Parliament Hill plays host to last annual marijuana rally before legalization


OTTAWA — Clouds of marijuana smoke erupted over Parliament Hill on Friday as pot enthusiasts of all ages gathered in the shadow of the Peace Tower for the annual cannabis celebration known as 4-20.

The event marks the last time pot users will flock to the Hill to celebrate cannabis culture in late April before the federal government legalizes recreational marijuana later this summer.

Young people and older medicinal users alike were well represented among the sea of marijuana paraphernalia spread out across the west lawn in the heart of the parliamentary precinct.

Tyler Graydon, a first-time 4-20 attendee, said he and his friends are “excited” to see pot becoming legal. Graydon, 17, is closing in on the minimum age for legal consumption — it will vary from province to province, but 18 or 19 seems to be the ballpark, likely following on existing alcohol restrictions.

Graydon, however, doesn’t think it will make much difference.

“As soon as it’s legalized, it’ll be in too many hands to really stop it,” he said. “They’ll get their hands on it somehow. They’ll get it from their parents or from the jar in the cupboard. It won’t be hard.”

An hour into the event, groups of laid-back pot lovers — RCMP were estimating the early turnout at around 1,000 people, but that was expected to grow as the afternoon wore on — were gathered outside, playing music and enjoying a long-awaited blast of sunshine.

By mid-afternoon, police were reporting a mellow vibe with no incidents.

For Alex Burridge, 20, this year’s celebration is a particularly meaningful one — he just picked up his first prescription for medical marijuana, which he’ll use to alleviate back pain from a sports injury. Legalization, he says, has been a long time coming.

“It’s something that people have been looking forward to for generations and we’re finally on the brink of it. I feel like it’s something that puts our country ahead of a lot of others.”

Fourteen-year-old Emma Boniface, whose mother also uses marijuana for medical purposes, delivered the day’s keynote speech — part of an effort by organizers to emphasize the importance of including young people in the national conversation about legalization.

Ottawa was far from the only locale in Canada where 4-20 was being celebrated. Gatherings took place across the country, from Vancouver to St. John’s, N.L., where the newly opened Puffin Hut was hosting an inaugural “Weed Olympics.”

Scheduled events included a biggest bong hit competition, a dab-off and a prize for the most creative joint art.

“The perfect way to describe it would be to say it’s like being in a martini bar at 12 o’clock on a Friday night, only much more chill,” manager Brian Walsh said of the festivities.

Raisa Patel, The Canadian Press