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Hundreds march for marijuana

Activists demand decriminalization

Activists rally to put pressure on government, which will soon pass marijuana legislation.

By Edward Lee

Close to 2,000 marijuana smokers and supporters took to the streets of Toronto early last month to celebrate the recreational and medicinal uses of the illegal narcotic.

Starting from City Hall and ending in Queen's Park, the "Million Marijuana March" stopped traffic for close to an hour as police blocked off portions of University Ave. for the demonstration.

Besides playing hackey sack, laughing uncontrollably, and, of course, indulging in the weed, marchers at the daylong event sent a clear-headed message to anyone who cared to notice: legalize marijuana.

Two prominent members of the movement, who live and work in the Annex area, spoke out on the political issues involved.

"There's no reason why someone should be imprisoned for consuming this mild intoxicant," says Paul Lewin, Toronto Director of the Marijuana Party of Canada. "We don't advocate usage. We just say 'don't put people in jail for consuming it'."

Lewin, who was perfectly sober during the entire march, says that at least a million people worldwide were in solidarity with the Toronto marchers as similar pro-marijuana demonstrations were taking place in the U.S. and Europe.

Currently the federal government has until July 31st to introduce new laws on marijuana possession as the existing dope laws were declared unconstitutional by the Ontario Court of Appeal last year.

Ottawa is presently looking at proposals to re-write and expand current pot laws, which would make it easier to possess and cultivate marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Lewin, who is a criminal lawyer, ran in the last federal election in the Trinity-Spadina riding. Although he received only 1.5% of the vote, the 34-year-old Lennox St. resident says the fact chat his party is getting any votes at all is a message to other political parties to think more seriously about marijuana laws.

Another group representing the pro-marijuana cause at Queen's Park was the Toronto Compassion Centre -missing a line- group that provides "medical marijuana" to registered members.

Members at the TCC have been diagnosed with chronic illnesses such as multiple sclerosis, AIDS, glaucoma, quadriplegia, and hepatitis C. "Medical marijuana" is used to alleviate the pain, nausea, and seizures of these illnesses.

Currently, legal access to "medical marijuana" in Canada is issued to a very select few who've gained official exemption from the existing laws under section 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Jim Bridges, who was diagnosed with HIV in the early 1980s and who now has full-blown AIDS isn't covered by section 56, and so has turned to TCC for help.

"Medicinally, its been Fabulous for 100% of our membership," he says, adding that pot helps him feel calmer, improves his appetite, and generally makes him feel better.

Bridges says that the police have left the Compassion Centre alone. "We have been acknowledged and tolerated because we're very restricted about who can be a member," he says adding, "If they want to put me away for smoking it, then I think they would be wasting their time."

The TCC -missing a line- , has served over 700 members since opening five years ago.

In a nation-wide survey conducted last year, reported on in the Globe and Mail, 47% of Canadians agree with the statement "The use of marijuana should be legalized," as compared to only 26% who agreed with the -missing a line-

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