In Jerusalem, the holy city torn by war, bombings, walls, and the clash of monotheistic religions, members of the Green Leaf marijuana party joined with tens of thousands cannabis culture members around the world on the first full weekend in May. Israeli media said the Green Leaf marchers and cannabis events in other Israeli cities were part of “World Marijuana Day” or “International Marijuana Day,” but most cannalovers call the annual event the “Million Marijuana March” or just MMM.
In approximately 185 cities and dozens of languages, the May 7, 2005 weekend events celebrated marijuana and asked for its legalization. The marches were primarily funded by cannabis seed entrepreneur Marc Emery, and were centrally organized by Emery staffers and volunteers from the headquarters of Emery Seeds in Vancouver, British Columbia, in cooperation with dedicated volunteers and activists around the world.
The marches and other pro-pot activities demonstrate the impressive scope and peaceful theology of the worldwide marijuana movement. In the face of persecution and the certain threat of police harassment, pot people publicly identified themselves, smoked their prohibited plant, and openly defied government power.
It’s impossible to report directly on every MMM event in every city, and all of them are vitally important, but the highlights of some MMM events are inspiring, educational, cautionary or indicative of the overall success of this global ganja day of action.
Approximately 4,000 people showed up at Hayarkon Park in Tel Aviv, Israel on May 7, where they enjoyed food, music, and speeches about the benefits of cannabis.
“This is a day of protest, to show how peaceful, unaggressive and law-abiding the people who support legalization are,” said Tel Aviv Coalition of Drug Reform organizer Lior Lubelski, speaking as reggae music and political speeches rang out in the background.
In 2004, undercover and uniformed police raided the Tel Aviv MMM event, creating a near riot. If the mayor of Tel Aviv had had his way, there would not have been a 2005 MMM in Tel Aviv.
Just before the event, Deputy Tel Aviv Mayor Arnon Gilad announced, “I plan to ask the minister of internal security to forbid the event. I will also ask the management of Yarkon Park not to permit it to be held on the property within its jurisdiction. An event like this causes irreparable damage to Israel’s young people because it is fighting the law and wants to encourage the use of marijuana. We cannot allow an event like this to become a tradition, certainly not in Tel Aviv.”
Gilad failed to get the event shut down, and Israeli politician Roman Bronfman criticized police and prohibition from the event stage, saying the arrest of marijuana smokers harms society. He said Israel should adopt Holland’s approach by providing honest information and protocols that prevent cannabis users from becoming hard drug users.
“The current situation is absurd,” he said, noting that police arrest 13,000 Israelis for cannabis crimes each year. “About a million people smoke grass, and according to the law they’re all criminals. It is my democratic right to express my protest here against the government’s failed drug policy.”
Other people at the Tel Aviv event noted that it’s not yet entirely safe to be a cannabis activist in Israel.
“I don’t want to give my last name because I’m afraid that people will see it, think that I’m a pot smoker, and the next thing I know, someone is searching me for drugs,” one woman explained.
Boaz Wachtel, a Green Leaf spokesperson, said that Tel Aviv’s MMM is “a statement for the political establishment that the issue of cannabis legalization is important for a large number of people.”
Wachtel said Israel’s Shinui political party has backed legalization of cannabis.
The Tel Aviv event this year was reportedly not marred by police action, but the Jerusalem MMM, held in the city’s “Sacher Park,” was attacked by police a few hours after it started, with numerous arrests and some reports of police brutality. Jerusalem police claimed that the event itself was illegal.
Such actions are perhaps to be expected in a country where police and soldiers routinely kill Palestinian children, along with international peace activists and journalists, and receive no punishment.
In Cape Town, long-time South African dagga activist Andre du Plessis, who has courageously risked his career and personal safety to almost single-handedly carry the message of cannabis freedom to the continent’s halls of power, organized a MMM march that at one point was populated by as many police as there were marchers.
During the march, du Plessis attempted to present a persuasive hemp housing thesis to the city’s housing department. The thesis asked the department to consider how industrial hemp can make well-insulated, sustainable, quality housing that is far less expensive than standard housing materials, and also totally non-toxic and bioethical.
Du Plessis explained that South Africa has a severe housing shortage, and that hemp bricks could easily be used to build low-cost housing.
The savvy activist, who has spent years in the trenches of South African cannabis politics, baked a hemp brick as media camera crews filmed the proceedings. Du Plessis emphasized that fumes from the brick would not get anybody high!
In a country that only a few years ago broke free from domination by Russia, acvitists marched in Kiev, the capital of the Ukraine.
Sergey Sokolenko, spokesperson for a civil rights organization called “Objective Reality,” said that Kiev’s MMM was sub-titled “the March of Liberty.”
The march was designed to create support for legalizing marijuana and for a general increase in personal freedom, he said. As a sign of the activists’ refusal to bow down to government dictates, press reports said, Objective Reality refused to comply with Ukraine laws that require political rallies to be registered ahead of time. The law also requires organizers to tell the government what slogans, flags, speeches and other features their events will contain.
Marching with reggae flags waving red, green and yellow in the breeze, Kiev’s cannabis activists handed out leaflets demanding legalization.
