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Protest Smokes Up The Joint

`Puff, puff, puff' is chanted at orderly pro-pot rally as police watch from sidelines

Toronto Star
Apr 21, 2007 04:30 AM
John Goddard
Staff Reporter

Matt Mernagh strictly followed every rule and regulation before publicly lighting his giant spliff.

Days ago, he notified Yonge-Dundas Square authorities of his wish to demonstrate for the legalization of marijuana.

Similarly, he registered with the Toronto Police Service event co-ordinator and personally informed officers at 52 Division.

"I said the Toronto Hash Mob will be at Yonge and Dundas celebrating 420," Mernagh recalls, using a street term that originally referred to an after-school hour of communal smoking, and means the continent-wide April 20 day of pot advocacy.

Then Mernagh did something he says he knows to be "100 per cent illegal."

At 4:20 p.m. yesterday, he flourished a giant marijuana cigarette, what he called a "cannon," lit it and inhaled. Thirty or so like-minded supporters chanted "puff, puff, puff" and waved Canadian flags with a cannabis leaf, instead of maple leaf, at the centre.

"A Cannabis Control Board of Ontario is basically what I'm calling for," Mernagh said, as celebrants continued to share joints to the smiles of passersby, and as police on foot and bicycle kept their distance.

A CCBO would work much like the LCBO, offering cannabis consumers a regulated cannabis supply at government stores, he said.

Nobody was about to arrest such a polite and diminutive protester.

Mernagh, 33, has suffered osteoarthritis since he was 17 and smokes pot partly to ease "excruciating pain," he said.

"My bones are over twice my age," he said without self-pity in the bright sunshine. "The discs in my back are degenerating really bad."

Medicinal use of marijuana is legal with a Health Canada permit but getting a permit is an arduous process, Mernagh said. He said he is perhaps two weeks away from getting his.

Another problem is paying for the dope, he said. Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that Ottawa sells medicinal marijuana at a 1,500 per cent mark-up from the price it pays, the Canadian Press reported this week.

"I'm a long-standing medicinal marijuana user at the Toronto Compassion Centre," Mernagh said, referring to the charity that helps people suffering from conditions that marijuana is known to relieve.

"I'm fighting for the full legalization of cannabis because I believe that a lot of my friends that aren't disabled should have the same right to use cannabis as I do."

Fellow demonstrators, some wearing Toronto Hemp Company clothing, voiced agreement.

One identifying himself as Davin, 29, from Hamilton, handed out "Scratch and Spliff" marijuana-scented air freshener provided by Brand Novelty Co. in Scarborough.

"Happy 420," he said cheerfully. "It's our day today. We live for the weed."

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