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Easter holiday cited for small legislature crowd

Hundreds of people gathered Sunday at the Manitoba legislature to enjoy some pot.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Hundreds of people gathered Sunday at the Manitoba legislature to enjoy some pot.

It may be the one day a year when people can smoke marijuana in public without being arrested, but the crowd toking up at the legislature Sunday was thinner than usual.

Robert (from left), Justin and Kodi enjoy a supersize pot pipe during Sunday's gathering at the legislature.

Enlarge Image

Robert (from left), Justin and Kodi enjoy a supersize pot pipe during Sunday's gathering at the legislature. (WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

"I can't believe how light (the crowds are). Probably because it's Easter Sunday," shrugged Rick Starink, a veteran toker who celebrated his 65th birthday with a joint or two Sunday. "Last year, you couldn't see the asphalt or the grass here; I think that was one of the higher turnouts."

The annual Smoke Pot Day, observed in cities across Canada and the United States on April 20, drew an estimated 1,500 to 1,700 smokers and their supporters to the Manitoba legislature. Other years, the crowds have been as thick as the smoke.

The air at the legislature Sunday reeked of marijuana smoke. People were smiling and city police erected roadblocks into the legislature, creating a weird picnic-like atmosphere. A hotdog cart on Broadway at the entrance to the legislature added to the festive feeling.

Police and provincial corrections officers in uniform maintained a visible presence at the event but stayed upwind and on the sidelines.

The scene resembled Woodstock, without the music -- apart from a guitar-strumming musician or two.

The biggest sound at the event was barking from a lot of dogs, on leashes with their celebrant owners.

One urban legend has it April 20 became Smoke Pot Day because in some parts of the United States the police code 4-20 meant "smoking in progress."

Starink said he lit up his first joint in 1965. Sunday marked a kind of family outing, with his son, 23, and his friends. As the birthday boy shared a joint with the young man, he said he recalled the first time the lad lit up and his reaction to it.

Like some parents with liquor, he put a lid on the experiment: "I told him, 'You want to smoke? We do that here at home.' That way he's not smoking some chemical-treated crap," he chuckled.

"I don't know if I'll live long enough to see it legalized," he sighed. "But I can almost smell it."

Nearby, two cousins from Flin Flon were sharing their own briefer history with the weed. Raymond and Marylee Francoeur, both 16, playfully chimed off a list of benefits, each taking a turn reciting a poetic ode to marijuana.

"Weed should be legalized. It's not a pill." Marylee said.

"It's better than alcohol," her cousin piped in.

Back and forth the pair extolled weed, wrapping up a half-dozen benefits. "And you're happy when you smoke," Marylee smiled.

Colorado legalized the recreational use of pot in 2012, making it, along with Washington, one of two American states to pronounce medical and non-medical smoking legal.

Marijuana use in Canada remains illegal, apart from strictly controlled marijuana permits for medical reasons. Last year in Winnipeg, Canada's chiefs of police urged reform of the country's drug laws, suggesting pot smokers get tickets rather than criminal charges for lighting up.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

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