In Copenhagen, Denmark, the message of MMM is especially poignant. As you will read in a future issue of Cannabis Culture magazine, Copenhagen has for years been the home of a “hippie” enclave called “Christiania.”
Christiania is a progressive community organized in 1971, founded on principals of active democracy and self-government. It has long been famous for its open, locally-regulated cannabis and hashish markets, but in the last two years, police have routinely raided Christiania’s cannabis culture, virtually destroying what used to be a vibrant mini-Holland in Denmark.
Copenhagen’s Cannabis Council organized the city’s MMM. The Council is a civic organization consisting of representatives from a number of political parties, including the Socialists.
“We are peaceful cannabis smokers who are protesting because we are being discriminated against by the law,” explained Council representative Klaus Trier Tuxen as the MMM started with a Christiania cananbis smokefest, and then on to City Hall and the Danish Parliament buildings.
In some parts of the world, MMM events became a venue for powerful protests that showed how the war against cannabis violates human rights and is part of the pervasive and ever-widening Babylon system of war, police, and loss of freedom that threatens our entire generation.
President George W. Bush made the mistake of attempting to visit Holland on the MMM weekend, and was greeted with a lawsuit demanding that the Dutch government arrest him and put him on trial in The Hague for war crimes.
Bush earned lots of unpopularity in Holland by signing a law in mid-2002, called “The Hague Invasion Act,” which prevents US soldiers and civilians from being put on trial for war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC), which is located in The Hague. The Act authorizes use of military force to liberate any American or citizen of a U.S.-allied country being held by ICC.
Bush refuses to recognize the authority of the International Criminal Court, but he almost found himself on trial there during the 2005 MMM weekend after a group of attorneys filed papers outlining Bush’s war crimes and saying that if he set foot on Dutch soil the government was required to arrest him.
Only a last-minute reprieve by a weak-minded, pro-American Dutch judge quashed the lawsuit and allowed Bush to land in Holland for a photo opportunity marking the 60th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany by visiting Margraten cemetery near Maastricht, where 8,300 WW II American servicemen are buried.
“It is an insult that this president is coming to visit our war cemetery. He is the cause of a lot of agony in the world that is feeding fear and anger,” said Nina Bocken, a 23-year-old Maastricht therapist wearing a homemade shirt with Bush’s picture on the front and “The Ultimate Weapon of Mass Destruction” written on the back. “Bush is not the right one to go to that cemetery. It is not right that a president who has begun a war, and the war is still going on, just read the news every day, that he is the one to pay tribute to the victims.”
Bush might not have been able to visit Holland if the government there was more progressive, but he is in bed with the right-wing Catholic-dominated CDA Dutch government, which provided lukewarm military support for the illegal war in Iraq until last March, when it withdrew all its troops. Bush, CDA and the United Nations are responsible for recent attacks on Dutch cannabis tolerance policies, which have some people worried that the country’s famed cannabis coffeeshops are in their last days.
“I feel like I’ve lost my human rights because of his war on terrorism,” said protester Esme Cokbee, referring to the Dutch government’s expansion of police and spy powers that include a US-style war on small-scale marijuana growers. “The Dutch government is just following the Americans’ lead. Whatever they want, we do. I don’t think that’s right.”
During MMM events in Amsterdam and Maastricht, Dutch people demanded that their government end its attacks on cannabis shops and growers, and also demanded that it stop being a servant of US Empire and social policies.
One of the worst drug war countries in the world is Singapore. Until two years ago, citizens of that country were forbidden from engaging in any public protests. And yet, activists there had the fortitude to use the 2005 MMM weekend as a backdrop for their attempt to save the life of Shanmugam Murugesu, who is likely to be murdered by the government on Friday, May 13th.
Murugesu was accused of possessing one kilo of marijuana. The country’s laws mandate the death penalty for people caught with more than 500 grams (about 18 ounces) of marijuana.
Singaporean experts say that the event, which consisted of a three hour vigil featuring song, art and speeches, is the first pro-marijuana action ever held in Singapore.
“There’s never been an event like this in Singapore,” said Sinapan Samydorai, the president of a civil liberties think tank.
The condemned man is a 38-year-old jet ski champion, military veteran, civil servant, and father of 14-year-old twin boys. He was arrested in August, 2003. The government alleges he had slightly more than a kilo of cannabis with him when he returned to Singapore after a trip to Malaysia. Before this arrest, his only brush with the law was a traffic ticket.
Murugesu’s grieving sons, Krishnan and Gopalan, took the bold step several weeks ago of distributing nearly a thousand leaflets on Singapore streets. The literature asked the country’s president to pardon their father. The president has refused to do so.
During the MMM vigil, about 130 people gathered on behalf of Murugesu. Many of them told reporters they were terrified to even appear in a public protest. The government attempted to suppress the vigil, ordering media not to report on it. Police stepped in to forcibly stop speeches at the vigil soon after they started.
Murugesu’s lawyer expressed faint hope for his client, and for cannabis law reform in general.
“We’ll be lucky to get anywhere [with reform]in 10 or even 20 years,” he said. “But at least Singaporeans are finally speaking out.”
