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TORONTO (Reuters) - Thousands of marijuana enthusiasts marched in downtown Toronto on Saturday, many openly smoking the drug as part of a globally coordinated rally meant to celebrate cannabis culture and push for the drug's legalization.
Police were content to let marchers -- who mostly appeared to be in their late teens to early 30s -- light up at will as they strolled along Toronto's Bloor Street shopping thoroughfare, chanting slogans like "free the weed," as amused motorists honked their approval.
The Global Marijuana March, scheduled to take place in 200 cities across the globe on Saturday with Toronto hosting the flagship event -- is in its 10th year, organizers said.
The event has grown in popularity in Toronto in recent years as the issue of marijuana legalization has become a political hot potato.
Canada's previous Liberal government tried to decriminalize marijuana earlier this decade, but the subsequent Conservative government killed the bill when it came to power in 2006.
Marijuana is not generally legal in Canada, but Canadian pot laws are generally more lenient than those in the United States. The federal government runs a medical marijuana program for patients who can demonstrate a need for it.
The rally was meant to be more of a celebration and information-sharing event than a protest, said the 36-year-old organizer, who identified himself only as "The Gerbz" and who butted out his joint before sitting down for an interview.
"It's about coming together to build awareness and to break through the stereotypes and stigmas that political elements and the media have perpetuated over the last 70 years since 'Reefer Madness,"' he said, referring to a 1930s propaganda film that featured melodramatic scenes of marijuana turning teenagers into homicidal maniacs.
At the march's starting point at Queen's Park, home of the provincial legislature, the scene seemed more music festival than political rally.
Marijuana smoke wafted over the area where pot enthusiasts clustered in small groups on the muddy ground, many with elaborate pipes or bongs, some eating corn on the cob as a live band thumped reggae-tinged rock music.
Vendors in booths offered hemp clothes and pipes, while others trumpeted the value of marijuana for medical purposes.
The police presence was barely noticeable. The few officers ringing the park and spread along the parade route appeared more concerned with traffic control than with the mass of moving people, which while noisy, was peaceful.
"We're letting them smoke if they want to smoke," one traffic cop said with a grin and a shrug.
"The city gave them a permit."
Reporting by Cameron French; Editing by Eric Walsh