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Organizers hope to Fill the Hill and bring the cannabis debate to the masses

Spencer Van Dyk | Fulcrum Staff

EVERY YEAR, THOUSANDS of people gather on Parliament Hill on April 20 to protest Canada’s cannabis laws.
This year, organizers plan to “Fill the Hill” with debates by youth political parties to educate and openly discuss the topic of cannabis law reform with the estimated 10,000 to 15,000 attendees of the event.
“Fill the Hill was kind of disorganized last year,” said Kyle Walton, a second-year law student from Carleton University and one of the event’s co-organizers. “It was kind of just putting up posters and knowing people would show up, but this year there was a bit more of a push for it to be more organized.”
Walton also said the cannabis issue is particularly important this year, following the omnibus bill—which takes drastic measures to discourage pot possession—and because he thinks the cause is in need of re-mobilization.
This year’s event will include prominent players in the Colorado decriminalization movement, as well as  B.C. marijuana activist Bob Erb, who recently won $25 million in the lottery and has decided to donate a portion of his winnings to sponsoring the event.
”We just had the omnibus bill come in and the Liberal leadership race, so cannabis legalization is an important topic right now,” said Walton.
Walton hopes this will be the year that a plan can be made to gain an understanding between smokers, non-smokers, and the government, a plan which he ultimately hopes will result in legalization.
Some activists believe the presence of youth political parties is especially important because it could get the university demographic—which could be the  generation that makes the final call on the issue— more involved in the debate.
Fill the Hill has historically been a peaceful event, with police chaperones and little to no conflict.
“I’ve never seen any contested or unconstitutional issues at a 420 protest,” Walton said. “There are thousands of people openly breaking the law on the steps of the Parliament building with RCMP officers standing around. It’s humbling.”
How much the debates will add to the excitement of the event and jumpstart political change is unclear.
“I think [Fill the Hill] could have more political importance in the fact that a lot of the potential energy and impact seems to fizzle out afterwards,” said Nico V*, a daily pot smoker and third-year anthropology student at the University of Ottawa. “What surprises me is that the Hill consistently gets filled with thousands of people year after year … it’s obviously got potential, but unfortunately not much seems to happen beyond that one day.”
When asked whether or not he believes the debates will alter the peaceful dynamic of the event, V said he is unsure, and will have to wait and see for himself.
“I think it’ll be interesting,” he said. “I think the way in which the different groups treat the questions will largely mark the way that the issue is handled after the event.”
Fill the Hill is a large-scale event, generally peaceful event. Even those against marijuana decriminalization and legalization appear indifferent toward the protest.
“I wouldn’t go, because I don’t smoke pot,” said Vanessa Lebrun, a nursing student at the U of O. “But I think that those that believe in the cause should go and have fun. What I find more interesting than anything is that it is still illegal and that thousands of people are still showing up and openly smoking up, and nothing is done about it. I think that’s a pretty clear indication that it’s pretty accepted.”
As for V’s expectations of the event, he said he’s just hoping the weather cooperates.