In North America, marijuana laws and the government do not kill pot people so overtly. The killings are usually done more slowly, and less directly. They kill by attrition. Pot laws snare hundreds of thousands of people a year, choking the supply of medical cannabis so patients die for lack of it, sending parents to jail, stealing family’s assets, burdening young people with the shackles of dog searches, piss tests, loss of scholarships, police records. In some cases, police kill or seriously injure people during drug raids. There are no Murugesus in the US or Canada, but there’s still plenty of injury and death, plenty of reason to protest.
In the US, marchers gathered in the birthplace of MMM, New York City, where they were led by long-time drug reformer Dana Beal.
In Eugene, Oregon, 125 people marched, smoked, and then pigged out at a barbecue. In Boulder, Colorado, marchers smoked marijuana, circled the courthouse, and listened to impassioned speeches from Jeff Christen-Mitchell and others.
“There’s nothing more important in America than to fight for your rights. Free the weed,” said Christen-Mitchell, who heads the Boulder chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). “The drug war is mismanagement of resources. I believe the drug war has done untold damage to society.”
Michigan marijuana mavericks used their MMM events to celebrate progress in the state. Detroit and Ann Arbor have already passed local ordinances legalizing medical cannabis, and 28-year-old Charles Synder III, who helped put together the MMM festival in Flint, Michigan and is chairman of the Flint Coalition for Compassionate Care, said he’s initiating a petition to put medical cannabis on Flint’s November 8th ballot.
“We think it will pass and hope it will open the door to bringing the compassionate-care and sick-and-dying issues more before the public,” said Snyder, who is a student at the University of Michigan.
During the Flint event, University of Detroit law professor Mike Whitty spoke at City Hall about a move to totally legalize cannabis in Michigan. The proposal would regulate cannabis in a way similar to how booze is regulated.
“Lots of arthritis sufferers might use whiskey or vodka to medicate the pain as a home remedy,” he said. “Marijuana also is a home remedy.”
In California, where marijuana is a voter-approved home remedy, MMM events were held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Santa Cruz, and other parts of what is probably the pot-friendliest state in America.
At Santa Cruz’s DeLaveaga Park, Santa Cruz NORML and Students for Sensible Drug Policy hosted a barbecue picnic that focused on having fun with Frisbees, footballs and lawn bowling.
Some at the event discussed Cannabis Culture‘s groundbreaking coverage of the impending Supreme Court medical herb ruling in Gonzalez v. Raich, which will either reaffirm the federal government’s right to invade medpot states and harm sick and dying people, or affirm the constitution and voters by telling the feds to butt out of medpot states.
The case is particularly important to Santa Cruz cannabis heroine Valerie Corral, whose legal medical cannabis farm, the Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM), was raided by DEA in 2002. WAMM is currently safe from DEA storm troopers due to a federal injunction, but if the Supreme Court goes against Raich, Corral suspects WAMM will again face federal persecution.
In New Paltz, New York, students at the local State University of New York campus are already facing persecution. The campus has a policy of immediate expulsion for students accused of possessing marijuana.
Opponents of the expulsion policies, including New Paltz Mayor Jason West, used the town’s MMM to denounce the campus administration and demand an end to the expulsions. Students say they are being expelled without having any evidence presented against them and without having fair trials.
“My constituents are facing eviction without due process or appeal,” said West.
North of the border in Canada, large, vigorous MMM events took place in Toronto, Calgary, Montreal, Vancouver, and many other cities.
More than 17,000 gathered in Toronto’s Queen’s Park, openly smoking cannabis and flaunting live marijuana plants in front of police, who reportedly didn’t arrest anyone for cannabis.
In Vancouver, MMM sponsor Marc Emery joined with hundreds of others who gathered first at the downtown Art Gallery and then marched to the scenic waterfront to stage a sit-in at the office of anti-cannabis Member of Parliament Hedy Fry.
Emery said that the event he held at the Art Gallery in Vancouver on 4-20-05 had far larger crowds, in part because the weather was better that day.
Still, the Canadian seedmeister had reason to be proud. As with all the activism and pro-cannabis projects he sponsors worldwide, Emery used money made selling dozens of varieties of the planet’s finest marijuana seeds to personally fund creation and mailing of 28,000 posters that were sent to 75 cities around the world.
His Cannabis Culture website forums helped MMM organizers and attendees network with each other in cyberspace; they were assisted by Emery staffer David Malmo-Levine, who writes for Cannabis Culture magazine and does television journalism for Pot-TV.
For the nearly $20,000 dollars Emery spent, combined with the time and idealism of countless activists, millions of people participated in or saw others participate in peaceful, intelligent events that championed the cause of freedom and the marijuana plant. Press coverage was overwhelming positive, cannabis campaigners were able to get their anti-prohibition quotes disseminated without opposition worldwide, and arrests were relatively few.
In a world where media images, spin control, and message effectiveness are key to changing public opinion, the global Million Marijuana March is a yearly reminder to the world that good people smoke cannabis and do not deserve to be arrested, jailed, or killed for it. It’s also a really sweet public pot party.
See you at MMM next year!