As Victoria celebrates pot legalization, activists say fight for fair laws isn't over
The lawn of B.C.'s legislature in Victoria filled up Wednesday with those looking to take their first tokes of legal marijuana.
People started gathering on the lawn at around 3 p.m. Activists handed out free joints and marijuana plants while cranking Bob Marley songs, as pot smoke hovered in the air.
Dana Larsen, a pot advocate who has worked for decades toward the goal of legalization, said while cannabis is now legal – his fight is not yet over.
"This is absolutely a celebration and a protest," Larsen said. "Although we're happy with the changes in the law, there's still a lot of prohibition, a lot of very harsh penalties and cannabis is still being treated like a very dangerous and harmful substance that it is not."
He said new pot laws still treat the drug as though it's much more dangerous than alcohol, and that laws for both substances should at least be on par with each other.
"If you get caught in a canoe drinking alcohol, you get a small fine," said Larsen. "If you get caught in a canoe smoking a joint, that's a $5,000 fine and three months in jail."
He said the new laws also mean that homeowners growing their own pot plants could be hit with the same $5,000 fine and jail time if cannabis leaves are visible from neighbouring properties.
"That's not really in the spirit of legalization," Larsen said.
Victoria's Ted Smith, a familiar face in the local marijuana scene, went further in his criticism of the new laws – saying Canada has actually taken a step backward.
"We fought to the Supreme Court of Canada so people could have access to these products," Smith said, pausing to take a toke from a joint. "And now if we were to abide by the government's laws, we would be taking all those products off the shelves and selling this…and many people would suffer if we decided to do that."
He said the country will eventually get there by greenlighting edibles and salves along with other pot by-products, but that it could take a few years.
Others celebrated legalization by heading down to their local marijuana dispensaries, which ironically, are still technically illegal until they become officially licensed by the province.
While some dispensaries voluntarily shut down temporarily until they get their license, others, like Leaf on Yates Street, risked it by staying open.
A small party was happening at the store, with free joints also being handed out there as they were at the legislature – something B.C.'s public safety minister confirmed was still illegal, even if police weren't exactly cracking down on the practice Wednesday.
Other unlicensed storefronts like The Green Hart Dispensary on Gorge Road East went the safer route by temporarily closing.
"We had to stay compliant in order to hopefully get our legal right to be here," said employee Debbie Crookes.