Mike Blanchfield, the Canadian Press
Published Saturday, April 20, 2019 14:00 EDT
Last Updated on Saturday, April 20, 2019 5:46 PM EDT
OTTAWA – It was a blow out, man, the kind that is a total snag.
About a thousand protesters filled a half of the front lawn of Parliament Hill on a rainy Saturday and blush at the climax of the first 4-20 "Weed Day" demonstration since Canada legalized recreational marijuana.
Participation disappointed organizers who expected thousands more, but a festive atmosphere prevailed when the Peace Tower clock struck at 4:20 pm, triggering simultaneous photography of smartphones and lighting of joints, bongos and pipes.
"The weather did not cooperate, it kind of shut us off," said Shawn Mac, program director at Ottawa 4-20, moments before. "Come and go, we've probably seen about 3,000, but now, probably about a thousand."
A spurt of rain early in the afternoon meant closing a public address system, and setting for a sparse gathering of perhaps several dozen people, mostly shrunk under plastic ponchos or tarpaulins.
Sara Bakir, 29, of Ottawa, was one of the first arrivals, dressed in a dark hood under a black umbrella.
"It's still good to be with some people who think alike," she said, laughing, and casting her eyes at the empty, soggy brown-yellow lawn.
The organizers learned a difficult lesson even before the rain began to fall – new freedoms bring great bureaucracy.
Mac said his group is finding more bureaucracy on Saturday than the last April 20.
Organizers can not use the steps for the now-closed Center Block, which means viewers will need a front row position on the lawn to see or hear – something that Mac calls a "big disappointment."
"Listening is already a problem, so not being able to see it is an overwhelming blow," he said.
Organizers have also been told to limit musical artists to just two, Mac said, adding that this is not in the rules of how to hold a public event on the Hill.
New limits on automatic access also meant organizers had to carry equipment and materials by hand to the lawn of Wellington Street, he added.
"It's frustrating because legalization should … make things easier and not more complicated," he said.
Post-legalization concerns sustain a sense of protest among 4 to 20 event planners across the country.
These include concerns about the government's decision to tax medical marijuana, slow progress in legislation to accelerate pardons for people previously convicted of simple marijuana possession, and the fact that provincial and municipal governments are struggling with retail sales and drug laws. land use to grow marijuana.
The federal government also has not yet legalized marijuana edible products and has another six months to set rules for it.
"Everything about legalization has made things more difficult, which is the opposite of what it should be," Mac said.
Others were more optimistic and saw Saturday's event as an inspiration to the world.
"Once again, the world is watching, and I am very proud of Canada today and Canadians," said Kelly Coulter, a British Columbia-based cannabis policy consultant.
She said Canada is helping to change global attitudes and policies as the G7's first country to legalize marijuana, and she hoped people from Germany and Britain would attend Saturday's festivities on the hill.
A downpour did not dampen the festivities at Woodbine Park on the eastern edge of Toronto where revelers trampled muddy grass to the steady pace of house music.
Marijuana artisans sold their products in canvas-covered tents, many expressing the hope that they might one day emerge from the "gray market" to settle in brick and mortar stores.
Justin Loizos, owner of the Just Compassion marijuana dispensary in Toronto, said Saturday's mood was more commemorating than the last four to 20 meetings, which were more like protests.
The current regime may not be the "request for legalization," Loizos said, but the cannabis community must be concerned about how far Canada has come.
"I see a lot of people complaining, whatever – no," he said. "We'll just celebrate here and enjoy the day."
With files by Adina Bresge