Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Officer prefers pot smokers to alcohol drinkers

4/20 participants hope to 'free the plant'

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Scott Webster was sitting on the lawn of the legislature, about to load up a bowl of orange kush into his pipe.

In fact, the usual residence of provincial lawmakers was going to pot on Sunday afternoon, the gathering place for an annual 4/20 celebration to legalize marijuana, which culminated Saturday at 4:20 p.m.

"It was a lot smaller 10 years ago," said Webster, referring to the hundreds of mostly teenagers and 20-somethings who milled about the front of the legislature, parked on blankets with bongs and Bob Marley music blaring on loud speakers.

"This is the biggest turnout I've ever seen in Winnipeg. The more people that turn out, the more it helps the cause."

Despite a heavy police presence, the smell of marijuana wafted in the air, and there was a Woodstockian vibe as, by coincidence, a man named Don Woodstock mingled in the crowd gathering signatures for a petition to urge local leaders -- such as Mayor Sam Katz and Manitoba Justice Minister Andrew Swan -- to decriminalize pot.

"I want to get 10,000 signatures," Woodstock said. "One thing we lack is people going to the polls. If we can get the federal government to put it on the ballot... there will be more intelligent conversation on the issue. How would this impact us?

"Why not? What are they afraid of?"

Jane Ridge, the CEO of the Canadian Medical Marijuana Clinic in Brandon, Manitoba's only cannabis clinic, was also on hand to push for changes to laws that she claims only empower and fund organized drug dealers.

"In Winnipeg, police aren't running the city, but gangs," she said.

Ridge believes Manitobans should be allowed to grow and smoke their own marijuana. "Make it so you can go to the Home Depot and buy your own (cannabis) grow kit, just like you can buy a kit to grow tomatoes," she said.

Webster, meanwhile, is a proponent of "cannabaking," a form of marijuana edibles, and melts cannabis buds into butter (hence, "cannabutter," he said.)

"I put it on pancakes," he said. "I put it on toast. Peanut butter squares. Rice Krispie squares."

Those in attendance cited a recent movement among U.S. states to decriminalize marijuana in Washington and Colorado as progress. Said Woodstock: "Whenever the United States sneezes, we get a cold."

"I think the wave is happening in Canada," Webster added. "I've seen polls where more than 50 per cent of Canadians want it legalized. Whether they smoke it or not, people are seeing the economic possibilities (of government taxing legal marijuana sales)."

Even the Winnipeg 4/20 celebration is more about awareness now, said Webster's partner, Tegan.

"It's getting a little more like an event," she said, noting the circulation of petitions and pamphlets promoting legalization. "It's not like everybody is coming here to get stoned."

Webster noted the Manitoba marijuana culture is still "pretty closed," relative to places like Vancouver and Toronto. "People are very cautious."

Still, at the 4/20 event, dozens of Winnipeg police who encircled the legislative grounds stood passively as teenagers stood a few feet away holding bongs and blunts.

One constable interviewed said the police presence was more for security and health reasons.

"You have some kids here who are used to sitting in their parents' basements playing video games and some of them are gang members," he said.

"We're here as a contingency."

Pressed on the leniency of the open drug use at the event, the officer replied: "I've never had a problem with anybody who's been smoking pot. I have had trouble with people who've been drinking alcohol."

Ridge, meanwhile, surveyed the scene, wrapped her arm around a reporter and concluded: "Look at this. This is a beautiful thing. All of these people coming together to share one thing: to free the plant.

"Let it be. Just let it be."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 21, 2013 A4

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