It’s just after 4 p.m. on a beautiful afternoon and the sun is shining down through a thick haze of smoke on the thousands of people gathered at Parliament Hill; it’s April 20 and everyone is getting high.
As I push my way through a crowd of around 3,500 people of all ages, races, and cultures, I’m damn glad I’m Canadian.
Officially, marijuana is not legal, but as the clock strikes 4:20 p.m., and a massive joint the size of my forearm is being passed around a group in front of the peace tower, the RCMP are relaxing and getting a tan.
There was no shortage of security; Ottawa police, RCMP and Parliament security roamed through the thick, smoke-filled grounds and smiled pleasantly as the groups around them laughed and passed around joints, bongs and pipes of all shapes and sizes.
Protesters passed out flyers and DVDs, retired hippies came out to party, and Vegan Goddesses in flowing dresses played dreamy sounding bongos and passed out vegan cupcakes made with cocoa and fairy dust.
“So what’s the deal here?” I asked an RCMP officer.
“What do you mean. There’s nothing going on here, I have nothing to say,” he replied.
It appears that the government has chosen to ignore the thousands of guests on their front lawn because, it seems, that if they just don’t acknowledge it, then apparently, it doesn’t count.
The government is obviously familiar with this tradition, after all, it is an annual event. And every April as people from all over the Ottawa area gather together to get high on Canada’s front steps, Parliament Hill is ready and waiting for them.
Some areas of the grounds are already roped off and barricaded, and a large group of the city’s police force are prepped and standing by. But, if you ask them what they’re doing there, none of them will say.
“Isn’t pot still illegal?” I asked another officer.
“You can’t smoke it on the street,” he said.
“So if I smoke a joint right here while I’m talking to you, you won’t do anything, but if I walk off the Hill and smoke it, you’ll arrest me?”
“Don’t smoke it off the hill,” he warned, “I have nothing else to say.”
Well Canada, at least you give us this one day. One day where pure pot heads and casual smokers alike can gather in our nation’s capital and bond over a blunt. One day a year when retirees can sit with kids younger than their grandchildren and talk about the “good ol’ days” – when, 50 years ago, they were sitting around doing the very same thing.
There are a number of theories over the origins of 4:20, a seemingly international holiday also known as “Pot Day,” “Weed Day” and insert-any-other-slang-for-marijuana-here Day, but it seems that many of its loyal celebrators don’t even know they what they are.
“It’s Bob Marley’s birthday,” said a boy in a baseball hat who called himself “Bud” – I can only assume that he thought that was incredibly witty given the nature of the day.
Another Hill-goer told me she thought it was the day that Bob Marley died. But the internet tells me differently. According Marley’s official website, and most other internet sources, he was born Feb. 6 and died May 11.
Interestingly enough, most people I asked either had absolutely no idea what the origins of 4:20 were, or shared the same Bob Marley birth/death theory of my friend “Bud.”
It took me about three seconds to ask google the very same question, which gave me a plethora of answers.
The most common, even included on Wikipedia, was that the event goes back to 1971 when a group of high school students, who called themselves “The Waldos,” would gather each afternoon after school, at 4:20 p.m., and smoke a joint by a statue of Louis Pasteur.
As to the connection between the famous french chemist who gave us the luxury of drinking safe milk and wine, as well as a number of important vaccines, there doesn’t seem to be one. Apparently that statue outside of the San Rafeal, California high school could have been of anybody.
Regardless of it’s roots, 4:20 seems to gain more popularity each year, attracting new and younger generations of those loyal to the ganja. All around the world kids are posting youtube videos of their weed-day adventures, celebrating in the art of the “shot-gun” – a method of smoking where one person puts a joint in their mouth backwards and blows the smoke into another’s face.
Marijuana, or cannabis, has been fairly common around the world throughout history. I read somewhere that Queen Victoria would smoke up to relieve herself of menstrual pains – I wonder if that works, it seems like a much better alternative to the pain killers I currently use, which dull my pain by putting me to sleep. Although, in the end, the effects may actually be quite similar.
The use of marijuana for medical purposes has been proven to be quite effective, in fact, the popular herb had been used medicinally since around 2,737 B.C.E.
