VANCOUVER â€” There were the inquisitive stoners, the happy-go-lucky potheads and the young punks yelling â€œsmoke weed everyday.â€
As thousands flocked to the Vancouver Art Gallery on April 20 for the 21st year, in celebration of the unofficial stonerâ€™s holiday, it was the usual scene.
Bags of blunts right out in the open, people sparking joints everywhere you look and plenty of cookies and other edibles with the green stuff baked right in.
But there was a new voice at the ganja gathering this year: Three Surrey high school students werenâ€™t there to light up.
Wearing anti-pot T-shirts and sporting gas masks, twins Duncan and Connor Fesenmaier and Jordan Smith from Princess Margaret Secondary took the trek to Vancouver to protest the use of marijuana and spread their anti-legalization message.
As one man quite accurately dubbed them, theyâ€™re the â€œbud busters.â€
I hooked up with the guys at King George SkyTrain station.
On the train ride, I asked what they thought would happen at the rally. Connor wasnâ€™t sure.
â€œThe VPD (Vancouver Police Department) didnâ€™t want us to go,â€ he said. â€œThey said it wasnâ€™t the smartest thing, that it could start a riot or start a problem.â€
As we got off the SkyTrain at Granville, the boys opened up their bag and put on their gas masks. â€œTheyâ€™re the good ones,â€ said Connor.
On the street, people recognized the boys from the news, where they spoke out after they say their vice-principal at Princess Margaret Secondary told them to remove the shirts while at school.
Some pointed and laughed, others were more aggressive.
â€œYou have to recognize you canâ€™t change the opinion of some people,â€ Connor said. â€œYou have to let it bounce off like rubber.â€
The closer we get to the art gallery, the stronger the smell of pot â€“ and the insults â€“ becomes.
â€œAre you ready for some abuse?â€ asked a cop as we were steps away from entering the event.
And they were.
The boys took all kinds of nasty verbal abuse throughout the day. Many people took to toking up in front of them and blowing smoke in their faces. It didnâ€™t seem to faze them.
Polite and diplomatic all the way through, they talked to anyone who would listen.
The hate is something theyâ€™ve already experienced online, both through their Facebook page Canadians Against the Legalization of Marijuana and also via email, where they were slammed with insults and even death threats.
â€œEveryone thinks itâ€™s all passive, free-loving hippiesâ€¦ but theyâ€™re angry,â€ said Connor.
Pamela McColl is a director on the advisory council of Smart Approaches to Marijuana Canada, an anti-marijuana-legalization group. She said sheâ€™s proud of what the boys were doing.
â€œWe had hesitation because of safety,â€ she said of having the boys come out to protest 420. â€œBut theyâ€™re young people who want to have a voice â€“ and they should have a voice.â€
In the mid-afternoon, Connor noticed people were getting angry toward them.
â€œThe police presence definitely keeps them at bay a bit,â€ he said.
â€œI do feel scared, I do feel scared in the sense of watching my back.â€
Connor, the unofficial spokesperson of the trio, said when he was first offered a joint, he said â€˜no,â€™ wanting to arm himself with knowledge before trying it.
After doing some research, including through the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a U.S. government research institute, he said he knew where he stood.
â€œThey had tons of research and facts and it was all done scientifically,â€ he said. â€œIt was scary.â€
All three boys are with SAMC, which believes legalization will usher in Canadaâ€™s new version of big tobacco, that use will increase and that public and social costs will well outweigh the tax revenues the government receives.
Shortly before 4:20 p.m., the â€œPrince of Potâ€ himself found his way to Connor, where the two took to debating facts on marijuana as a crowd formed around them.
â€œYouâ€™re presuming marijuana impairs people,â€ Marc Emery said after hearing Connorâ€™s stance. â€œGetting highâ€¦ is being self-aware. Thatâ€™s why people get enhanced sounds of music and enhanced sounds of nature when theyâ€™re high.â€
Connor argued the negatives outweigh the positives.
â€œBut how do you know?â€ Emery fired back. â€œYouâ€™re believing a government study, right? This is the same government thatâ€™s lied to us consistently about every war, about the effects of drugs, about their secrecy, about their surveillance.â€
Connor said many argue itâ€™s not addictive and itâ€™s not dangerous, adding, â€œyou donâ€™t need to die for something to be dangerous.â€
Emery said Connor sounded like a â€œpompous, sanctimonious teenager,â€ while Connor told Emery he sounded like a â€œself-indulged hippie.â€
While the parties didnâ€™t agree on much, they shook hands before parting.
Emery said he doesnâ€™t understand the boysâ€™ protest.
â€œWhat theyâ€™re doing is laying a judgment trip on people, telling them what theyâ€™re doing with their own body is bad. I donâ€™t know if anybody has a right to really go around doing that,â€ he said.
â€œMarijuana is extremely unique in that itâ€™s useful for dozens and dozens of applications, medical, fibre, euphoria, soaps, lotions, itâ€™s just incredible. Thereâ€™s really nothing else like it on the planet. So for them to choose marijuana to come here and protest against shows that theyâ€™re just not well informed.â€
Emery said heâ€™s never seen pot protestors at the event before.
â€œYouâ€™re allowed to not smoke pot every day of the year. Thereâ€™s only one day for us and itâ€™s this day. Weâ€™re here just to ask for the dignity of being treated like first-class citizens and not second-class citizens.
â€œHeâ€™s here judging us and I think heâ€™s wrong.â€
Connor said heâ€™s glad he got to debate marijuana with Emery.
â€œI was kind of hoping I would. I think it went well, but of course he had his entourage with him."
And after all was said and done, the boys were all glad they went, with plans to return next year.
â€œWeâ€™re definitely a strong force,â€ said Connor. â€œWe know our science, we know weâ€™re right and we just have to put that out there.â€