Is legalization lost in the haze? 

click to enlarge PHOTO COURTESY OF TOURISM WHISTLER
  • Photo courtesy of Tourism Whistler

The pall of pot smoke coalescing over Skier's Plaza Sunday afternoon at forty minutes to five was not visible from orbiting surveillance satellites. It might have been had there not been a heavy cloud cover obscuring their cameras, the ones sensitive enough to take connect-the-dots pictures of the freckles on a bald man's head.

What had been, in the hour or so before 4:20 p.m., persistent light wafting of sweet-smelling smoke from not-so openly puffed joints, gathered momentum quickly, like a skier straightlining a steepening slope. At 4:20 and thirty seconds, my eyes began to sting, my throat constricted slightly, my lungs laboured and my nostrils flared while the rest of the disparate parts I call myself swayed gently to the familiar patterns of songs made anthemic by Bob Marley and The Wailers, compliments of said Wailers, sans Bob in anything but spirit.

In the dark ages of pop pot culture, I had a strategy for gatherings such as rock concerts where I suspected there might be a reasonable chance for some crowdsourced pot smoking. Carefully husbanding what was both a scarce and expensive commodity, I'd roll a lone joint, not too skinny, not too fat, just a real humdinger, as Mitch Ryder might say. Around the time I felt both the momentum growing and the absence of sneaky cops, I'd spark 'er up and pass it around. This overt act of generosity begat an instant community and meant my new best friends and I would enjoy the benefits of everyone else's preparedness, thus assuring a festive evening none of us would have the capacity to remember. Fortunately, I made notes.

No such subterfuge was required Sunday afternoon. In fact, I may have been the only one in the crowd not packing. It didn't matter though. Moments after the Hairfarmers left the stage, the mosh pit began to take on the quality of a Tokyo subway at rush hour and the personal space where I'd had room to move was increasingly occupied by elbows, backpacks, nervous dogs, excited stoners, wild-eyed energy drinkers, aging hippies, bewildered children, humid skiers, puzzled tourists and no visible escape route. All of them, yes the dogs too, seemed to flame on at 4:20 and by 4:30 no one in the area could have successfully passed a random drug test. Fortunately, we were all aware of the Rebagliati Defence, not that any of us would need it in this town.

Notably absent from the scene, unless they were undercover, were the RCMP. Gentlemen, ladies, I salute you. It wasn't long ago you just couldn't bring yourself to display such restraint. Only two years ago, uniformed officers would troll through the 4/20 crowd, select some sad stoner at random, escort him to the stairs by Excalibur, turn out his pockets and go through the motions of writing the poor sap a citation. That the crowd gathered didn't rise up and riot is more a testament to the weed being smoked and the music being played — and, perhaps native apathy — than the wisdom of official actions.

But this year, from my sightline-challenged location, nothing. In Vancouver, where an order of magnitude more people lit up, nothing.

Ironically, in Denver, where pot is more or less legal, police issued 92 citations for public consumption over the two day 4/20 festival at Civic Park, compared to five they issued during the one-day smoke-in last year. That's because it's legal to smoke pot in Colorado at home, at friends' houses, quite possibly in the teachers' smoking lounge if they still have those, but not in public. Having become partly pregnant, stoners in the Mile High state ignored the vagaries of the law and toked en masse because (a) they could, (b) they want to get rid of the last vestiges of prohibition and, (c) well, heck, it's spring; why not?

Inevitably, there has been pushback to Colorado's brave experiment in sanity. National groups took the case to the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy, asking the feds to intervene in Colorado and Washington and block legalization. A Colorado group concerned about the impacts of legalization — outbreaks of mass laughter and screaming munchies? — issued their own screed. Police in neighbouring states waited expectantly on their own side of the state line to catch stoners careering dangerously while driving under the influence.

But it's too late. In the home of the brave, land of the free market, the market has spoken and legal pot has become unstoppable. Ignoring for a moment the very positive impact legalizing marijuana has had on the Colorado's tax revenue, there is, as anticipated, sprung up like skunk cabbage in Whistler's spring, a corporate juggernaut of pot-related businesses in Colorado, embracing production, distribution, sales and pot tourism. Where business goes, votes are sure to follow and it is a brave and stupid politician that cries out to put an end to the party.

So where does that leave B.C., arguably home to the current form of the 4/20 celebration of all things cannabinoid? Bravely pushing the envelope, changing the paradigm, thinking outside the box and playing, yes, the historic role of Johnny Canuck — Hewer of Wood, Drawer of Water, Provider of Natural Resources for the World.

Ignoring the widely known and highly respected success of the province's pot farmers — the storied and cutting-edge B.C. Bud — our current provincial government is busy playing Me-Too in the LNG floating timebombs game. It's supporting tearing mountains apart and despoiling watersheds for a pocketful of copper and gold. It's getting its ducks in line to roll over and play dead for a couple of big pipelines. It's actively building a ski resort where no one wants one built. It's ready to open the province's parks to commercial exploitation.

And it is profoundly silent on stepping boldly into the minefield of potonomics. "Ooh, that's a federal issue," coos Premieress Christy Clark, ignoring the dichotomy of Colorado and Washington taking the reins and passing state laws legalizing pot in the face of the U.S. federal prohibition and continuing War on Drugs, a war that's beginning to look a lot like the stoic battle fought by the Black Knight in (Monty Python and the Holy Grail). "It's only a flesh wound."

But it's a battle our own lady of darkness is unwilling to fight. It's an opportunity we'll cede to our friends on the other side of the border, at least for now. After all, why be an early adopter of something truly sustainable when you can go on cutting wood, digging minerals, delivering bitumen and selling your resources for a mess of pottage? It is, after all, the Canadian way.

In the meantime, another generation will muddle through, high but cynical and always looking over its shoulder to make sure the fellow traveller behind them isn't sporting well-polished shoes.

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