Pot smokers in Riverside Park presented a picture of sunny bliss Friday in support of 4:20, the global celebration of cannabis culture.
The city's first sanctioned 4:20 rally attracted about 60 supporters to the Rotary Bandshell by mid-afternoon. People lounged around listening to the local band The Tyme Travellers, savouring the spring warmth and, yes, lighting up some king-sized doobies while hardly batting an eye.
Thirty or 40 years ago they would have been arrested on the spot. No one objected and there were no uniformed police officers in sight.
There was a sober side to the rally, though.
Many of those smoking cannabis were complying with the law as federally licensed medical marijuana users. Their local source of what they believe is safe cannabis — free from mould, bacteria and chemicals — a compassion club run by local activist Carl Anderson, was shut down by RCMP in February.
Anderson hoped to mount a charter challenge but had a setback earlier this week when a new charge was substituted, moving the case to a lower court. He helped organize Friday's rally.
"You can't criminalize people for doing something so widely used," he said. "I think if it was on a (referendum) ballot, it would be legalized overnight."
Elisa Millns was one of Anderson's customers. Suffering from two acute intestinal diseases, she found marijuana an effective substitute for prescribed morphine or hypo-morphine.
"When you live with pain for 24 hours a day and you can sleep for six hours, it's a Godsend," she said. She theorizes that the cannabis works as a catalyst for internal resistance to pain, enabling the body to produce its own morphine.
"It also improved my life," added Theresa Edstrom, who has multiple health issues.
They believe rallies such as Friday's will help overcome stereotypes and make the public more aware of the merits of marijuana. They see Ottawa's omnibus crime bill moving the country in the opposite direction, threatening to criminalize more Canadians for growing marijuana. That has to change, Millns said.
"What's it going to take? It's going to take groups like this to stay peaceful. It's going to take more people coming out of the closet."
Another woman, a senior who didn't want her name used, knows an elderly woman who discovered that marijuana helps her health. Other acquaintances, parents with a young boy who has cancer, allow him to use cannabis as therapy.
"Since he started using marijuana, he no longer throws up and he can sleep."
Others at the rally advocated for an end to prohibition.
"They think we're all stupid layabouts, but they'd be surprised," said Winston Smith, a member of The Tyme Travellers. "They recently analysed Shakespeare's pipe in the British Museum and it tested positive."
He argued that the law discriminates, amounting to bigotry and prejudice. Why hasn't there been an effective challenge under the charter, then?
"Because every time we try, like Carl, they bounce it down to a lower court."
"People in B.C. grow the best pot in Canada," Anderson said. "B.C. bud's the best. It's known worldwide. And it's a major part of the culture. The whole province is built on pot."