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Pro-Pot Protest Nets Just 60 People

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Police were out in full force for a contingent of mostly teenagers protesting to decriminalize marijuana during Saturday's pro-pot rally.

About 60 people marched up Pitt Street to Domino's Pizza near Tollgate Road for the first-ever Walk 4 Weed demonstration.

It was a far cry from the hundreds who were expected to attend, but that didn't stop organizers from forging ahead with the peaceful demonstration.

The Standard-Freeholder counted 10 officers who walked alongside the marchers and estimated there were perhaps another five in police vehicles corralling traffic along the busy street. Police would not confirm the number of officers they brought in to handle the protest.

Police anticipated 288 protesters, said Insp. D'arcy Dupuis, who was in charge of the special detail for the demonstration.

Organizers like Jason S* said the inclement weather was mostly to blame for the low turnout.

"It looks like there's about one officer for every ( four ) people," S* said. "I know a lot of people who wanted to go too, but felt afraid to come."

Dupuis said the information he had on protester numbers was from both the organizers and from the Internet site Facebook, where there was a Walk 4 Weed '07 group posted.

There was also a belief the police announcement they would be monitoring and videotaping the protesters was a form of intimidating adults from joining in the march, said Marc-Boris Saint-Maurice, the founder of the Marijuana Party of Canada.

"It's certainly a PR ( public relations ) war by the police to discourage people," Saint-Maurice said. "Especially when they told everyone they were going to be filming ( the protest )."

Saint-Maurice drove from Montreal to attend the protest after reading the first article in the Standard-Freeholder about it online.

He preached civil disobedience, saying the best way to change the law is to break it as much as possible, before warning them: "Before you do plan to smoke today, police are watching."

"Have fun. Don't get busted," he said to a round of cheers before the march got under way.

The group set off on the walk around 1 p.m. from the bandshell in Lamoureux Park. Staying on the sidewalk, the group made its way up Pitt Street, joining in chants such as "It's no joke, let us toke." The group was met with the occasional honk by passing motorists, and many pedestrians, merchants and homeowners stopped to watch as the demonstrators marched by. One of the biggest cheers came when the group passed by a green Weed Man truck between Second and Third streets.

The group made a stop at the Ninth Street office of MP Guy Lauzon - the office was closed - before continuing on to Domino's, where the march wrapped up around 2:30 p.m. so they could get a two-for-one pizza deal and pop.

For the most part, the event was peaceful in nature, and the demonstrators didn't have to look far to find a police officer. Given the prospect of a much larger crowd, Cornwall police beefed up its presence, devoting more than a dozen officers - some of whom were called in on overtime - to keep an eye the march.

Dupuis did not give an estimated cost the city incurred for police to handle the protest, noting they "haven't sat down and figured out the final tally."

It wasn't the intention, Dupuis continued, to be "heavy-handed and overkill" but if police did not plan for the more than 200 protesters they anticipated, the force could come under fire for being unprepared.

Some protesters smoked marijuana as they marched, in plain sight of city police officers, who followed the group's every move from the park to the ending point.

But no arrests were made, and aside from a brief conversation between one demonstrator and an officer - in which the 17-year-old was reprimanded - there was little interaction between the two sides during the march.

Dupuis explained there were a "couple of situations where an officer did see someone smoking something, but by the time ( he or she ) got to the individual the evidence was already gone."

Officers approached another man they saw lighting up a marijuana joint, but the man showed them a legal certificate that enables him to smoke the drug for medicinal purposes, Dupuis added.

In order for police to lay a charge, he explained, simply seeing someone smoke marijuana in front of them is not enough. Police must have evidence of the narcotic they can send off to a lab to determine it is a drug before laying a charge in court.

Even possessing a small amount of marijuana is illegal, however simple possession - which is under 30 grams and is considered not for the purpose of trafficking - is considered a more minor offence, but a person can still be arrested for it.

"We didn't want officers getting in the middle of the crowd, but a number of officers said they could smell marijuana smoke," said Dupuis.

Kevin Mallette took part in the march in hopes of bringing more attention to the issue. Mallette said it's hypocritical for the government to make marijuana illegal and at the same time allow the sale of alcohol and tobacco products. The 28-year-old Cornwall resident said he used to work at LCBO where he was "one of the biggest dealers around."

"The only difference was I was getting paid by the hour and not by the deal," he said in trying to prove his point about the government's tolerance of alcohol and disapproval of marijuana.

Fellow demonstrator and Cornwallite Pierre Quenneville said for him, it's a matter of acceptance and allowing people the right to make their own choices.

"Whatever happens in the end, we have to trust God," said the 35-year-old. "It's about peace and love and accepting people for who they are."

Later, in front of Lauzon's office, Saint-Maurice encouraged the demonstrators to write to the local MP and call on his government to legalize marijuana. That drew another round of cheers from the group.

But not everyone was cheering. Pastor Tom Newton, of Calvary Baptist Church, showed up in the park with a religious placard in hand to stage a one-person demonstration against the pro-pot rally.

Newton said marijuana is a "gateway drug" that leads to nothing but trouble for users.

"It's not going to lead them to anything good," he said. "This is just a dead-end road."

A couple of pro-pot demonstrators, including Saint-Maurice, approached Newton and brought up the issue of using marijuana for medicinal purposes. After some brief exchanges, the demonstrators moved and left Newton to himself.

For their part, organizers said the event would be peaceful, and it was. David-George Oldham, one of the organizers, said he was pleased with how things went in spite of the low turnout.

Oldham said things went pretty well considering it was the first demonstration of its type. The demonstrators were respectful of police, and the officers took a "reasonable" approach as well, he said.

"I'm glad they didn't overreact," he said.

From a police perspective, Dupuis said the event went well because of the lower turnout. He explained that means the force has sent the message to the many young people who didn't show up it is illegal.

"As wrong as we think it is for youth or anyone to be involved in drugs, they still have the right to demonstrate," Dupuis concluded. Oldham said protesters used the walk to sign up 60 people to Cannabis Cornwall, a group which will be sending newsletters and writing to politicians to lobby for the decriminalization of marijuana.

The organizer said he expects the Walk 4 Weed will become an annual event.

Source: Standard Freeholder (Cornwall, CN ON)
Copyright: 2007 Osprey Media Group Inc
Contact: publisher@standard-freeholder.southam.ca
Website: The Cornwall Standard Freeholder - Ontario, CA
 
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