Cannabis activists say although this year’s 4-20 celebrations across the country will likely be the last before recreational pot use becomes legal, there’s still a lot to fight for.
The federal government has committed to making marijuana legal by the summer, but the task of regulating the sale and consumption of the drug has been handed down to the provinces and territories.
Lisa Campbell with the Ontario Cannabis Consumer and Retail Alliance said she doesn’t think 4-20 events across the country will disappear with the new legalized system — but they will likely evolve.
“There is still a lot to fight for, including cannabis lounges, consumption spaces and having special events permits. But there comes a certain point where you can shout from the sidelines or you can put down your protest sign and have a chance to work with government to influence policy,” Campbell said.
“For me and my activism, I’ve gone from fully disobeying the law and civil disobedience to now pausing my illicit activity and trying to find a way to work in the legal market.”
The provinces have been rolling out their plans on regulating legalized pot. Ontario, for instance, intends to sell marijuana to people 19 and older in up to 150 stores run by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario. Consumption in public spaces or workplaces will be banned.
Campbell said she wants to see a mixed retail model in the province, with regulated lounges and bars where marijuana can be purchased and consumed.
“The only benefit to government stores is that argument that if you’re going to regulate it like alcohol, that we also need to have all these other licences that we have for alcohol,” Campbell said. “So, for example, at festivals there should be the ability to have a vapour lounge that is like a designated area like a beer garden, where you can purchase and consume cannabis.”
She acknowledges that the province’s Ministry of the Attorney General has finished its consultation on cannabis consumption spaces, and it will take some time before changes are made.
April 20 has long been a day to celebrate cannabis and the culture that surrounds it. In cities such as Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver, pot enthusiasts gather by the thousands in public squares, defying the authorities.
But Campbell noted that 4-20 isn’t just about having a massive outdoor smokeout anymore; there are events such as cannabis business speeches from CEOs from publicly traded companies, as well as movie nights with cannabis edibles.
She did say, however, that she’s concerned police will crack down harder on this year’s 4-20 events.
“While legalization is exciting, I also think a lot of people are fearful,” she says.
Abi Roach, the owner of Toronto’s Hotbox Cafe, says she has heard similar concerns from customers as police continue to crack down on illegal pot dispensaries in the city ahead of this summer’s legislative change.
She says with legalization looming, her activism will also centre on creating safe public spaces for cannabis consumption and fighting against what she called the “white-collarization of cannabis.
“It’s the corporate takeover of big alcohol, big pharma, big tobacco, now taking over cannabis and creating a business that never really existed, looking for a customer base that isn’t interested in it,” Roach said.
“I think the problem that not only corporations are going to have, but also the government stores, is how do you get my customers — the people we have been serving for the last 18 years — to switch from their current purchasing ways and go to the legal government stores?”
She says governments need to include the current industry, which has been flourishing for decades, into the legal framework.
“And that’s not happening and that’s what we’re fighting for,” she said.