The 4:20 protest may have a more easily remembered brand, but Marijuana March co-organizer Gabe Simms points out that, in Toronto, his event is both older (this year’s march was the 14th annual) and more integrated with the international decriminalization movement.
There are other differences between the two events. While the smoke-in had a sort of by-the-seat-of-your-pants quality, the Global Marijuana March was was almost stunningly well organized, with police blocking off traffic, two sound trucks—one bumping Kid Cudi and Jay-Z, the other featuring a band playing mostly Sublime covers—and an army of volunteers doing everything from accrediting media to cleaning up Queen’s Park North, where the crowd gathered before setting off. While both events attracted lots of people who just wanted to get stoned rather than make any kind of political statement, the Global Marijuana March had a larger and more visible contingent of dedicated activists interested in a serious discussion on drug policy.
“By no means is it uniform,” Simms said. “This has its roots as a protest, but, as you can tell, some people are just here to party. Others are here to show solidarity. We don’t care why they’re here as long as they treat themselves and their neighbours in a respectful manner and want to effect a positive change.”
Dana Larsen, who is a longtime marijuana advocate and a former federal NDP candidate in British Columbia, doesn’t think the presence of party animals detracts from the message. In fact, he said, their presence complements it. For Larsen, who flew in from Vancouver just to attend the march, simply smoking marijuana en masse in public is a political action.
“It’s like the Pride Parade,” he said. “People go there just for the fun, to show off and enjoy themselves, or to be sexy. But it’s definitely a political event.”
The day’s most creative protest was staged by the National Organization for Reforming Marijuana Laws (NORML) Women’s Alliance. The NORML women dressed up in 1920s costumes and were followed by a car of a similar vintage, driven by a man dressed as Al Capone. According to NORML media spokesperson Andrea Matrosovs, the Women’s Alliance wanted to make plain the connection between the prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s and ’30s—which was a boon to organized crime—and marijuana prohibition today.
“When women gathered together in the ’20s and ’30s, they made things happen,” she said. “And it was to the benefit of families, and the disbenefit of organized criminals.”
Matrosovs was somewhat unique among Saturday’s demonstrators. She doesn’t smoke marijuana at all. Her interest in legalization comes purely as a result of her social-science background and the time she spent as a high school teacher.
“If we could legalize, regulate, and tax, then we could take those revenues that are currently going to organized crime and direct them to good things,” she said. “My background is as an educator…and it bothered me that our youth were being funnelled into alcohol, because that’s legal in our society at age 19, where marijuana isn’t.”
Larsen says that the behaviour of the crowd—peaceful, largely complient with requests from both police and parade marshalls—provided the single biggest argument in favour of legalization.
“You can get thousands and thousands or people together, all getting really high, and nothing bad happens,” he said. “If this was beer and everyone was getting really drunk, some people would have problems with that. There would be fighting and aggression…. At events like these, the worst thing that happens is a few people have to lie down.”