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Protesters take tokin' position on rights


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Local News - Saturday, April 21, 2007 Updated @ 8:36:11 AM
Niagara Falls Review

Has the Charter of Rights and Freedoms gone to pot? Dude, it will seem that way today when scores of activists descend on Niagara Falls for their annual protest in favour of legalizing marijuana.

Don't take this as an endorsement of smoking marijuana. But their protest is a living, breathing (even inhaling) testament to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The government should treat marijuana just like alcohol, says protest organizer Matt Mernagh. Regulate it, control it and tax it.

This will be the fourth year the pro-marijuana crowd has made its annual pilgrimage to Niagara Falls, home of the unfortunately named Highway 420. Among pot-smokers, for reasons that have long been hazy, 4:20 p.m., is the universal time to toke up.

Activists meet at 2 p.m. on Victoria Avenue and hold their "smoke-out" in Queen Victoria Park on the Saturday closet to April 20 (4-20, get it?). Maybe the pot-heads can't get time off work during the week to go to a protest.

Niagara Falls isn't exactly a hotbed of radical political activism. So, when a a parade of tokers takes it to the street, it's about as wild as things get.
They engage in civil disobedience by lighting up joints in public. In previous years, some have been well-versed in the arguments of using medical marijuana to ease the pain of patients with cancer or AIDS.

Others are teens, high on a mixture of cannabis and adrenaline from the rush of getting away with such a subversive activity.

"Hey man, we're smoking weed on a city sidewalk and nobody's stopping us!"

The crowd is like a union of Rosa Parks with Beavis and Butthead.

Their pot parade is always a feast for the senses. They sing, chant and bang the pots they wear on their heads (pot-heads, get it?). They've got banners with clever slogans. Some guy dresses up as the guy on the Zig Zag package of rolling papers. It's all very colourful and festive.

And you'll smell them. Oh, you'll smell the pungent parade from a block away.

Reporters who cover them complain they can still smell the pot hours after they've gone home.

Coincidentally, The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms turned 25 years old April 17. On that day in 1982, prime minister Pierre Trudeau and Queen Elizabeth agreed Canadians are responsible enough to manage their own constitution.

Maybe it's from a contact high, but there's something inspiring about the pot smokers making the most of their Charter rights. Section 2 guarantees Canadians freedom of conscience, freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression. That section has a special place in the hearts of journalists since it's our bread and butter. It's hard to get tired of seeing somebody else exercise it.

It also guarantees the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association.

You can get together with whomever you want as long as you behave.

These people believe in a cause - the legalization of marijuana.

Sure, there are probably bigger issues to tackle. Supporting the troops. Eliminating poverty. A $10 minimum wage (something that would probably benefit many of the protesters directly ... though their newfound riches might go up in smoke).

But these folks are using their constitutional rights to demand to be allowed to freely to smoke marijuana.

There's also something encouraging about the way the Niagara Regional Police handle the situation. Typically, the cops watch them from a respectful distance and even give them an escort for their own safety.

Since the pot-smokers have been coming to Niagara Falls, they haven't complained about the police and the police haven't really complained about them, though some officers have been overheard grumbling about the irony of babysitting the tokers.

It's nice how everybody gets along.

Of course, freedom of expression means passersby can honk their support or jeer the protesters. Really want to exercise your Charter rights? Tell them what you think ... in French.

Canada's justice minister, Rob Nicholson, the MP for Niagara Falls has freely expressed his opinion. They're barking up the wrong tree. A Conservative government won't decriminalize marijuana, he said.

Weekend weather looks perfect for a political protest. Get outside and see the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in action at 25. See what it means to be Canadian. That's at 4:20. Of course. clarocque@nfreview.comCall us with your tips
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