Monday, May 07, 2007

Marijuana March: All This Canna-biz In Toronto

"All day up on green, inhale smoke every time I breathe, talking junk when I hit the seed I love that smoke and a bag of weed, might attack that White Widow, dirty bud the hydro - too many people buy the homegrown, It'd wanna be bum to make my mind blow. Thick lumps start to change me, head in the clouds paranoid and lazy, everything about me starts to faze me, never thought weed would drive me crazy, up late and I start to lose my temper..." - Mark One/Sizzla (Feat Virus Syndicate) "I Got Too."

Pot activists in Toronto continued their campaign for legislation of that much vaunted plant yesterday as the city's annual Freedom Festival gathered in front of the legislature at Queen's Park. Mainstream media reports of the event settled on an attendance figure of a massive 20,000. A huge majority of these didn't even bother to join the Marijuana March that eventually wormed its way down Bloor St and back again. Staying behind instead for the direct business of mass spliffage on the grass.

The main stage tossed out pop-metal along Linkin Park lines, a suitable soundtrack for the teenage, lank haired and stoned. The crowd was mostly middle-class, rarely stretching further than their early 20s and there weren't many obvious worshipers of dead Ethiopian dictators around either but plenty of bongoloids getting their primal drumming on, college students flicking hacky sacks in circles, the spaced staring off under trees or clutches sharing over-sized decorative bongs.

The numbers are hardly surprising with the Freedom Festival and Marijuana March organisers under-taking a massive promotional effort year after year for this "cultural pro-testival." The logo of the organisers, which cleverly uses the CN Tower as a leaf in a cannabis plant, was flapping on posters stapled to poles across the city for weeks before hand.

The event has a massive appeal, drunk people shout at you about it from cars roaring past the night before and you could find it without having any idea of the city, given the crowd flow to and from it. Fake cannabis leafs draped around them, cash just handed over for temporary braidings of their hair or t-shirts with terrible visual puns boasting of drug usage and cannabis culture cliches. You're shooting fish in a barrel really.

The parade was grand marshaled by the so-called "Prince of Pot" Marc Emery, head of the Marijuana Party and publisher of Cannabis Culture magazine. Arrested over 20 times in the course of his campaigning he is wanted for extradition by the US for sending seeds across the border, in online sales some claim have netted him over five million dollars. He claims he simply introduced a business plan into the Canadian cannabis world,"a retail revolution so we could earn lots of money to fund a peaceful revolution to change the way the world thinks about marijuana."

Apart from a rebellious stature gained from appeal to a culture centred around cannabis, he's really not much of a figure to care about. A few google searches reveal a traditional captialist libertarian, who according to Wikipedia favours the abolition of public education in favour of private tutorship. In true shock jock style his comments about older people are far more reprehensible, basically funding for their health care should be cut off and they should be left to die.

There's a clear tension in Toronto's well developed movement to "free the weed," with some campaigners trying to establish activity outside the "official" Freedom Festival, so April 20th now figures strongly as an alternative date within the cannabis culture calendar here. Set aside by more radical liberationists as a day of smokers pride with the numerical representation of the date matching the 4:20 police code for a cannabis possession offence. Last 4:20 A crew calling themselves the Toronto Hash Mob (as in flash mob) assembled out of no where in the downtown area in an "out yourself" smoke out. Police officers looked on and promised no arrests , with some major debate sparked in the letters pages of the alternative press on decriminalization or legalization.

One participant writing in NOW! magazine, itself a sponsor of yesterday's Freedom Festival described, the consternation the move caused in the canna-biz world of hemp stores, head shops and cafes. "There's a big fear that our unsanctioned actions will feed bathhouse-style raids. Some café owners even beg us not to come back to their establishments post-rally."

The 1981 Bathhouse raids, where the police raided four gay bathhouses leading to the mass arrests of 300 men, spurred the queer community into a series of protests that eventually stabilised as the annual Pride parade. Many seeking a change in the status of cannabis see a similar "pride" strategy as a suitable template for shifting state policy. Toronto now has its own openly stoned culture. Head shops like Roach-a-rama in Kensington Market boast a "pot-io" and a cafe calling itself the Hot Box where the owners allow stoners to smoke on the premises.

The main Freedom festival is affair is now simply that, a festival complete with a small year round staff and sub contracted workers such as security people, paramedics and technicians required by the law coming in during the event. Over the years there has been a string of corporate sponsors including PizzaPizza, a massive fast food franchise present across Ontario.

The festival's website even invites advertisers to "market your brand to core consumers; 80/20 male/female, ages 17 to 35, lower to upper income, socially, progressively, environmentally, and politically aware" and "acquire market intelligence." And of course many advertiser do come on and advertise, like - a soft porn site specialising in annual calendars featuring semi-nude, fluoro-goths caressing cannabis paraphernalia or suggestively biting into apples being used as improvised pipes.

Its like a very privatised Gay Pride with a raft of companies saddling up to get in on profits to be made after a status change for the plant or from over-priced cannabis culture kitsch today. There certainly is a very valid argument for a change in the status of cannabis in many countries but for a plant whose past and present intertwines with issues of race and class few of these are to the fore of a cannabis liberation movement dominated by would be entrepreneurs and cannabis devotees fawning all over their own radical stonage.

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