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Pro-marijuana rallies held from across the country, and on Parliament Hill

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MONTREAL - Canadians gathered in cities across the country Saturday to mark April 20, an unofficial annual holiday celebrating cannabis culture.

A large crowd rallied on Parliament Hill in Ottawa to promote the legalization of marijuana despite cold weather.

In Montreal, people gathered at the foot of Mount Royal while hundreds turned out for an event in downtown Toronto.

And in Vancouver, hundreds jammed the downtown core to gather around the city's historic art gallery, the centre of the protest culture in the city.

Police officers could be seen chatting with those in the crowd as the smell of pot wafted for blocks..

Vancouver Const. Brian Montague said the force planned to have plenty of officers on hand, but he suggested those enjoying the illicit weed wouldn't necessarily be tossed into a squad car.

"Our intention isn’t to necessarily act on those that are committing minor offences," Montague said. "We would have to take anything that is brought to our attention, we would have to look at and decide whether or not we should act on the information we have."

Montague noted that over the years, the rally has been a peaceful protest and there's no reason to suggest anything different this year.

"If anyone reads our drug policy, it’s quite clear that minor offences involving things like marijuana is something that’s not a high priority for us. To put the general public at risk for minor offences is something we wouldn’t necessarily do," he adds.

Last week, Stop the Violence BC _ a coalition of police, doctors, lawyers, politicians and academics _ issued a news release calling on the legaliziation of marijuana to become an issue in the B.C. election campaign.

The group argues a regulated and taxed marijuana market could choke the flow of funds going to organized crime, reduce the proliferation of illegal grow-ops in B.C. and fund drug awareness and harm prevention campaigns.

The group proposes a research trial that would test the impact of a regulated marijuana market in British Columbia

The group wants whichever party forms government to commit to advocating for an exemption to the Criminal Code to allow the trial, but politicians from both the Liberals and the NDP have said the matter is a federal one and the parties have been non-committal about lobbying for the exemption.

Such an exemption is what allows Vancouver's safe injection site to operate.

This year's celebration comes with an extra dose of optimism for pro-legalization activists.

Washington and Colorado legalized the drug last November.

Group smoke-outs were planned in American cities from New York to San Francisco.

The origins of the number "420'' as a code for pot are hazy, but the date 4/20 has become a day when marijuana users gather together.

(News 1130)

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