Taking on the tokers

There were the inquisitive stoners, the happy-golucky potheads and the young punks yelling "smoke weed everyday."

As thousands flocked to the Vancouver Art Gallery on April 20 for the 21st year, in celebration of the unofficial stoner’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 weren’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 antilegalization message.

As one man quite accurately dubbed them, they’re the "bud busters."

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 wasn’t sure.

"The VPD (Vancouver Police Department) didn’t want us to go," he said. "They said it wasn’t the smartest thing, that it could start a riot or start a problem."

As we got off the SkyTrain at Granville, the boys opened up their bag and put on their gas masks. "They’re the good ones," 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.

"You have to recognize you can’t change the opinion of some people," Connor said. "You have to let it bounce off like rubber."

The closer we get to the art gallery, the stronger the smell of pot – and the insults – becomes.

"Are you ready for some abuse?" 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 didn’t seem to faze them. Polite and diplomatic all the way through, they talked to anyone who would listen.

The hate is something they’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.

"Everyone thinks it’s all passive, free-loving hippies… but they’re angry," said Connor.

Pamela McColl is a director on the advisory council of Smart Approaches to Marijuana Canada, an anti-marijuana-legalization group. She said she’s proud of what the boys were doing.

"We had hesitation because of safety," she said of having the boys come out to protest 420. "But they’re young people who want

to have a voice – and they should have a voice."

In the mid-afternoon, Connor noticed people were getting angry toward them.

"The police presence definitely keeps them at bay a bit," he said.

"I do feel scared, I do feel scared in the sense of watching my back."

Connor, the unofficial spokesperson of the trio, said when he was first offered a joint, he said ‘no,’ 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.

"They had tons of research and facts and it was all done

scientifically," he said. "It was scary."

All three boys are with SAMC, which believes legalization will usher in Canada’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.

DEBATING EMERY Shortly before 4:20 p.m., the "Prince of Pot" himself found his way to Connor, where the two took to debating facts on marijuana as a crowd formed around them.

"You’re presuming marijuana impairs people," Marc Emery said after hearing Connor’s stance. "Getting high… is being selfaware. That’s why people get enhanced sounds of music and

enhanced sounds of nature when they’re high."

Connor argued the negatives outweigh the positives.

"But how do you know?" Emery fired back. "You’re believing a government study, right? This is the same government that’s lied to us consistently about every war, about the effects of drugs, about their secrecy, about their surveillance."

Connor said many argue it’s not addictive and it’s not dangerous, adding, "you don’t need to die for something to be dangerous."

Emery said Connor sounded like a "pompous, sanctimonious teenager," while Connor told Emery he sounded like a "selfindulged hippie."

While the parties didn’t agree on much, they shook hands before parting.

Emery said he doesn’t understand the boys’ protest.

"What they’re doing is laying a judgment trip on people, telling them what they’re doing with their own body is bad. I don’t know if anybody has a right to really go around doing that," he said.

"Marijuana is extremely unique in that it’s useful for dozens and dozens of applications, medical, fibre, euphoria, soaps, lotions, it’s just incredible. There’s really nothing else like it on the planet. So for them to choose marijuana to come here and protest against shows that they’re just not well informed."

Emery said he’s never seen pot protestors at the event before.

"You’re allowed to not smoke pot every day of the year. There’s only one day for us and it’s this day. We’re here just to ask for the dignity of being treated like firstclass citizens and not second-class citizens.

"He’s here judging us and I think he’s wrong."

Connor said he’s glad he got to debate marijuana with Emery.

"I 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.