Currently, there are around 10 countries world-wide, including Canada, that have approved the use of herbal therapy for treatments such as; nausea relief and hunger simulation in Cancer patients receiving chemotherapy, as well as AIDS patients, for treatment of glaucoma and more recently, to help patients with Multiple sclerosis and even depression.
Pot as a pain-killer seems to be quite popular, and cannabinoids, pill capsules containing cannabis, are commonly distributed by physicians to treat any number of conditions.
It seems odd then that the drug itself has not been legalized. Clearly scientists and doctors worldwide have proven that it does more good than harm; and the government legalized it for medicinal use, so why not general use?
In fact, the government would make far more money if they did. Think of the taxes they put on products like tobacco and alcohol, they could tax the shit out of pot.
And despite protesters making those very same points, I believe it’s better for the average user if the government keeps their fingers out of our dime bags. After all, right now, any kid with a ten dollar bill can score a spliff in their high school parking lot; illegal or not, it’s not hard to find.
Having to go to a specialized store, jump through a bunch of government hoops and pay taxes might actually discourage many people. In fact, it could actually lead to more under-the-table deals and illegal sales, because everyone likes things that are easy and tax free.
Apparently, locally, people can get a gram, so depending on your style, that could be about one to three joints, for $10. If that were monitored by the government, that $10 would have PST, GST, or soon, an HST – in the end, that $10 would become at least $20.
It also seems ironic that marijuana, widely considered to be the most harmless of drugs, is still illegal, when alcohol is not.
Don’t get me wrong, I am very grateful that prohibition ended long before I was ever conceived, but from my experience, alcohol can lead to a plethora of problems. I’ve never seen a bar fight between two pot heads.
According to the Toronto Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, alcohol is responsible for one in every 25 deaths – worldwide. The Government of Canada website claims that drunk driving was the cause of at least 30 per cent of deaths in car accidents.
It also says that 70 per cent of fatally injured victims were drivers and 90 per cent of them, were drunk.
Tobacco and alcohol also have a much higher addiction rate, and both can lead to a multitude of health problems which can significantly shorten a person’s life expectancy.
There are hundreds of deaths due to alcohol overdose each year, yet there has never been a recorded marijuana overdose in history.
Yet many traditionalists argue that it’s a gateway drug.
I think this is impossible to gage. For one, if a person is inclined to try drugs, whatever it is that they try first, if they enjoy themselves, they are likely to try more.
On the other hand, I know many people who have tried marijuana, but didn’t like it because they said it made them paranoid. However, instead they prefer using drugs like ecstasy; a class A narcotic – marijuana is a class C; it is one of the least toxic drugs available.
I asked one of the kids at Parliament Hill if he thought he was a drug addict, he laughed at me and said, “You’re kidding right? Drug addicts don’t smoke pot.”
“Ok,” I said. “So what are drug addicts then?”
“Drug addicts do heroine or crack, that kind of stuff. People who smoke pot are just happy easy-going people.”
Fair enough. You don’t often, or really ever, hear about people killing or robbing each other over a joint. That’s not to say that it’s never happened, but it would be rare.
To quote Bob Marley himself, “Herb is the healing of a nation, alcohol is the destruction.”
It seems like everyone knows someone who smokes pot at some point or another; a friend, a family member, a neighbour, a teacher – it’s surprising how common it really is.
Just take that one day on Parliament Hill for example, there was close to same amount of people that show up for Canada Day.
I approached some suits that were walking off the lawn to see if they were part of the party.
“Uh, we’re just coming from a meeting,” they said.
“Oh, I see. And you just had to walk through centre to leave, right, wink wink, nudge nudge,” I teased.
They laughed. “Ya, exactly. Oh, and we don’t work for the government, we were just here, at a meeting.”
It seems that parliament’s staff and security had been well briefed to either ignore, or play ignorant when it came to the day’s events.
One of the protesters told me that the fact the government allowed the 4:20 celebrations on the Hill to take place, was a clear indication of their stance on the drug.
“They don’t care,” she said. “They know that weed is totally harmless, I bet if we stayed here for a few days and actually pushed it, they’d just go ahead and legalize it just to get us out of their way.”
The official stance of course, is “No comment.”
But who needs words anyway when you’ve got a hill full of good people, good times and good pot. Just sit back, relax and don’t worry about a thing.