June 27, 2017

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Lighting up at the legislature: Marijuana enthusiasts gather to celebrate 4/20 in haze of smoke

The rain may have thinned the crowds — and clouds of smoke — at the Winnipeg 4/20 celebration Thursday, but cannabis supporters still kept their spirits high and their joints lit.

People gathered together on the lawn and sidewalks outside of the Manitoba legislature for the event held every April 20. More planning went into this year's festivities than ever before, with vendors and food trucks lining the street.

This year was a bit different than it has been in the past. Now that the federal Liberal government has tabled a bill to make marijuana legal by Canada Day in 2018, there is cause for celebration — and some frustration.

Garry, a 76-year-old man who struggles with multiple medical conditions, started using cannabis oil to help combat symptoms of Lyme disease two years ago. For him, the new federal bill can't be in place soon enough.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>People gather at the Manitoba Legislative grounds to celebrate 4/20 and smoke pot Thursday. Anthony Cohen smokes huge dube at Leg with friends.</p>

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

People gather at the Manitoba Legislative grounds to celebrate 4/20 and smoke pot Thursday. Anthony Cohen smokes huge dube at Leg with friends.

"I just wish it would hurry up," Garry said. "It'll help everybody. There's people worse than me who need it."

Revellers at the 4/20 celebrations said they used marijuana for medical or recreational purposes — or both. One young woman jokingly said she uses it "religiously," as in every day.

A recent survey conducted by the Angus Reid Institute indicates the majority of Canadians support the Liberals' proposed Cannabis Act, with 63 per cent in favour of the legislation.

But the federal act doesn't mean marijuana will be freely available to obtain and use. There will still be controls in place for how much can be possessed and how the product can be marketed and sold.

"Legalization is the ability to consume (marijuana) of your own free will. That's what legalization should be," Mathew Monasterski said.

Monasterski owns the Winnipeg branch of Weeds Glass and Gifts, a medical marijuana corporation in Canada. He and his close friend and store manager, Christopher Thede, both dressed in black blazers, believe this bill is more government regulation than legalization.

"You can't look at it as a complete negative because we are moving forward," Thede said. "Even a little bit of regulation is better than criminalization."

It's not only business owners who share that opinion. Considering legalization was a major campaign promise for the Liberal government, there were plenty of smokers at the event who say they are losing their faith in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

"What they're doing isn't exactly what they've said. I don't trust this government to get it right," Mike Remillard said, rolling the stubby remains of a joint between his fingers. "(The legislation) is still pretty weak."

Remillard called himself a medicinal user, but admitted with a chuckle he starting smoking marijuana long before he even knew he had anxiety. At 37 years old, Remillard has been smoking for 21 years. He calls marijuana a much better alternative to "getting drunk" and "getting in fights."

"Ask any cop whether they'd rather deal with a pothead or a drunk. I'd guarantee they'd say pothead," Remillard said, gesturing to the groups of people sitting together in circles on the grass behind him. "There won't be any fights here today."

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>A small parade, escorted by police, shows its support for marijuana. </p>

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

A small parade, escorted by police, shows its support for marijuana.

Despite the mixed feelings over what the future of marijuana might look like, the crowd remained friendly and upbeat. Strangers shared joints and passed around bongs on the steps up to the legislature even after the short rainfall threatened to derail the festivities.

Across the event, every cannabis user had the same message: it's good for you and it doesn't hurt anyone. Or as a chant in the pro-marijuana march put it, "No victim, no crime."

A cannabis and human rights activist who goes by the name Donna Jo said marijuana has been unfairly "demonized" in our society and many people simply don't understand the possible benefits.

"The sooner we get on educating the public, the better," she said. "We are moving (marijuana) from the illegal world to the legal world."

With the Cannabis Act set to come into effect next summer, users such as Garry are cautiously optimistic about the future.

"I didn't think I'd ever get this far. And I'd like to get a little bit further," Garry said.

matthew.olson@freepress.mb.ca

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