"We’re definitely a strong force," said Connor. "We know our science, we know we’re right and we just have to put that out there."

areid@thenownewspaper.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A sign encouraging COVID-19 safety steps, with the Bayside rugby clubhouse – located adjacent to Semiahmoo Secondary and the South Surrey track – in background; Jan. 6, 2021. (Photo: Tracy Holmes)
Surrey sees 2,400 new COVID-19 cases in February

This is the lowest monthly increase since last fall

A CVS pharmacist prepares a COVID-19 vaccine at Village Green Retirement Campus in Federal Way on Jan. 26. (Photo: Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing)
COVID-19 vaccination bookings start Monday for some Surrey seniors

First up is seniors aged 90-plus, and Indigenous seniors, elders aged 65-plus

Federal Conservative leader Erin O’Toole speaks during a virtual South Surrey & White Rock Chamber of Commerce town hall on Saturday, March 6, 2021.
O’Toole says South Surrey, White Rock face ‘acute’ challenges during pandemic

Federal Conservative leader speaks at local chamber town hall

Labour Minister Harry Bains addressing Surrey Board of Trade digital meeting Friday. (Screen shot)
Labour Minister says Surrey businesses’ resilience through pandemic ‘impressive’

‘Surrey’s effort in bending the curve has been among the best,’ Harry Bains says

Volunteers from Semiahmoo Secondary joined with members of the Lower Mainland Green Team and the White Rock and South Surrey Naturalists Wednesday to remove invasive plants from White Rock’s Ruth Johnson Park. (Contributed photo)
Students, volunteers remove invasive plants from White Rock’s Ruth Johnson Park

Day-long project a collaboration between city, Lower Mainland Green Team

The James C Richardson Pipe Band marches in a Remembrance Day parade on Nov. 11, 2019 in Chilliwack. Wednesday, March 10 is International Bagpipe Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of March 7 to 13

International Bagpipe Day, Wash Your Nose Day and Kidney Day are all coming up this week

Victoria man Brett Andersen is asking for people’s help to secure him one of eight free tickets to the moon. (Screenshot/@brettandersen Instagram)
Victoria man wants your help securing a free ticket to the moon

Japanese billionaire offering eight people a trip to the moon

The Conservation Officers Service is warning aquarium users after invasive and potentially destructive mussels were found in moss balls from a pet store. (BC Conservation Officers Service/Facebook)
Aquarium users in B.C. warned after invasive mussels found at pet store

Conservation officers were told the mussels were found in a moss ball from a Terrace pet store.

Hockey hall-of-fame legend Wayne Gretzky, right, watches the casket of his father, Walter Gretzky, as it is carried from the church during a funeral service in Brantford, Ont., Saturday, March 6, 2021. HE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky remembered as a man with a ‘heart of gold’ at funeral

The famous hockey father died Thursday at age 82 after battling Parkinson’s disease

The family of injured Willoughby resident Ronald Gerald Jesso is hoping someone saw something that will help solve the mystery of how he came to be so badly hurt on the morning of Feb. 22. Jesso is still in hospital. (Jesso family/Special to Langley Advance Times)
An appeal to help solve the mystery of an injured Langley man

Family of Ronald Gerald Jesso asks witnesses to come forward

Donald Alan Sweet was once an all star CFL kicker who played for the Montreal Alouettes and Montreal Concordes over a 13-year career. Photo courtesy of Mission RCMP.
Ex-B.C. teacher who was CFL kicker charged with assault, sexual crimes against former students

Donald Sweet taught in Mission School District for 10 years, investigators seek further witnesses

During a press event on March 6, Const. Alex Berube, media relations officer for the West Shore RCMP, addressed a deadly shooting that occurred in Metchosin the night before. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
VIDEO: One man shot dead on Vancouver Island in ‘targeted incident’

Highway 14 reopens following multi-hour closure for investigation

B.C. RCMP Lower Mainland District officer, Asst. Commissioner Stephen Thatcher presents RCMP blankets to (from left) Chief James Hobart, Chief Maureen Chapman, Chief Derek Epp and Chief Mark Point. (RCMP)
Historic agreement significantly expands Indigenous role in Lower Mainland policing

Community Safety Agreement builds relationship of ‘trust, communication and prevention,’ says Chief

Most Read