Flying a Canadian flag in celebration, Barrett Blackwood reflected on a time when the prospect of hundreds of pot smokers gathering in Centennial Square to collectively partake would have been out of the question.
“This is unprecedented to me, to be here and see no police,” said Blackwood, 43. “When I first came here [from Nanaimo] in 1980, you couldn’t come to this square and have a cigarette, let alone a joint. The police station was right there [on Fisgard street] and they’d come through the parkade and shoo you away.”
Blackwood was among several hundred people who gathered at Centennial Square on Thursday for the annual “4-20” celebration of pot — on April 20 at 4:20 p.m. The origin of the international gathering and its timing is lost to the haze of history.
He was accompanied by his son Ben, 23, and Princess Chica, his tiny cream-coloured chihuahua. “She’s here to support our 4-20-friendly mayor and wants to campaign for her re-election,” he said, noting Chica, one of many dogs in the crowd, is a cannabis advocate with a Twitter account and 1,000 followers.
Centennial Square was a sea of colour with a happy vibe, attracting people of all ages, wearing cannabis costumes, 4-20 buttons, waving flags and releasing bubbles. It was a very orderly crowd, said Footprints Security guard Henriette Fraik. “There have been no problems at all. Everything’s been beautiful,” she said as the crowd thinned out at 5 p.m.
“Ironically, the biggest problems in the past were from a couple of people who were drinking,” said cannabis activist Bill Stewart.
Thursday’s crowd, in addition to being high on pot, was high on the news that the federal government wants to make recreational use of marijuana legal by July 2018.
“The fact we’ve finally done this is in itself a tremendous victory, and they’ve recognized the right to grow at home,” said Stewart, who uses cannabis to help him cope with chronic pain in his hip and right knee, which he has suffered since being struck by a pickup truck. “The grow conditions are ludicrous but it’s a start.”
Josh Touchie, 23, said it didn’t surprise him that there didn’t appear to be much of a police presence. “They have bigger concerns with other drugs around they need to focus on like fentanyl, drugs that are killing people,” said Touchie, who uses cannabis to control seizures arising from his brain tumour.
One of the most colourful characters was Carol Francey, 68, a retired schoolteacher. Dressed like a green giant marijuana plant leaf in a brown pot, she wandered through the crowd wishing participants a “Happy 4-20!” and handing out colourful stickers.
“I’ve been involved with families my whole life and I know that cannabis is less harmful, of course, than alcohol and it unifies the community. This is a great community and it’s an opportunity to come out and lessen the stigma and allow people to be themselves and make a wiser choice in many ways.”
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Clark, Horgan agree: Age 18 too young to buy legalized marijuana
The leaders of British Columbia’s two main political parties agree that 18 is too young for people to be allowed to purchase marijuana under plans by the federal government to legalize the drug.
B.C. Liberal Leader Christy Clark said her top priority is keeping cannabis out of the hands of minors, so she would lift the limit to “at least” 19, the age at which it is legal to purchase alcohol in B.C.
The NDP’s John Horgan said he would consult on how best to roll out the new industry, but it’s his opinion that if you’re allowed to crack a beer at 19, you should be allowed to light a joint, too.
The federal government has introduced legislation that would legalize pot on July 1, 2018, giving provinces time to come up with sales and distribution regimes and decide whether to raise the age limit from 18.
Meanwhile, Green Leader Andrew Weaver said he’s troubled by the federal government’s plan because it favours large licensed producers and B.C. needs to foster a strong “craft cannabis” sector.
The three main leaders were asked about their plans for legalization during a radio debate in Vancouver that coincidentally fell on 4-20, the annual weed celebration and protest day.
— The Canadian Pressr