Why marijuana activists are still marching after Trudeau’s legalization announcement

Demonstrators flocked to Queen's Park this weekend for the Global Marijuana March to demand more from the Liberal government

On the heels of this year’s 4/20 celebration, a large crowd gathered on May 6 in Queen’s Park for the 19th annual Toronto Global Marijuana March. Peaceful attendees arrived at noon to smoke, sell, and promote weed in its diverse and novel forms – from joints and cookies to seeds, flowers and lollipops.

It was a convivial celebration, but the march also served as a protest against the continued criminalization of marijuana. The Canadian government’s recent legislation announcement has frustrated marijuana activists like Jodie Emery, who have identified quite a few problems with Trudeau’s plan, such as stiff criminalization for selling to minors and uncertainty for non-licensed craft cannabis producers.

Their message, reinforced by loud chanting, colourful signs and costumes, was clear: all should have the right to smoke weed without fear of imprisonment or other unfair legal sanctions. 

Before the march began in earnest, I had the opportunity to talk to several of the attendees about marijuana regulation. Many were uncomfortable appearing on the record to talk about pot, but those who did – including Jodie Emery and her husband, “Prince of Pot” Marc Emery – shared their reasons for continuing to demonstrate in support of marijuana.

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Paul Salvatori

John Angus, 21

“If we decriminalized marijuana, there’d be a lot less clogging of the Canadian court system. It takes about six to eight months to go through the system for just a misdemeanour, including possession of cannabis and small stuff like that. People are getting off with break-and-enters, murders, violent crimes, whereas we’re getting arrested, charged, stopped from travelling outside of the country, getting jobs we want because of police background checks – all for a harmless plant that could do some good. I think the general public has a good attitude about marijuana right now. If it can be controlled the right way, isn’t allowed near schools, it will keep other people happy who are otherwise opposed to it. We have to listen to everyone’s concerns about decriminalization. We can’t just go willy-nilly about it.”

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Paul Salvatori

Mary Jane, 28

“This is 2017. We’re almost on the brink of legalizing marijuana, supposedly, but there’s still all this uneasiness around it. I hope we can just get past that and be a better Canada. I feel marijuana helps everyone, yet there so much negative thinking about people that smoke or sell marijuana. I’ve been a medical marijuana user for over 10 years so, personally. Making marijuana legal will make my life a lot easier. I could walk down the street without feeling I’m a criminal. Every time I go to a dispensary, a cop passes or even the TTC inspector passes me, it’s like I’m being watched. I hate that! I should just be able to smoke marijuana and be happy. It’s my medicine. We’re slowly getting to the point where marijuana is widely acceptable but, in my experience, there’s resistance to that from older generations. My mom, my grandparents, were very against marijuana. It made me feel guilty about using. I hope people in the future can just open up to marijuana use and we can all get along.”

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Paul Salvatori

Marc Emery, 59

“You’d think that decriminalizing marijuana would be a straightforward thing. Just take marijuana out of the schedule of controlled drugs and substances, which would involve all of 10 seconds work. You’d go to the Speaker [of the House of Commons] and say, ‘Mr. Speaker, we have withdrawn cannabis from the controlled drugs and substances and therefore the provinces are now eligible to regulate its distribution.’ That would be it! Everyone after that, it would be assumed, would collect their taxes, pay their taxes, operate in a way consistent with other industries. But instead we’ve got the Cannabis Act – several hundred pages of regulations, punishments, and penalties. You’d think we weren’t legalizing. You’d think we were making it even more difficult to get. We have a big battle ahead of us, stopping what is really a very thinly veiled attempt by the government to take over the marijuana industry. They lost control of their prohibition, so now they’re trying to establish Prohibition 2.0: extending the rope around our neck a little bit, loosening it up, letting us have 30 grams but basically saying if it’s not licensed producer weed, it’s against the law. But you know what? That’s politics. We’ve got to negotiate a better deal for our side and that’s what we’ve got to do in the next year and a half. Ultimately the purpose of government is to control people. Our job is to resist that control.”

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Paul Salvatori

Jodie Emery, 32

“Right now, legalization is supposed to be coming. But many of us in the cannabis culture, community and industry realize that the legalization legislation is only more criminalization. Everybody [at this march] will remain a criminal under the new laws and if you have a record for pot you’re not allowed to go into the legal industry. There have been over 200 raids across Canada since Trudeau was elected. There are hundreds of people being criminalized, millions of tax dollars being wasted. We have to protest to get an immediate moratorium on the marijuana arrests that happen. The government should not be arresting any more Canadians for cannabis. We should have amnesty granted to everybody and free pardons too. Not just the pardons that you have to pay for, which are very difficult, but actual amnesty. Ultimately I want an apology. Also, there’s a lot of issues about money because people who are interested only in money have moved into this industry after hearing how valuable it is. They are looking to capitalize on it while continuing to criminalize the competition. That means many of us who have worked hard, suffered and sacrificed for decades, are going to be excluded while the people with connections and big money are going to be able to benefit. We are seeing former politicians, police and RCMP making their own marijuana companies profit on the stock market. It’s just not fair when the rest of us are still being criminalized. We all need to have a spot in an inclusive industry, with equal access. But presently it looks like they’re looking to exclude people.”

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