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B.C. marijuana activist in Ottawa to push for change

By admin | November 29, 2012


B.C. marijuana activist in Ottawa to push for change

Riding the wave of what some are calling a “cannabis spring,” B.C. marijuana activist Ted Smith brought his “Hempology 101” convention to the Ottawa Public Library’s central branch Sunday.

Smith, on his first tour beyond his home province, where he has held similar events for a dozen years, said successful legalization votes in the states of Colorado and Washington have given new energy to the cause.

“There’s a certain momentum happening that has never occurred before,” he said.

The Ottawa event, like all stops on his tour, including Halifax, Sackville, N.B., and Toronto, featured local speakers, including activists, scholars and public figures.

“The goal is to plant the seed,” said Smith, who hopes to see more and more campus clubs “sprout up” at universities.

Russell Barth, a public marijuana activist in Ottawa for 10 years, spoke at the event and said he has noticed a shift in public perception over time.

“In 2002 or 2003, when you talked about medical marijuana people would purse their lips, roll their eyes and go, ‘Oh, yeah, sure.’ Now you talk to a stranger on the bus and they go, ‘Oh, yeah, I’ve heard good things about that.’”

Still, Barth said the city has a long way to go, compared to Toronto or Vancouver.

“Ottawa’s not quite as hip as it likes to think,” he said. “There’s a lot of pot people, but not that many who want to put their names out there to change laws.”

At the federal level, Smith said the wave of optimism within the pro-pot lobby is somewhat stymied by the Conservative government.

On Nov. 6, the same day marijuana was legalized in the two U.S. states, mandatory minimum sentencing came into effect in Canada for the trafficking, import, export and production of marijuana as part of bill C-10, the Conservatives’ Safe Streets and Communities Act.

Nevertheless, Eugene Oscapella, a lawyer and criminology professor at the University of Ottawa, told the crowd that progressive moves in the U.S. may have some Canadian influence.

“Traditionally, the Canadian federal government has relied on the excuse … (that) even if we want to change the law, we really can’t do anything because the United States won’t let us. That was true under Bush … but that is no longer the case,” he said. “With Obama in his second term, there’s at least greater hope that there’s room for manoeuvring in Canada that there wasn’t before.”

Oscapella said one potentially successful form of activism would be for lawyers to plead their clients not guilty in all marijuana cases.

“About 90 per cent of all criminal cases are resolved by guilty plea,” he said. “If we took all those drug cases and pleaded not guilty, the criminal justice system would become so constipated that no amount of ex-lax would help it.”

The qualm about that plan, he said, would be the ethical issue for lawyers, because not every client would benefit from such a plea.

Whatever the path, Barth said he is prepared for a long struggle.

“What I see coming in the future is much like the civil rights movement. There will never be a moment where we can declare freedom. There’s always going to be someone who says we don’t deserve freedom and it’s going to keep going back and forth.”

At the same time, with a room full of people supporting his cause and the lingering odour of pot wafting through the air, he saw hope.

“Gradually,” he said, “we will win.”

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