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Manitoba, Canada: Pre-teens Light Up
At Pro-pot Rally

Winnipeg Free Press Manitoba by Gabrielle Giroday, 21 April 2006

Hundreds Attend Annual Event

WINNIPEG -- DO you know where your 11-year-old was yesterday afternoon? If not, he or she may have been one of hundreds of students smoking pot on the front lawn of the legislature.  Approximately 1,000 high-school-aged youth -- and some even younger - -- arrived in droves to toke the afternoon away in the seventh annual demonstration in support of marijuana use. 

While veterans of the event said they supported the high turnout of supporters, they said they are increasingly shocked at the young age of attendees, some of whom openly puffed from six-foot bongs and rolled joints in front of the government buildings. 

"We're not going to get in trouble," said one 11-year-old, surrounded by a pack of four of his friends, who said they were the same age or one year older.  Rifling through his shoulder bag, he pulled out a small clear bag of pot. 

Crowds started trickling into the grounds at approximately noon, and by early afternoon, hundreds of students sat in circles on the lawns beating bongo drums or chatting on cellphones.  Two Winnipeg police officers and two Legislative Building security guards watched the crowds from the top step of the building.  No arrests were made. 

"Kids are getting younger every year, which is something I don't like," said Brent McKinney, 23, a veteran of the event. 

McKinney said teens and pre-teens were not involved to protest legal penalties pot smokers face, unlike demonstrators initially involved in the pro-pot movement.  "They should be in school right now," he said, pointing out Manitobans can't try other mild-altering substances like alcohol until they're 18 years old.  "It's turned into a giant party instead of a political event, which is why I'm here."

Experts say that ever since the Liberal government announced a relaxation of certain marijuana laws in 2003, youth are expressing an increasingly casual attitude to using the drug. 

While the Conservative government said in March it will not be resurrecting Liberal efforts to decriminalize possession of pot, experts said youth are receiving confusing messages about the drug. 

"We're very concerned...  we're seeing a shifting attitude by youth," said John Borody, CEO of the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba. 

"The messaging by government, when you're talking about decriminalization, ( youth ) saw that as moving ( marijuana ) away from being an illicit drug, which is not true."

Borody pointed out statistics which indicate approximately 40 per cent of Canadian Grade 12 students use marijuana at least once a week, and the average age to sample drugs and alcohol for the first time is around 11 or 12 years old. 

"We know kids are substituting smoking and driving, for drinking and driving, because they think it's safer," he said.  "There are harms associated with the drug."

Worldwide events honour April 20, a legendary reference in stoner culture to the number 420, which is ( incorrectly ) alleged to be the section of the California penal code that pertains to a marijuana drug bust.  April 20 is the fourth month and twentieth day of the year. 

Yesterday, groups of students identified themselves as hailing from a range of Winnipeg schools, including Garden City Collegiate, Kelvin High School, Sturgeon Creek Collegiate and General Wolfe School. 

Old-timers of the event said they were not allowed to broadcast any speeches as they had in previous years. 

"It's become a school holiday somehow," said Walter Lesley, nicknamed "Big Red."

He called marijuana use an "adult activity," and said he had been lobbying to see marijuana fully legalized for more than three decades. 

Some youth said their parents had given them permission to attend, while others said they had skipped school and snuck out to the event. 

"Parents should support what their kids want to do, and my parents know I'm here," said a 16-year-old student from John Taylor Collegiate, whose name is not being published to protect his identity.  "It's no big deal."

Although three minor altercations between demonstrators broke out, police officers said they witnessed no violence.