Marijuana proponents buzzing over Bill C-26
By MONIQUE MUISE
Cannabis user Jimmy lights up his pipe during Cannabis Day celebrations on the Dartmouth Commons on Tuesday.
There was more than one way to get baked in the sun in Halifax on Canada Day.
A telltale sweet smell drifted through the air as more than 200 people gathered on the Dartmouth Common for Halifaxís 13th annual Cannabis Day picnic, held every July 1.
They seemed relaxed and happy as they enjoyed the warm weather, played Hacky Sack or sat together on blankets under nearby trees.
One young man named Jordan said he had recently moved to Halifax from Ottawa and wanted to get a taste of the cityís Canada Day events.
"This is really interesting," he said, standing near the ever-lengthening line for hotdogs. "Iíve never seen anything like this before. I mean, everyoneís pretty open about it."
While many seemed to be drawn to the grassy hill for the laid-back ambiance, there was also a political undercurrent to the festivities. The major buzz this year surrounded Bill C-26, which was tabled in the House of Commons in November 2007. The legislation would amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to include harsher penalties for possession and distribution of illegal drugs, including marijuana.
"Itís absolutely outrageous," said Debbie Shultz-Griffin, who uses the drug to help deal with her multiple sclerosis.
"It would see people imprisoned for a mandatory period of six months for cultivating as little as one marijuana plant. It leaves a lot of medical marijuana patients in really precarious situations . . . living in constant fear of having their doors kicked in by law enforcement agencies."
Ms. Shultz-Griffin serves as president of Maritimers Unite for Medical Marijuana, a non-profit organization formed in 2003 that advocates for the therapeutic use of the cannabis plant. So far, only 2,432 Canadians have received permission from Health Canada to use marijuana for medicinal purposes.
John Cook, the vice-chairman of the group, called the bill "outlandish" and unconstitutional, adding that polls have shown that most taxpayers support medicinal marijuana.
"Theyíre going to be spending more money on policing and the courts," he said. "So there seems to be a dichotomy between what people want and what the government is doing."
As the afternoon wore on, a number of people suffering from chronic illnesses took the stage to tell the crowd about their personal struggles to gain legal access to the drug.
Jordan, who described himself as a casual user, said he agreed with the message they were trying to get across.
"Thereís a lot of political red tape surrounding this issue," he said. "I think itís all just a matter of stigma. We should all be able to make choices about what we consume."