A Familiar Smell Drifts Across Canada

OTTAWA — They came, they smoked, they got the munchies.

More than 1,000 people gathered on Parliament Hill yesterday, and hundreds more converged in cities elsewhere in Canada, to mark 4/20, a counter-culture celebration of marijuana and a protest against pot laws.

Despite a federal Conservative government bent on punishing illegal drug use, many people openly puffed on the front lawn of Parliament as Mounties and city police watched from a distance.

Francis Pham, a student from Winnipeg, urged Canada’s politicians to embrace marijuana rather than denouncing it as a harmful substance.

“I’ve smoked weed with cops here before, politicians before, doctors, lawyers,” Mr. Pham said. “I’m pretty sure it’s just a social norm to smoke weed everywhere.”

Back in Mr. Pham’s hometown, roughly 500 people gathered on the lawn of the Winnipeg legislature to mark 4/20, as a few shrewd hot dog and ice cream vendors took advantage of the crowd’s altered appetite to make some cash.

In both locations, police watched the crowds but made no arrests.

In Vancouver, the pungent smell of pot was heavy in the downtown air. People began gathering outside the Vancouver Art Galley yesterday morning, well before the peak time of the event at 4:20 p.m. Police kept a close eye on the rally, which caused some traffic congestion in the area.

April 20 has evolved into a counterculture holiday, some say from a story about a group of teenagers at a high school in San Rafael, Calif., in 1971, who would meet after school at 4:20 p.m. to smoke marijuana.

It’s widely believed that the exact time was chosen because that’s when afternoon detention was dismissed.

One of the biggest celebrations is held annually at the University of Colorado, where the crowd was estimated to exceed 10,000 in 2008.

In past years, police in some locations have tried to disperse the gatherings either by ticketing alleged offenders or making arrests.

At least one police force in Canada issued a warning in advance of this year’s expected gathering at Muskoseepi Park in Grande Prairie, Alta. RCMP there told a local radio station that offenders could face prosecution for possession of marijuana under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

Still, in the shadow of the Peace Tower, an 18-year-old Ottawa student who didn’t want to reveal his identity said he was grateful that drug enforcement appears to be much less harsh in Canada than in the United States.

“You have to have, like, over a certain amount [of marijuana]here to get charged with trafficking,” he said. “Or even possession – if you get caught [in Canada]you’re going home. But in the States, if you get caught with a five piece [five grams]you’re going to jail for the night.”

– Article from The Globe and Mail.