April 20th was a beautiful day in Medicine Hat for the 420 Cannabis Community Clean-Up. Despite some blustery weather in the surrounding days, the sun shone and the wind died down so that a group of cannabis enthusiasts could gather at city hall to celebrate the unofficial cannabis holiday. This celebration was a little different than most, however.
In a small, conservative city where reefer-madness era propaganda still runs deep, 420 is often met with a mixed bag of reactions from the public. As a cannabis activist and educator who has had a hand in organizing our cannabis day events for the past 6 years, I knew that this year needed to carry a slightly different message to the general populous while still remaining the fun and friendly event that 420 has come to be known for.
Members of the cannabis community began gathering at noon around the large brick clocktower to light joints and listen to a small speech acknowledging traditional territories and thanking the planning committee, sponsors, and all those who helped make the event possible. Small bags containing four cannabis seeds were gifted to people who came out to help, four being the number of plants permitted per household under Canada’s proposed recreational home-grow legislation. Attendees divided into four teams armed with garbage bags and sharps disposal boxes to conquer litter in various areas of Medicine Hat’s downtown core. When the group reconvened at the clock tower just before four o’clock, the estimated total amount of garbage removed from the streets of downtown was between 150-200 lbs, not including drink containers. Bottle deposits collected from the clean-up are being donated to Jerry Martin’s legal fund, with an additional donation from the afterparty bottles being made by Liquid Niteclub. (More information on Jerry’s supreme court challenge is available at gofundme.com/kingofcompassion).
Local entertainer Matrx Cavasos (aka Peter Parker), who dresses as Spider-Man for various community events, showed up to help with litter pick-up and briefly lifted his mask to partake of the ceremonial 4:20 joint. When Spider-Man was asked why he came out in support of the cannabis movement, he replied with a small chuckle “Because Spider-Man loves Mary Jane”.
The event was held not only as a joint celebration (pun intended) of cannabis day and earth day, but also as a public demonstration. The primary goal of the clean-up was to bring attention to the true nature of cannabis users and to help destigmatize cannabis use in the public eye. Post-event feedback from attendees, local media outlets, and the general public was overwhelmingly positive, a refreshing change in a city that has generally carried a very socially conservative mindset. I’m honoured to have been a part of this years planning committee. We are looking forward to next year already, and we’re optimistic that these types of events will catch on in other areas so we can start a conversation about cannabis use that can break stereotypes and change perceptions in Canada’s more conservative communities.
(This article was originally published in Issue #31 – May 2018 of HIGH! Canada Magazine and has been edited to include extra photos.)