newcombe said he’d much rather see police and government resources devoted to tackling the ongoing opioid crisis, as well as the over-prescription of medications that can actually harm Canadians and are too often left within reach of children.
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There has also been push-back against the Liberal government’s refusal to decriminalize simple possession of marijuana until the law is in place, and against proposed criminal penalties. Those penalties include prison sentences of up to 14 years for providing the drug (in any form) to a minor.
“As best I can read it … a parent who wants to teach their underage son or daughter how to use a drug responsibly and shares that drug with them, they could be liable to officially a penalty of up to 14 years,” confirmed Eugene Oscapella, a lawyer who teaches drug policy in the department of criminology at the University of Ottawa.
Realistically, Oscapella cautioned, no judge is going to come down that hard.
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He agreed that there “is still a bit of reefer madness in parts of the bill” tabled last week, adding that the legislation will likely undergo significant changes before it’s passed.
Among other things, it will be subject to intervention by lobbyists, committee hearings, passage through the Senate and possibly even pressures from the United States.
“They’re treating cannabis in some of the prohibitions like it’s Ebola,” Oscapella said of the current version of the legislation.
“I’m not an advocate for cannabis … but we don’t need to treat it like it’s the most dangerous substance on the planet.”
WATCH: Cannabis legalization activists slam Liberal bill as ‘Prohibition 2.0’ ahead of annual gathering on Parliament Hill.
On Parliament Hill, where the annual 4/20 rally attracted a crowd even under overcast skies, the mood was upbeat.
“There’s like a party now, it’s a celebration,” said Madigan Routliffe, who sat on the lawn.
Nearby, Cody van Gogh (a last name he adopted) held a 94-gram “dragon joint,” actually shaped like the mythical creature.
“It took about 50 hours,” van Gogh said of his pot sculpture, adding that he’s not in favour of the restrictive aspects of the new legislation.
“They want to make weed uncool to any sort of new user. I don’t think that’s right … they’re going to prevent innovation.”
– With files from Raquel Fletcher