It’s possibly the last 4/20 before pot is officially legal in Canada, but instead of celebrating, cannabis activists are voicing their displeasure with the way the government is handling legalization. Mostly, the fact that the legislation doesn’t decriminalize a lot of what they stand for.
“The greater message of legalization is certainly being celebrated because events like 4/20 helped push the change that got us here,” cannabis activist Jodie Emery told CTV, “But for those of us who actually know the details of the legislation, we’re very concerned because everything that happens at 4/20 is illegal and will remain illegal under the federal government’s plans.”
The Liberal government has committed to decriminalizing marijuana sales in Canada by the summer and left the regulation and distribution up to the individual provincial governments. Many activists see this as a step in the right direction but argue it falls short of what they really want. Legal consumption would be far from what the 4/20 culture is all about – sharing, open spaces and celebrating the experience.
“Passing a joint is trafficking, providing cannabis is trafficking, openly smoking pot is breaking the law,” Emery said, “Four-twenty is a massive global act of peaceful civil disobedience. This is people coming together and breaking the law openly to say, ‘We should not be criminals, this should not be criminalized, this should all be legal.’”
Lisa Campbell of the Ontario Cannabis Consumer and Retail Alliance says that if the province is going to regulate marijuana like alcohol, they need to also provide the same opportunities to enjoy it. She spoke to The Canadian Press about how she sees activists moving from protesting to working with the government.
“There’s still a lot to fight for, including cannabis lounges, consumption spaces and having special events permits,” she said, “But there comes a certain point where you can shout from the sidelines or you can put down your protest sign and have a chance to work with the government to influence policy.”
Other activists are concerned by the marketing strategy taken on by the government. They called attention to the bland and warning-heavy packaging proposed by Health Canada and wondered why it needs to be branded like poison if it will be legal to possess.
“The packaging that they have proposed will be a white blank package, has a whole bunch of health warnings on it, a whole bunch of scary text,” Shawn MacAleese of Patients’ Lives Matter said in Ottawa, “We don’t have that sort of packaging for absolutely anything else. You can buy cigarettes with less health warnings. Why is it we are treating cannabis as a poison?”
The biggest argument from activists by far is the fact that those already growing and selling cannabis in Canada don’t have a pathway to becoming legal sellers under the new laws. Rather than giving these people the opportunity to legitimize their businesses, the government has limited legal distribution to the provinces’ official stores.
“Right now we have an enormous, multi-billion dollar cannabis industry of mostly peaceful, non-violent people who just want to be legal and licenced,” Emery said. She added that she and other activists would continue voicing their concerns in hopes that the government will alter their policies.