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November 28, 2004 - The Edmonton Journal (CN AB)

Chill On The Hill Will Greet Bush

Marijuana Advocates, Gay Couples Set To Voice Their Concerns

By Janice Tibbetts, CanWest News Service

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

OTTAWA -- Fortified by a few tokes on a 25-gram joint, Canada's self-proclaimed "prince of pot" will be there, hoping that George W. Bush will catch a whiff and turn his attention to protesters who want the U.S. to keep its nose out of Canada's marijuana laws.

Some of the country's gay newlyweds are showing up too, bringing their own dose of northern chill to Bush's first official visit to Ottawa.

As the Bush motorcade rolls on to Parliament Hill on Tuesday morning, the thousands of anticipated protesters will include those seeking to emphasize the deep divide in social policy between Canada and the U.S. in the last couple of years on hot-button social issues like marijuana and gay marriage.

"I think it matters in Canada because whatever happens in the U.S. creates pressures on social policy issues that we've won," said Toronto gay activist Michelle Robidoux, who is making the trip on a protest bus.

Marc Emery, equipped with a 25-gram, 32 1/2-centimetre-long marijuana joint that he says will be enough for 150 people "to have a big hit on," hopes the American media will notice him even if Bush doesn't.

"There's a lot of money being lined up behind prohibition and the biggest impetus for that comes from the Bush administration, which is much more ideologically determined to keep marijuana out of the mainstream than Canadians typically are," said Emery, head of the B.C. Marijuana Party and a self-described "prince of pot."

"We want to remind Americans that the Bush agenda is not our agenda in Canada."

While Bush and Prime Minister Paul Martin are expected to avoid the two high-profile irritants when they meet in private, the public sideshow will still draw attention to fault lines in Canada-U.S. relations.

While Canada is moving toward legalizing gay marriage, Bush wants to entrench a ban in the U.S. Constitution.

As Parliament debates a bill to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, the U.S. has lobbied for a crackdown and warned that relaxed laws will tie up the already strained borders.

"It is not surprising there are going to be protests against his position, but this is not something Bush is preoccupied with right now," said Donald Abelson, a specialist in Canadian-American relations.

"He's got bigger fish to fry."

Gay rights and pot will take a back seat to the president's efforts to drum up support for national missile defence and reinforcing border security, Abelson said.

"These are the issues that will be on the agenda and they are going to be far more important than social policy," Abelson said.

"He's not going to sit down and have an informed debate with Paul Martin about the virtues of marijuana usage; it's just not going to happen."

From Martin's perspective, it is believed there is little incentive to raise contentious social issues at a time when he is trying to rebuild relations with the U.S. that deteriorated after Canada refused to support the Iraq war.

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