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Daily Mercury - Guelph, Ont.
Author: Scott Tracey
Date: Apr 20, 2007
Start Page: A.2
Section: LOCAL NEWS
Text Word Count: 702

More Than Just Stoners At Pot Events

(Copyright (c) 2007 The Guelph Mercury. All rights reserved. ) If you happen to bump into Marco Renda today, make sure to not wish him a "Hippy New Year."

The former Dundalk-area medical marijuana activist, who still has charges pending in Guelph courts for allegedly exporting pot to the U.S. and Great Britain, is organizing a Cannabis Awareness Forum at a rather hoity-toity downtown Toronto hotel.

You'll know it because it's the one event without a cloud of blue smoke hanging over it.

Renda's Cannabis Awareness Forum, you see, is a non-smoking event.

This is to distinguish it from all the other marijuana-themed events that will be taking place today, on what has become known by some as Hippy New Year. Today is the 20th day of the 4th month, or 4- 20, which in stoner lexicon is widely used to refer to all things marijuana.

The origins of the term 420 -- which is always pronounced "four- twenty" -- are unclear. The most common rumours are that 420 refers to the section of the California Penal Code covering marijuana possession, or refers to a police radio code for someone toking in public.

Neither of these are true. The website snopes.com, which catalogues and attempts to debunk urban legends, suggests the term began its "linguistic career" in 1971 among California high school students, who used it to discreetly arrange their after-school toking sessions by referring to the time they would assemble.

But the origins of the term no longer matter. Every year, stoners claim April 20 as the day to honour their favourite weed with public displays, such as that to take place this afternoon on the University of Guelph's Johnston Green.

That event, according to a press release faxed to our newsroom yesterday, "is reflective of (students') concerns over backwards and outdated marijuana legislation."

Renda, who recently moved to Toronto where he publishes "Treating Yourself" magazine, conceded there will be "smoke-outs" taking place all over Toronto and around the world today. But he wants to distance his forum from all those acts of civil disobedience, which will doubtless feature prominently boisterous recreational tokers.

"We're not trying to promote that atmosphere," said Renda, who is licensed by the federal government to produce and possess marijuana.

"We're trying to educate people on the safe and responsible use of marijuana."

For Renda, 420 has a different, though probably related, significance. On Jan. 1, 2004, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger passed Senate Bill 420, which regulates marijuana use in that state for medicinal purposes. Incidentally, snopes.com suggests the bill's number was selected "because of the existing pop culture connection."

In many ways, mass efforts to legalize marijuana harm those like Renda who consider it medicine.

"We want to take away the stigmatism of pothead stoner," he explained. "It could be a doctor, judge, lawyer, teacher or whatever who use marijuana because of its medicinal benefits."

But like the pothead stoners, Renda would like to see the wacky tobaccy legalized to ensure a constant source of good weed for those unable or unwilling to grow their own.

Decriminalization, which would see possessing the drug become a non-criminal, ticketable offence like speeding, "only benefits the black market," Renda said.

Another thing benefitting the black market is the federal government's attempt to collect huge profits on the backs of the country's most sick. A Canadian Press report this week revealed Health Canada, which was forced into the marijuana business by a number of court decisions endorsing the weed's pain relief effects, charges patients 15 times more for their dope than it pays to get it from the official supplier, Prairie Plant Systems Inc.

"It troubles me that they charge anything at all because we as taxpayers have already paid for that to be grown in the first place," Renda said. "You have people on disability who can barely afford to put food on the table. How can they afford to pay the federal government hundreds of dollars a month on top of that?"

It's a question which will be discussed during at least one 420 event in Toronto today -- the one without the cloud of blue smoke.

Scott Tracey's column appears Fridays. He can be reached at 519- 823- 6068 or by e-mail at stracey@guelphmercury.com.



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