Toronto Marches On After Freedom Festival Cancelled

Toronto's pot community marches in the 2011 Global Marijuana March. (Photos by Jeremiah Vandermeer)Toronto’s pot community marches in the 2011 Global Marijuana March. (Photos by Jeremiah Vandermeer)CANNABIS CULTURE – Toronto’s annual Global Marijuana March will hit the streets on May 5 despite the cancelation of it’s sister Freedom Festival, held for the last five years at Queen’s Park at the same time as the march.

The Toronto Freedom Festival (TFF), a 30,000-strong gathering of marijuana-lovers, drug legalization activists, and pot-friendly vendors that smokes-out Queen’s Park every year, will not take place in 2012 due to planned construction by the city.

The marching portion of the day’s events, which coincides with Global Marijuana Marches held around the world, will continue – but with some changes from previous years.

This year’s march will again be led by activist and CC publisher Jodie Emery, with the addition of members of the NORML Women’s Alliance of Canada. Bongman and The Herb will be the official march mascots.

Jodie Emery and Bong Man leading the 2011 GMM.Jodie Emery and Bong Man leading the 2011 GMM.Organizers have made last-minute adjustments to the timing of the March, which will now depart from the north side of Queen’s Park at Charles St. at 12 NOON (instead of the usual 2pm march-time) on a route through the city streets (see map), ending up at the “dispersal point” at the corner of Gerrard St. and Church St.

At that point, GMM organizer Gabe Simms told Cannabis Culture, the crowd will be asked to “disperse from that area.”

“As far as where they’re going to go, that’s their choice to make,” Simms said. “There are a lot of great businesses just north of there, a lot of great restaurants and a number of other events going on through the city. We believe that the parade ending at that time will give people enough time to get to wherever they want to get to in advance of what traditionally has been a large moment at 4:20.”

Other Toronto activists, including Hash Mob‘s Matt Mernagh, host of The Mernahuana Show on Pot TV, aren’t happy with the new timing arrangements or the fact that the crowd will be dispersed before the traditional smoking hour. Mernagh announced on his show today that he would not be marching at Noon, but suggested he will instead be waiting in the park for a larger crowd to gather and then marching at 2pm.

“Sometimes you just need one person to say, I don’t need no committee, this what we gonna be doin’ today,” Matt said on his show to Simms, who appeared as a guest. “We gonna be leaving at 2 o’clock, we gonna circle the block, and we gonna come back to Queen’s Park for 4:20. Meet ya at the horse R.J.”

Chris Goodwin, another Hash Mob activist and manager of Vapor Central, told Cannabis Culture there is the possibility that someone else may lead the march from the dispersement point down the street two blocks to Yonge-Dundas Square instead of just ending it, although he said there is no concrete plan at the moment to do anything.

“If they show up after the parade has left and decide to hang out, then that’s what they decide to do.” Simms said. “There is nothing we can do to stop them. I know there are groups encouraging others to go travel with them to Yonge-Dundas, and they are free to do so. If people choose to go there en mass, I only ask that they do so responsibly and respectfully for the folks they come into contact with.”

The 2011 GMM and TFF saw record numbers in attendance, fantastic speeches by some of Canada’s finest cannabis activists, and great music by a dope lineup of live bands. See coverage of last year’s event on CC.

Simms, one of the co-founders of the Toronto Freedom Festival, said the city’s construction plans made continuing the festival at its current location impossible, and that he and his partners were unable to find a suitable alternative.

Cannabis Champion of the World Matt Mernagh at the 2011 TFF.Cannabis Champion of the World Matt Mernagh at the 2011 TFF.”The reality is that we couldn’t reach an agreement that we could do correctly,” Simms said. “We weren’t going to rush in and do something haphazardly.”

Last year, the city of Toronto attempted to shut the TFF down by denying its permit, but the festival was saved at the eleventh hour and issued the necessary paperwork.

This year, Simms said he takes the city at its word that there will be construction in Queen’s Park because the city has also asked other mainstream events who use the park to relocate as well, though he said no construction has started there yet.

Simms admits that construction in the park is just one of several problems with continuing the TFF in the future.

“It’s difficult because here is a festival we think brings a lot of value to the city and to the people who attend it,” he said, “but it just wasn’t a successful model. We ran it for five years, and usually it takes three to five years for an annual event to turn profitable or at least stop losing money. Unfortunately, we never did turn that profit.”

Simms said he hopes the GMM gives people the opportunity to voice their concerns about the futility of our current War on Marijuana in a safe and effective manner.

The crowd lights up for 4:20 at the 2011 TFF.The crowd lights up for 4:20 at the 2011 TFF.”The whole reason we are doing this is to bring a lot of light in a short period of time to all the negative implications and aspects of prohibition,” he said.

Goodwin told CC that no matter how the march ends up, the message will be one of unified opposition to destructive marijuana laws.

“Hash Mob supports every single protester who takes to the streets and marches in the Global Marijuana March in any of the hundreds of cities around the world, especially in communities where it’s not as tolerated,” he said. “I hope people come and have a good time, but hope they also get engaged and get active and actually march down the street in protest with a sign or with their voice. Something that simple can actually be very powerful if we are in defiant solidarity.”

Visit the official Toronto Global Marijuana March website for more information and watch Pot TV for LIVE coverage of the event.

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