Thousands March For Marijuana Freedom in Toronto

CANNABIS CULTURE – Downtown Toronto was flooded on May 7 with tens of thousands of pot-smoking protestors during the 2011 Global Marijuana March and Toronto Freedom Festival, which combined is one of the largest annual gatherings of marijuana users in the world.

The city’s double-dose of cannabis celebrations starts at Queen’s Park North with the Toronto Freedom Festival, where an estimated 30,000 – 50,000 people gathered this year to repeat calls for real changes to the country’s marijuana laws.

The festival becomes a protest march through the streets at 2pm as part of the Global Marijuana March, which happens every year in cities around the world.

This was my first year in attendance in Toronto – flying in from Vancouver to document the event for Cannabis Culture – and I was not disappointed. It was quite a spectacle: thousands of people for as far as the eye could see, young and old, assembled peacefully sharing information, stories, and some mighty-fine cannabis. A lot of cannabis.

The three of us – me, CCHQ Chief and Pot Princess Jodie Emery, and Free Marc activist and all-around-cutie Mel Hempseed – showed up just before Noon and the crowd (and smoke) was already getting thick. The sun was shining brightly, and it was perfect weather for an outdoor cannabis protestival.

See the 2011 Toronto Freedom Festival and Global Marijuana March photo gallery on Flickr, or view it in the slideshow below.

Vendor and information booths lined the perimeter of the large park, serving up fried foods, t-shirts, assorted glass, and pot paraphernalia. Though the crowd seemed happy with the selection of food and fun, organizers told CC there were fewer vendors than last year. That’s because the city almost pulled the plug on the entire event this year, but the Festival was saved thanks to some hard-working Toronto activists.

We made our way across the crowded park, stopping to greet several Toronto activist friends at various points along the way but eventually made it to our Cannabis Culture Headquarters/Free Marc Emery booth, which was being set up and operated by our friend and former CC staffer Britney Anne (who recently opened the Metrotown Medicinal Society in Burnaby, BC).

Mel would join Britney to work at the booth while Jodie and I headed back into the crowd to mingle for a while, and then eventually to the main stage, where Toronto activist Matt Mernagh was speaking. Mernagh, the medical marijuana patient at the center of the recent court decision to strike down Canada’s MMAR program, stood next to a tall marijuana plant that towered over his head. On his other side stood his lawyer Paul Lewin, who gave a great speech. Watch the video of Paul’s speech below.

Treating Yourself publisher Marco Renda was next up on the mic, and made a passionate plea to release imprisoned pot activist Marc Emery from US custody and for unity in the marijuana legalization movement.

The ‘Free Marc’ meme was inescapable at the Festival and March. Everywhere I looked I saw the iconic yellow and green Free Marc logo designed by genius CC artist Gary Wintle (who was also at the march!). There were so many people wearing Free Marc shirts in the crowd that I lost count after the first few minutes. And of course, hanging from the side of the stage was a massive banner displaying the same image – Marc puffing away on a big joint – for everyone to see.

After a speech by lawyer Ron Marzel, Jodie hit the stage to talk about her imprisoned husband and get the crowd ready for the big march through the streets of Toronto. Watch Jodie’s speech below.

A few split-seconds after her speech, Jodie was whisked away by organizers to assemble near a second smaller stage, where the march would begin. Matt Mernagh organized the launch of the march as a smoker in the crowd hoped up on stage to show off a foot-long joint.

Jodie led the march, something that she’s done every year with Marc since 2006. This was her first year without her husband by her side. But she was joined by a large group of dedicated activists who held signs and raised placards and flags above their heads as they chanted for freedom and demanded an end to dangerous and senseless drug policies. Watch the video of the march leaders below.

Thousands of protestors swarmed the street as dozens of police officers in cars, on bicycles, and on horseback blocked traffic to make way for the political parade and guide it in the desired direction. Standing and looking from front to back, the crowd seemed to go on forever in both directions. I kept my cameras rolling and snapping and attempted to get a better view from a higher position. Watch the video of my above shot of the GMM below.

Watch the video of a river of protestors pouring past my camera while turning the corner onto Yonge Street.

At one point, the police formed a large barricade with several mounted officers and a dozen or more bicycle cops, which raised more than a few eyebrows in the crowd. But the cops just stood there peacefully, staring through their Aviator sunglasses as the thousands of pot-smoking marchers stomped by. Watch the police barricade video below.

The March made a full circle back to Queen’s Park, where the crowd flooded back into its previous position spread across the grass to listen to more speeches and musical entertainment.

Jodie gave another speech in the minutes leading up to 4:20, when the entire crowd lit their joints simultaneously in a show of smokey solidarity. A massive cloud hovered above the park for the better part of ten minutes as bands took the stage to play away the afternoon. Watch the video of the 4:20 smoke session.

Near the end of the day, we gathered with fellow activists like Dana Larsen, Keith and Catharine Leach, and event organizers Gabe Simms and Gavin Gerbz. Afterwards, Jodie did a few media interviews as Mel and I made our way through the crowd getting rid of the last of the Free Marc shirts, buttons and DVDs.

The event was a high-flying success for many reasons. Not only was the day a positive statement of unification and fellowship with other members of the Toronto activist community and cannabis-lovers around the world, but it served as a statement of contradiction of the coming laws of Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada, who won their coveted majority government less than a week before in our Federal election.

Hopefully the Conservatives will look at the strength and resolve of the marijuana community and realize a crackdown on peaceful pot smokers is completely unnecessary and a shameful waste of Canada’s most precious resource – good Canadians.

Visit the websites for the Toronto Freedom Festival and the Toronto Global Marijuana March.

Jeremiah Vandermeer is editor of Cannabis Culture. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.