From around the world, Cannabis Culture has received reports of tens of thousands of protestors flooding city streets, stopping traffic, chanting pro-pot slogans, demanding an end to prohibition, and smoking their favourite herb. It all took place on May Day (May 1), a day which has become known instead as “Jay Day,” the day of the annual “Million Marijuana March.”
The turn out was unbelievable: in New York, as many as 25,000 people marched and chanted anti-drug war slogans. In London, England there were 10,000; in Montreal, 8,000. Cities around the globe filled with protestors. From San Francisco to Melbourne, from Prague to Auckland, from Oslo to Johannesburg, from Tel Aviv to Chicago ? each of these cities had between one thousand and five thousand protestors take to the parks and streets and demand an end to prohibition. In Washington DC, 300 people marched toward the White House, shouting, “We smoke pot and we like it a lot!” There were over forty separate protests worldwide.
According to various event organizers, in some places attendance grew three to four times this year. With an estimated worldwide turn out of well over 100,000 people in ’99 there may really be close to a million people marching by 2001? all demanding an end to the world’s most costly, pervasive and long-standing war ? the war on drugs.
Police response to Jay Day varied from commendable to condemnable. In Prague, where there are rarely cannabis arrests, the police were busy in entirely different blocks of the city ? dealing with traditional May Day clashes between right-wing skinheads and left-wing anarchists. In Seattle, correspondent Vivian McPeak reports that police in her city actually helped event organizers during the planning process and the march, providing an escort and even stopping traffic at intersections. In Montreal, police also escorted the crowds, largely ignoring those who lit up. In Washington, DC, at the White House, police refused to arrest MS sufferer Pam Orrey, who smoked a joint outside of the gates.
Challenging the law
In marijuana-intolerant New York, correspondent Dana Beal reported a very different experience. Police in New York formed a “wall of blue” forcing 25,000 marchers out of affluent areas and making over 105 arrests in the process. Witnesses described some of the arrests as violent attacks on pot protestors.
One woman, carrying a sign that read, “Stop All Cannabis Arrests,” saw one of the arrests take place right beside her.
“It was horrible,” she said. “We heard the smack of the body against the building.”
According to Beal, New York Police also distributed fake flyers, telling protestors to organize at the wrong spot at the wrong time, drawing nearly 4,000 away from the march’s main assemblage. Around the world, the Jay Day experience demonstrated that the most dangerous drug on the streets was power ? the power of police in certain precincts to abuse peaceful demonstrators partaking of a harmless, happy herb.
For many, the event was an opportunity to vent frustrations generated by years of unjust drug-war persecution. In Montreal, a man stomped up to one of the march’s escorting officers and shook a joint in his face.
“I’m smoking a joint,” he screamed, “arrest me! arrest me!”
The officer reportedly stood like rock, unmoved. But the pressure was too much for an officer in Auckland, New Zealand where, like Montreal, police played parade escort. The only arrest of the day occurred when a protestor offered a joint to a cop.
“The law is the law,” recited the incensed officer, nonplussed by the act of generosity.
The lesson learned by New Zealand protestors? Don’t take police friendliness for granted ? the war on drugs isn’t over yet. With one of their numbers detained, the crowd, like a giant, irate, cannabis-munching caterpillar, worming through the streets and waving countless placards, turned toward the city’s central police station.
“We chanted at the building as bewildered cops peered out from high-up windows and the front desk staff locked the doors,” reports New Zealand correspondent Chris Fowlie. “A symbolic cannabis stalk ? from a monster plant by the look of it ? was laid at their doorstep.”
Rallying for freedom
Around the world, protestors “stormed the Bastille”, surrounding drug-war institutions and other symbolic locations and crying out for an end to prohibition, for the release of their jailed brothers, sisters, parents and children. In Cleveland, Ohio, 800 people marched on the Cuyahoga County Jail, chanting pro-pot slogans while inmates held up a sign spelling “weed” in giant letters.
