It is 4:20 on a Wednesday afternoon and a circle of smoke is forming at the communal fountain of the University of Victoria. You are a first-year student, new from Ontario, and you poke through the crowd to see what’s going on. You are passed a fat joint.
Your friends had cracked jokes about BC’s abundance of bud, but you had no idea that your university of choice had a pot-smoking club.
“It’s not just about getting high,” says the fourth year student beside you, Patrick Connelly, as you pass the grass. “It’s about civil disobedience and public protest, which is almost more important than getting high.” He has been going to 4:20 club, formally called ‘Hempology 101,’ for two years.
It is a legitimate UVic club that is committed to educating the public about hemp, marijuana and prohibition. A membership fee of ten dollars even buys you a Hempology 101 textbook, written by club founder Ted Smith. The book is printed on hemp paper and traces the history of prohibition from its roots to the present.
With weekly meetings since 2000, held at the busiest location on campus, Hempology 101 welcomes between 50 and 100 students each week.
“True, some people come just to get smoked up. Especially first-year students who get excited about blazing on campus,” says Connelly, one eyebrow raised suspiciously. “But most people here want to be part of a public gathering that shows disregard for the current laws against marijuana.”
As Campus Security drives slowly by, not stopping, you realize that the club also peacefully speaks to the ineffectiveness of the current laws surrounding marijuana use.
The club gets a similar reaction at its meetings at Camosun College, also in Victoria, and at its downtown meetings at City Hall. Usually, the club is left alone.
Each week, a different speaker talks to club members and curious students about issues surrounding the controversial substance. Popular topics include the medicinal properties of marijuana, as well as the agricultural, environmental and industrial advantages of growing hemp.
“Hemp has gained bad connotations because it is associated with pot,” Connelly explains, “but you can’t even smoke hemp. It’s a common misconception.”
Today’s topic of discussion is the allocation of government funds to the ‘war on drugs.’ As you pass another bud, you notice that students approach the circle from all corners of campus. With representation from all faculties – engineers, artists, and phys-ed students, etc. – it must be one of the most diverse clubs on campus.
Suddenly the talking stops and as the sun peeks through the tall firs, the club commemorates those who have been incarcerated by prohibition laws with forty-two seconds of silence. Club founder Ted Smith, for example, is still banned from campus for his alleged trafficking at meetings.
The decriminalization of marijuana is a sign that times are changing. All you have to do is pick up the newspaper to know that BC’s current policies are as up in the air as the smoke you exhale.
You can tell by the ripples in the fountain that it has begun to rain. Students across campus hurry to shelter, but the meeting continues. Everybody stays. Looking around, you realize that with numbers like this present at a weekly meeting about prohibition of marijuana, British Columbia should no doubt be the trailblazer for legalization across the country.
“If you believe that a law is unjust, then I believe you have an obligation to do something about it,” says Connelly, putting on his coat. He and others like him will be present at 4:20 club next week, rain or shine.