On May 3, 2003, the global community of pot-people came together for the fifth annual Million Marijuana March. Around the world, ganja-lovers marched against drug war atrocities, protested to end prohibition, and toked to demonstrate their freedoms.
As the primary sponsor of the march, Cannabis Culture sent out free magazines and support checks to every North American rally, while also paying for the printing costs of tens of thousands of promotional posters distributed across the continent.
New York activist Dana Beal, mastermind behind the march and founder of the organization Cures Not Wars, said that this year’s march “was a huge phenomenon. It was everywhere, and every year it’s getting bigger.”
Traditionally held on the first Saturday of May, the Million Marijuana March has been growing every year since its creation in 1998. “Back then, activists were being stepped on,” explained Beal in an interview with Cannabis Culture. “Even here in New York we were just banging our heads against Giuliani and not getting anywhere. So we had to take a new direction, and that direction was to take the protest against the pot laws worldwide.”
Strength in numbers
Over 250 protests in 35 countries around the world participated in this year’s march. Some big-city rallies were attended by thousands of marijuana lovers, while some small town events were supported by handfuls of dedicated activists. As it is impossible to cover all the events, here’s a summary of notable rallies from around the globe.
One of the largest rallies was in London, England, with a colossal 25,000 people showing up to support the movement. Highlights included live music with 11 sound systems and three stages, a grow tent, a cannabis college, a kid’s space, and over 140 stalls devoted to cannabis and hemp awareness. Despite the massive crowd, only three arrests were made.
Howard Marks, the famed former smuggler, pot activist, and author of Mr Nice, was a featured speaker.
The most noticeable drop in attendance from last year was in New York City, where only about 300 people showed up, as compared to the near 5,000 in 2002. Police actually outnumbered the protesters, arriving by foot, by horse, by truck, and even by helicopter. Usually dozens of tokers are arrested at this event, but as few smoked openly this year, only one arrest was made.
Toronto, Ontario, had an impressive march attendance of 4,000 people, with nearly 10,000 showing up later for the bands and smoke. Organizer Larry Duprey thanked the police for their help with the parade and for sending a positive message to the media. The cops said there were no problems at the event.
More than 5,000 attended the picnic for the liberation of cannabis in Tel Aviv, Israel, according to Boaz Wachtel from the Green Leaf Party. There was no police interference as DJ’s spun their beats and booths were set up to promote med-pot and harm-reduction.
In Bratislava, Slovakia, 2,000 people showed up for the country’s very first march. Over 300 pot-lovers signed an open letter to legislators, and the event made the main story on the televised evening news.
1,500 potheads in Mexico City partook in festivities which included speakers and music and was covered by many media channels. Activist Tito said everything went well, pointing out that with “this new democratic era… the media is starting to touch subjects that really matter to the people, and the authorities don’t want to be looked on as repressors.” He added, “Even a political party participated in the march, so we are really happy with the results.”
The Finnish Cannabis Association organized an event of 1,500 in Helsinki, where people marched in a relaxing parade through the capital and then settled in for an evening of bands and performers. Three other cities held events in Finland (Tampere, Turku, and Oulu) so the news coverage was good.
Despite awful weather, the event held in Frankfurt, Germany, managed to haul in 1,000 visitors to be educated by speakers and sign various hemp initiatives.
500 Germans showed up at the Berlin City Centre to listen to music and eat hemp cakes while learning about cannabis. Pro-pot bands such as The Flashbacks, NichSchlecht, and House of Pancakes were a big success.
About 100 people attended the rally in Barcelona, Spain, where marijuana is grown for smoking and hemp is grown to make US paper money.
In North Carolina, event organizer Boone said it was a “gorgeous day” with a crowd of about 50. The marchers’ chant was “One, two, three, four, we don’t want this ganja war; five, six, seven, eight, open up the prison gates!”
The second rally by Indiana NORML was plagued with an extremely low turnout, due mostly to the Indianapolis 500 race. About 30 students showed up.
In Dallas, Texas, 20 people marched in Dealey Plaza ? the place John F Kennedy was assassinated. The ralliers, up from three last year, received honks from cars and used the opportunity to educate passersby on cannabis issues.
Only six people showed up to the smallest reported event held in Abbotsford, British Columbia. According to Tim Felger, “that was to be expected.” He explains, “We’re already tired up here from the case we’ve currently got in front of the Canadian Supreme Court on cannabis reform.”
The small group of activists got together and smoked a joint at 4:20 to participate. They did not do much more than that on the advice of their attorney, who fears their mounting legal bills will soon total more than they could ever repay.
The march in Vancouver, British Columbia, coincided with the 2nd Annual Cannabis Culture Tokers’ Bowl, and drew 2,000 enthusiasts to the front steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery.
Activist David Malmo-Levine led the march and rally, gave a speech, conducted the annual marijuana protest sign contest, and then handed out 400 joints courtesy of Marc Emery to the stunned and appreciative crowd.
A veteran street protester, Malmo-Levine is currently challenging prohibition as an official petitioner to Canada’s Supreme Court.
Bicycle police were present, but they just stood downwind and watched the event with dreamy smiles.
