Sunday, May 2, 2004
Marijuana users chanted "we love weed" as they marched through the streets of downtown Toronto on Saturday, smoking their hearts out and calling for Ottawa to legalize the drug.
About 1,000 demonstrators rallied at the Ontario legislature and later marched through some of Toronto's busiest streets with a police escort.
They were led by Alison Myrden, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and is wheelchair bound.
She has long fought for legalized marijuana to ease her pain.
Protest is important to raise public awareness about the medicinal benefits of marijuana, Myrden said.
"People don't understand that sick people still don't have an affordable quality source of medicine," she said as she manoeuvred her wheelchair along a tony stretch of Bloor Street. "Our government is not helping us."
Many Canadians with chronic illnesses have been granted exemptions under the law and can legally use marijuana to ease their pain.
But getting a reliable source of marijuana continues to be difficult for many medicinal users.
Ottawa has set up an underground grow operation in Manitoba, but many patients who have received the government pot have shunned it, citing poor quality.
The federal Liberal government has dodged efforts to legalize marijuana, instead proposing to decriminalize it.
Under a bill now before Parliament, possessing 15 grams or less of marijuana would no longer be a criminal matter, but would be dealt with by a fine.
The federal bill followed a decision by an Ontario Superior Court judge last year who ruled that possession of less than 30 grams if marijuana was no longer against the law.
Police forces in Ontario said they wouldn't lay charges for basic possession until the situation was clarified and that sentiment spread across the country.
At Saturday's protest, police were more concerned about protecting the marchers from Toronto drivers than they were about the plumes of smoke that wafted around the demonstrators.
One marcher holding a large joint stopped to have his picture taken with an officer helping to direct traffic, who only responded with an embarrassed smile.
Although marijuana advocates want no strings attached to using the drug, they'll settle for Ottawa's middle ground for now, said organizer Franklin Skanks.
"It's time to legalize it, time to change the laws," he said. "I'd prefer legalization but decriminalization would be the first step."
"I really believe that everyone should be free to enjoy it because it is such an amazing thing," said Katelyn Knight, a 19-year-old Toronto college student. "Unless you smoke it, you don't realize how amazing it is."
The demonstration was part of the Million Marijuana March, a worldwide event held annually in more than 200 cities to demand the full legalization of pot.
Canadian marches were also planned in Vancouver and Montreal
Copyright © 2004, Canadian Press