Similarly, Chicago correspondent Grace Nichols reports that 1,000 marchers, filling the streets for 4 city blocks, rallied at Chicago’s Metropolitan Correctional Centre, “in support of prisoners of weed and with outrage at the cruelties of the drug war.”
“We left there shouting, ‘we declare a drug peace!'” says Nichols.
In New York, where Mayor Giuliani has fueled a drug war of epic human rights abuses that has even caught the attention of Amnesty International, protestors marched towards City Hall. As the crowd of 25,000 surrounded city hall, it jeered the mayor, while over 150 placards with the words “arrest Giuliani” jumped up and down over protestors’ heads.
Marchers even found a symbolic destination in peaceful San Francisco, where police largely minded their own business.
“At 4:20, thousands of people mobilized to march up market street, passing in front of Peron’s now-closed cannabis buyers’ club,” reports observer Mary Green. “Car drivers honked their horns in support as the mile-long line of marchers held banners, sang songs and smoked herb under the watchful eyes of police riding dirt bikes in the street.”
In most cities, the Million Marijuana March had a celebratory and educational air. This was especially so in San Francisco and Los Angeles, where cannabis celebrities and marchers mixed it up with informative speeches, music and dancing. Correspondent Nayer Hardin reports that LA saw no arrests, while cannabis celebrities Jack Herer, author of The Emperor Wears no Clothes, and Ed Rosenthal, famous grow guru, spoke to an enthralled crowd. Mary Green in SF reports appearances by Chris Conrad and Mikki Norris, co-authors of Shattered Lives: Portraits from America’s Drug War. Cannabis Culture journalist Pete Brady was also in attendance and gave a stirring speech.
Meanwhile, in Atlanta, Steven Gaskin, founder of “The Farm” and author of Cannabis Spirituality, cast his pearls of wisdom to the masses. Other continents had their own celebrities take part. In New Zealand, Michael Appleby, leader of the internationally renowned Aotearoa Legalize Cannabis Party, along with members of the Green Party, the Libertarian Party, and New Zealand’s NORML all attended and spoke.
Worldwide media response to the event was generally poor, with few exceptions. The New York Times missed the event altogether, despite the fact that 25,000 people had marched on City Hall. Other New York media outlets under-reported the number of protestors. It was the same in other cities around the globe. In London, the BBC under-reported the number of protestors by half, claiming there were 5,000 in the streets rather than 10,000. In San Francisco, the major media newgroups didn’t even mention the event. The global scope of the event was overlooked by mass-media outlets everywhere.
“There were lots of media present,” says Chris Fowlie of the New Zealand march. “Unfortunately, they seemed to be looking for crowds of young pot heads with nose piercings and tattoos to film smoking pot and going ‘yeah get stoned!’ and they couldn’t find any. Everyone looked perfectly normal, and I could sense their disappointment.”
Despite the lack of decent media coverage, the Million Marijuana March was a massive success. This kind of internationally coordinated grassroots event is a sure sign of the growing power and ability of our movement. Over 100,000 people in 44 cities is a massive act of international civil disobedience, the scale and scope of which will only increase as the drug war drags on. The longer they arrest and harass us, the stronger and more organized we get.
Rallies and demonstrations are only the beginning of political and social change. Yet an event on this scale is clearly the beginning of the end of the worldwide drug war.
Cities with Million Marijuana Marches
Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA
Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Auckland, New Zealand
Burlington, Vermont, USA
Cape Town, South Africa
Chico, California, USA
Chicago, Illinois, USA
Christchurch, New Zeland
Cleveland, Ohio, USA
Detroit, Michigan, USA
Eureka, California, USA
Houston, Texas, USA
Hilo, Hawaii, USA
Johannesburg, South Africa
Kona, Hawaii, USA
Los Angeles, California, USA
Madison, Wisconsin, USA
Midrand, South Africa
Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
New York City, New York, USA
Prague, Czech Republic
Rio DeJaniro, Brasil
Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada
Seattle, Washington, USA
San Francisco, California, USA
Somerset, Massachusetts , USA
Tampa, Florida, USA
Tuscon, Arizona, USA
Ukiah, California, USA
Washington DC, USA