“I’m Wes Bartlett. I’m the head organizer. We gotta start building something here.”
“What do you think can be done in the next little while?” I asked.
“Well you know it’s really just support. You need people to get out and educate people that aren’t. People are affected by misconception and stuff. We just need like, we just need more big events like this especially in Ottawa. The politicians are looking all the time. It’s where it most matters.”
“How do you feel about decrim?”
“I would rather see complete legalization but decriminalization would be a step in the right direction.”
“I would disagree,” a man put in. “I have a medicinal license. Where ever decrim is implemented it usually consists of net widening which means people face fines without a criminal sentence but many times more people become involved in the justice system. There is nothing in Canada that is sort of legal but also not. Decriminalization also suggests something that is punishable, something that is still naughty and needs to be deterred – that’s bad thinking. We need to talk about regulation. It’s currently an unregulated substance and needs to be regulated. Never mind legalization – the courts already took care of that for us. The pot laws have fallen in the courts a number of times.”
“After prohibition in the twenties we didn’t go to decrim on beer,” another man said.
“What has to happen,” he continued, “we have to just keep piling on the science. I have found the arguments they have for prohibition are usually just personal attacks. All the science, all the history, all the common sense is on our side. It’s a matter of leading the public where they need to go.” He pointed to Mr. Bartlett. “It takes people like that to do it.”
I asked Mr. Bartlett. “Have you had any heat or conflict for organizing this march? Are you scared you’re going to be thrown in jail for standing up and speaking?”
“No not at all. Not at any point. I felt support. We’re gathering someplace else besides Parliament Hill and those confines. Here, we’re asking people to walk which educates the public that it’s not a problem thing. We’re going up Elgin to Somerset to Bank Street and then Parliament Hill. We unfortunately are not allowed on Parliament Hill because there is another protest going on. They said they were booked that day. We will get a lot of pedestrian and vehicle traffic by ending on Wellington. We’ll spread the word.”
“Did you have to sign a permit for this?”
Matt White answered, “I filed with the city of Ottawa. We don’t need a permit but it looks better to get one. It’s really easy to get. You email, answer five questions and there you go.”
“Do you vote?” I asked a woman.
“I can vote now,” she said. “I will vote. I plan on going to school for journalism and political science. I will get involved in Federal politics.”
“I saw thousands at 4/20. I see less than a hundred here. Tell me why.” I asked Kareen.
“I think the fact that it rained earlier discouraged a lot of people,” she said. “Another issue with my friends was the group being small and being singled out by security. There’s always so many people going out for 4/20 that nobody is worried about going to Majors’ Hill or Parliament and doing their thing peaceably. Maybe there wasn’t enough actual promotion of the event. I did get a Facebook invite and send it out to some friends. A lot of people I talked to only heard about it a couple days ago. No posters”
Shannon was distributing literature on her own initiative regarding myths about marijuana. “People need to understand.”
People stepped out of restaurants, honked horns. The advocates chanted, sang, puffed and waved signs.
One man looked out from a doorway and said, “You’re kidding. They’re smoking pot?”
Draped in the flag, Wes Bartlett led the block long file of people to the sidewalk on Wellington, past the stone entrance gates to the steps of Parliament. The rally sat on the steps chanting and holding up signs. “The war on drugs is a war on us. Free Marc Emery.”
People yelled, “It’s not dangerous. Chocolate is dangerous. Free the spirit.”
I asked people sitting on the steps “what was up?”
“We advocate the legalization of marijuana. We support something we are passionate about and these prohibitions are ridiculous. They’re from an old time and made without thinking. It has so many purposes. Why can’t we just get along with it?”
“You don’t sound like an illiterate high school drop-out to me,” I said.
“I finished high school. I work two jobs. I’m going to go to college. People don’t have to be a sit around stoner. We’re very productive. We’re everywhere.”
“I’m a life guard,” another man said. “I save lives.”
“I’m in mechanical engineering at Ottawa University. I got a 93 on my last exam. I smoke weed everyday. I enjoy calculus while high.”
“Fact of the matter is people of all walks of life smoke weed already so why not just legalize?”
There was no weed smoking on the steps.
Another rally of about eighty Togo Canadians approached the Hill singing and playing musical instruments. It was their turn on the steps. They held up signs about Togo rights.
I asked the Togo organizer there what was going on and why they were here. “We are here to denounce a lot of things. On the fourth of March there was an election in Togo. So the power, they stole the election so we are here to demonstrate against this. We are from Ottawa.” Alexis Ajourons said speaking for the group. The demonstrations began taking pictures of each other. This is Canada.
Wes Bartlett stood on the steps graced by Nellie McClung and Sir Wilfrid Laurier. He said. “End prohibition. The war on drugs is a war on us. Free Marc Emery.”