Yellowknife 420 founder reflects on half-a-year of legalization

‘420 this year is not protest’ says longtime weed activist Kim MacNearney

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When Kim MacNearney first began organizing rallies in front of City Hall on 420, or April 20th – an internationally recognized date when cannabis is celebrated and prohibition is protested – there was always a “risk.”

Pot was still illegal.

NNSL file photo
Kim MacNearney stands outside the uptown Liquor Shop on Oct. 17 – the day of legalization of cannabis across Canada. The leading pot activist purchased the newly available product at Yellowknife’s only retail distributor and celebrated during the day be wishing the general public a happy legalization day.

And even when the rallies at Somba K’e Civic Plaza grew – from the inaugural protest in 2012, when it was just MacNearney and holding a lone sign, to MacNearney’s final protest last year – the risk remained.

But on Saturday, MacNearney, who championed a long-fought battle against pot prohibition following her own arrest 10 years ago, celebrated her first 420 following the legalization of cannabis in October.

For MacNearney, it was like a “big huge bag of bricks” fell off her shoulder.

“The thing about (420 this year) is, they’re not protests anymore. There’s no risk there anymore. You can go and be free with that plant,” said MacNearney in a recent interview with Yellowknifer.

With MacNearney living in Nova Scotia, Somba K’e Civic Plaza didn’t see any colourful protest signs for the first time since 2012. MacNearney said she wished she could have made it up to Yellowknife for the big day, but she celebrated the annual tradition in her own, same way.

Photo courtesy of Kim MacNearney (shot by her husband, Craig).
When Kim MacNearney organized the first 420 rally in Yellowknife in 2012, it was just her and her sign.
On Saturday, MacNearney celebrated her first 420 cannabis was legalized in the fall.
April 20, 2019.

“I actually spent my 420 today at our local paraphernalia shop,” she said. “There was a big sale and the store was full. It was lovely and it was a wonderful turn of events to spend it with, again, a group of strangers in celebration.”

 

Reflecting on legalization: the good, the bad and the pricey?

Nearly half-a-year after cannabis became legal in Canada, so far, so good for MacNearney.

Save some “expected” bumps along the road, including cannabis supply shortages due to too few producers, MacNearney said legalization has helped to open up conversations about the medical benefits of cannabis. It’s drawing buyers away from the black market – while dispelling lingering reefer madness fears, she added.

“I think the conservative side of the country expected to see a bunch of bumbling stoners wandering around, bouncing off walls,” said MacNearney. “That’s certainly not what we saw.

“The world didn’t change the next day.”

In 2009, both MacNearney and her husband were charged after police seized several marijuana plants from their home. The couple were then convicted in 2014 and were sentenced to house arrest and community service.

When Yellowknifer caught up with MacNearney on legalization day at the uptown Liquor Store in Yellowknife, she said “to be persecuted for something so intensely and then to finally have a societal switch. I almost want to be like – ‘I told you that it wasn’t that bad’ or ‘You treated me like a dirt bag and it wasn’t that bad.’”

But the other part of her, she said in October, was glad no one would have to experience what she experienced, again.

In Yellowknifer’s recent interview, MacNearney said she wants the issue of pardons for individuals with lingering weed charges addressed in the wake of prohibition’s end.

“Hopefully they’ll be looking to doing pardoning and clemency for previous criminal record holders,” said MacNearney. “It would be useful if they can get that quickly automated in some fashion.”

As for legal pot prices – criticized as being too high and likely to send pot users back to the black market – MacNearney isn’t too concerned.

“I think there is a is a significant percentage of black market buyers who switched to legal market even though it was a bit more expensive because you know what you’re getting,” said MacNearney, adding allowing Canadians access to healthy cannabis was a pillar of the federal government’s plan to legalize weed.

 

Six months later, is the stigma still there?

MacNearney says she’s seeing shifting attitudes towards cannabis use since legalization, but stubborn stigmas remain.

She said the best way to combat enduring stigma is through education.

“There was a lot of misinformation for many years during prohibition. And I think a lot of what’s going to take the stigma away, is education and normalization – realizing you can have a joint or a vape just as easily as you can have a beer or a cocktail,” said MacNearney.

Cannabis can be a career, too.  Just ask MacNearney.

After being arrested and convicted for growing marijuana, MacNearney is now employed with a local cannabis production company.

“I’m able to combine my years of professional employment and my years of advocacy and activism,” she said.

“Now I’m working in the industry.”

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