Manitoba

Pot smoke envelops Manitoba legislature grounds

The air around the grounds of the Manitoba legislature was thick with the smell of marijuana, as advocates in favour of looser drug laws gathered for what has become a yearly event known as 4-20.

Protesters get early start on lighting up

A two-metre long bong, on the grounds of the Manitoba legislature. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)
A large group of people gathered on the grounds of the legislature, to protest Canada's marijuana laws. (CBC)
The air around the grounds of the Manitoba legislature was thick with the smell of marijuana, as advocates in favour of looser drug laws gathered for what has become a yearly event known as 4-20.

Several hundred people were on the grounds Friday, lighting up even before the designated time for that, 4:20 p.m.

Cannabis offences

Arrests in Manitoba for cannabis violations are among the lowest in Canada, according to the most recent information from Statistics Canada.

The annual police-reported crime survey, for 2010, shows Manitoba had 157 reported cannabis offences per 100,000 population.

Only Prince Edward Island had fewer with 108 offences per 100,000 population.

British Columbia had the highest rate at 421 per 100,000, followed by Saskatchewan with 252 per 100,000.

Another survey, by Health Canada, shows that Prince Edward Island has the highest reported use of cannabis in the country.  In 2007, 7.9 per cent of the island's population reported having used the drug, the same rate as in B.C.

In Manitoba, the rate was 7.2 per cent and in Saskatchewan, 7.0 per cent.

"They are clearly getting a head start," CBC News reporter Katie Nicholson reported Friday around 2 p.m. CT.

One participant, from the Marijuana Party, told CBC News he advocates the use of the drug for health reasons and argues legalizing pot would reduce organized crime.

"I'm a medical marijuana user myself through Health Canada so I am a proud example of the benefits of it," Steven Stairs said.

In addition to the pot protesters, about 12 mobile food trucks appeared on the grounds.

"To be honest I don't think it is really going to change anything," James Deacon told CBC News. "But if everyone still has one day to come together and say what they think is right, then it is still doing the job."

Winnipeg police were also on the scene.

"People are gathering at this time to demonstrate their objections to certain laws," Const. Natalie Aitken, a spokeswoman for the police, said. "Those are laws that we do enforce, and we do enforce on a regular basis. At this time, there will be a judgment that is used."

Aitken said police were most interested in ensuring people did not operate vehicles under the influence.

"We will not tolerate any forms of violence or anything that might make that event unsafe for anyone," she added.

Later in the afternoon, around 5 p.m., police were seen breaking up the gathering. Before long only a few groups of people remained and police were getting them to leave as well.

With files from CBC's Katie Nicholson

now