There was “no police intimidation at all” at the event in Huntsville, Alabama, according to organizer Corey Mingo. Apparently the cops “couldn’t peddle away fast enough” when they saw that the marchers were armed with video cameras. Participants displayed a large sign, airbrushed with a pot leaf, in front of the county courthouse for the duration of the afternoon. Marijuana offenses in Alabama are usually met with extreme sentences.
Despite the presence of a DEA office, there was a “minimal” police presence in Wichita, Kansas. Organizer Debby Moore, CEO of the Hemp Industries of Kansas, told Cannabis Culture that only “one officer on a bicycle came through,” but that had the number of attendees surpassed the hundred-person mark, they would have had “ample police participation.” Fortunately, no one was arrested at the event where attendees and media were served hemp seed nutrition bars and samples of hemp milk mixed with Chai tea.
The public was supportive in Albuquerque, New Mexico, as protesters smoked their way down the main street. Organizer Cindy Giannini reported that one store, Birdland, even offered free candy to the marchers and cheered them on. “When more than half the traffic is waving, honking, and smiling… I know I am doing what is right. All of a sudden, I have strength, enthusiasm, and will to be outspoken. I want more people to understand the energy one really gets out of an experience like this.”
In Reno, Nevada, where a modest 60 people came despite the cold and wind, the key speaker was Superior Court Judge James Gray, who said that the “drug war has cost billions of dollars and resulted in the United States having the world’s highest incarceration rate.” Judge Gray supports controlled distribution of marijuana to adults, and believes people should be able to choose what they want to do with their bodies. “We have made an illness into a plague,” he said, “this is a failed and hopeless system.”
50 “dedicated Missoula activists” marched on the courthouse to “demand an end to the failed public policy of cannabis prohibition,” reported John Masterson, who outlined Montana NORML’s plan to run a “deprioritization” initiative which would instruct authorities to make small pot crimes a low priority.
Attendees listened as Masterson told them that “the time has come to end the war on the construction worker who chooses marijuana over martinis. End the war on the college student who smokes a joint with friends and giggles over Ren and Stimpy cartoons. And for God’s sake, end the war on the sick and dying who obtain relief from this benign plant.”
Queen Selassie of the Rastafari Embassy in Hamilton, Bermuda, wrote that the event was “a lovely picnic on an ocean-front park” and was attended by 50 people. Reggae music was played and nearly 3,000 signatures were applied to a petition to decriminalize ganja.
In Moscow, 20 activists came together in Pushkin Square to smoke pot, post stickers, hand out the harm-reduction magazine MOZG, and display a petition to legalize pot. A possibly unpleasant situation involving one activist and eight policemen was diffused when legalization was explained to the cops as something that would be mutually beneficial. The activists were still asked to leave the underpass they were occupying, but not before the police promised to smoke pot with them next year.
50 tokers on the grounds of the historic site of El Morro came out for the acoustic music and freely-shared points of view at the first organized event of this kind in Puerto Rico.
Poor attendance didn’t hurt the event in Hearst, Ontario, which had security help from local firefighters. Volunteers performed, bands played, and companies advertised the event from store windows.
Not a single arrest was made at the event in Prague where police took zero interest in the 2,000 attending Czech potheads. Organizers say the event, though the most expensive so far due to the introduction of vending tables with stoned attendants, was the “smoothest, most mainstream legalization event” ever held in Prague. All necessary permits were obtained for the music stage, sound system, and refreshments.
Media coverage was good and prompted one member of Parliament to declare the importance of legalization. A short list of people imprisoned for pot offenses was read publicly. Popular past president Vaclav Havel ? known for vetoing some laws such as possession for amnesty’s sake ? is no longer in power, so activists can’t rely on his help, anymore.
The event in Christchurch, New Zealand, was held outside a police kiosk. Despite ample violations, such as hundreds of joints and canna-biscuits passed out to the crowd, plus bongs and chillums in full visibility, there were no arrests. 300 people showed up for the march and enjoyed the temporary “prohibition free zone.” While mainstream media ignored the event, the School of Television Broadcasting filmed and interviewed extensively for an upcoming documentary.
Reverend Happy from Flint, Michigan, reported at least one cop hassling the 80 people who showed up, saying that people were “too frightened to get out of their cars.”
Ralliers in Budapest, Hungary, were pelted with tomatoes and eggs by anti-marijuana protesters, forcing the event to end early. Pro-pot people and their opponents had to be kept separate by police to prevent potentially violent clashes. Hungary has one of the toughest anti-drug laws in Europe.
Surprisingly, cops “did nothing to stop protesters smoking cannabis in the foyer of the Dunedin Central Police Station,” says New Zealander Duncan Eddy, organizer of the 20 brave activists.
70 more people showed up outside for support, carrying a giant fake joint to the cop shop. Said Eddy, “We have just had a few hundred people sitting here and smoking cannabis in the grand tradition of civil disobedience. There’s been a really good feeling here.”
An off-duty Cleveland, Ohio, cop pulled the power at Jesse Owen’s park where the rally after-party was to take place. A quick call to the local sheriff resulted in three canine units and six deputies showing up. The cops ran their dogs in circles but did not interfere with the main stage or the vending tables.
The problem was eventually cleared up, power was restored and the festivities ? a pot poster contest and live music ? went off without a hitch.