Thousands of marijuana supporters at fair join march calling for the decriminalization of pot
Sarah Saiger runs a cigarette paper company in New York City, Big Bambu, and she ventured to Toronto’s annual Freedom Festival yesterday to see her product in action.
“I really enjoy this event,” Saiger said of the festival of food, music and peaceful protest which was heavy with the smell of marijuana smoke.
“I like Canada. It’s peaceful and it’s legal (to smoke marijuana).”
Medicinal marijuana has been legal in Canada for 12 years. Although it is unclear how many of the thousands of festivalgoers were smoking dope for medical reasons yesterday, it was being enjoyed by throngs of people of all ages.
Police estimate roughly 12,000 people filled the north lawns of Queen’s Park yesterday afternoon, with about 5,000 participating in a 2 p.m. march to decriminalize marijuana.
The 11th annual Global Marijuana March travelled up University Ave. to Bloor St. east to Yonge St. and then south and back to the festival grounds.
Andy Lansberger, 32, from a small town north of London, carried a poster saying, “Grow Hemp, Heal the Planet.” He was draped in a red-and-white flag and green headband with pictures of marijuana plants.
“I like being around people who are like-minded,” says Lansberger, who arrived with three friends. He has attended the march for the past five years.
Legalizing marijuana was on the minds of many at the event, which featured bands, a poetry competition, lectures and booths selling everything from hemp clothing to steak sandwiches, but not cannabis.
“It should be decriminalized,” said Sarah, 27, a graphic design student from Oshawa who came with a group of friends.
Rob, 21, grew up in Romania where, he said, the plant grew wild in the ditches. “That’s why they call it weed,” he said, adding that using marijuana has allowed him to stop taking Ritalin. He held two signs. One said, “God gave us the gift,” the other said, “At least it’s not crack.”
For some, the day was just a lark in the park as they sat on blankets with picnic coolers and watched games of hacky sack. There were dreadlocks and afros, tattoos and tie-dyed shirts, skateboards and placards. While police were on the perimeter of the event and escorted the march through city streets, they did not interfere. Toronto Police Staff Sgt. Shaun Narine, who said there were 32 officers present, pointed out the event has a long history of being peaceful and well-run.
“This is a city-sanctioned event. They (city officials) know what’s going on.”
The Global Marijuana March was both a celebration of the Supreme Court’s recent rejection of the Canadian government’s monopoly on the sale of medical cannabis and a call to have it decriminalized.
Toronto criminal lawyer Ron Marzel, who represented CALM (Cannabis as Living Medicine) in the court challenge, said in an interview that people with a wide range of illnesses from multiple sclerosis to epilepsy benefit from using marijuana. But, he said, it is difficult to get because there have been few legal sources.
Angie, 41, who has epilepsy, says marijuana has kept her seizure-free for six years without the side effects of pharmaceutical drugs. But, she adds, she went through four doctors before she found one who would do the paperwork for her to get a federal licence to use cannabis.
She says doctors’ reluctance to prescribe cannabis makes accessibility to a legal treatment difficult.
– Article from The Toronto Star on May 3, 2009.