Marching for freedom

Leaf lovers in LondonLeaf lovers in LondonThe sixth annual Million Marijuana March was a great success. On May 1, 2004, activists around the globe held marches, rallies, parties, concerts, and festivals raging against prohibition and calling for legalization.
Events were scheduled for many cities worldwide, but a few legal and weather-related difficulties as well as scheduling issues and other conflicts forced some to take place later on in May and June, which only served to expand the movement across a longer timeline.

The marches are orchestrated every year by dedicated cannabis activist Dana Beal and the organization Cures Not Wars. They put together the massive New York City march, support other activists in planning events in their cities, and disseminate materials around the world. Cannabis Culture also provides logistical and financial support for the worldwide event.

There were troubles in some areas of the world, where the cannabis culture faced harsh social stigma and militant police action, or where strict prohibition opposed the movement and threatened first-ever pot events.

The march has been growing steadily, with a stunning 348 cities participating worldwide since 1999, and with many more new cities signing on for events in 2005. Here we present a few highlights from this year’s festivities held across the earth.

Cannabis Canada

A high level of participation took place across Canada, with 5,000 people marching in Toronto, chanting, “We love weed” and calling on Ottawa to legalize the herb.

Hundreds more protested in Vancouver, where the march was nearly upstaged by striking labor unions, who gathered at the popular Art Gallery. In response, Marc Emery had brochures printed with NDP leader Jack Layton’s comments on pot taken from an article in Cannabis Culture, and went around to every person there from a union saying, “Jack Layton brochure, please take one.”

After each person took a brochure, Emery’s assistant would offer each one a joint. In total, Emery and his assistant gave out over 300 joints to surprised and grateful protesting union members.

Parade leader David Malmo-Levine took the group to a park where he, Chris Bennett of Pot-TV, Cannabis Culture editor Dana Larsen, and Marc Emery gave short, inspiring speeches.

Montreal’s march protest brought out a bright, happy crowd. 500 people skipped through the city to the rhythm of live reggae to show their dedication to the herb. Police were admittedly unbothered by the copious ganja smoke generated by the crowd.

“They were demonstrating for their cause,” said Constable Robert Mansueto to the media. “It was a question of tolerance, as it has been in the past for this march.” He added, “But it doesn’t mean people won’t be charged later if there was possession or trafficking.”

According to Montreal activist Marc-Boris St Maurice, leader of Canada’s Marijuana Party, “Whether they bust us or not, people will still smoke.”

Cannabis-lovers from smaller communities also came out to show their much-needed support. For example, in Athabasca, Alberta, where the unofficial town motto is, “Don’t rock the boat,” about 20 brave young adults attended the low-key event. The rally was reported in the Athabasca Advocate, giving credit to the organizing group with the title, Local Marijuana Marchers are CALM (Citizens of Athabasca for the Legalization of Marijuana).

Constable Denver Sas smokes in Cape Town, S.A.Constable Denver Sas smokes in Cape Town, S.A.Free America

In New York City, an estimated 3,000 people participated.

“The march here was a lot better than last year,” commented Dana Beal. “Last year, we had a confluence of things go wrong ? people who didn’t have the march’s best interests in mind, publicity materials that didn’t work, things like that. This year we had better people involved and we had propaganda that really worked. Our flyer this year was graphically interesting ? it had a person in a wheelchair being attacked by a cop with a club ? and it also had the march route and schedule information.

“And there were no arrests! This is a complete change from the Giuliani era,” said Beal, referring to the previous crackdown by the former mayor. “I went on the radio to tell people it was a protest, not a potfest. Giuliani was just an evil, malicious, sadistic man. Now he’s gone, and the attitude has changed.”

Despite rain, the celebration in Athens, Georgia, drew 2,000 people and made the front page of the Sunday paper. The event had speakers as well as bands, including reggae group Dubconscious, hip-hop group Herb and Skills, and Cosmic Charlie.

Thousands gathered in San Francisco for “Cannabis Freedom Day,” where stands sold pot merchandise and bands played.

Burlington, Vermont, had over 1,000 attendees enjoy live music from the Butterfat Brothers band. There were no arrests ? except for a drunk person who was taken away after becoming a menace. The event got great press coverage, portrayed in a positive light.

Other notable rallies included 150 dedicated cannabis lovers in St Louis, Missouri, where a hemp-bio-diesel car powered the sound system, 100 people in South Bend, Indiana, 80 pot-people in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 70 people in Flint and 40 anti-drug warriors in Detroit, Michigan, where voters will decide on a med-pot initiative in November 2004. Six bands played and got news coverage under the headline of Pot Parade at the rally in North Carolina’s capitol, Raleigh. There was even a march a few blocks from the White House in Washington, DC, where police checked permits and watched participants closely.

South American smoke-in

Media coverage of marches in Latin American cities was scarce, but according to organizers in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where the movement for decriminalization and harm reduction is quite developed, an astounding 10,000 people turned out to march against the intolerance of the drug war.

The demonstrators came out for the Rosario Festival Against Intolerance, organized by the Argentinean Harm Reduction Association (ARDA). An 11-band concert played from 3pm to midnight, representatives of the ARDA spoke at the event, and a booth disseminated the Marihuana Harm Reduction Handbook, along with other materials and condoms. The event slogan was: “Just Say No to the War Against Drug Users.”

Hundreds of people marched through downtown Mexico City for marijuana legalization. It was a festive and positive demonstration, and received coverage from local TV, as well as an article in El Universal, Mexico’s biggest paper.

In Brazil, an ugly social atmosphere put a damper on the Rio de Janeiro march. Violent clashes in the Rio slum of Rocinha left nearly 20 people dead and created an atmosphere of intolerance for drug users. According to the Brazilian press, the demonstration took place anyway, at Ipanema, with a crowd of 60 peaceful people.

Mardigrass down under

In the magic town of Nimbin, Australia, what made this year’s 12th annual MardiGrass and Million Marijuana March special was the pot-lovers who flocked there in a peaceful manner. The festival has grown from a 200-person rally to an international pot weekend that boasts over 10,000 attendees.

Participants rallied at 4:20pm, where a ceremonial joint and candle were lit before the march. Bands from all over the country came to help the cause, and events such as the Pickers’ Ball, Harvest Festival Ball, Pot Psychosium, discussion forums, book and film launches, and the renowned Hemp Olympix took place.

The attendance of so many helps activists fight for saner drug laws, while also creating a new understanding of pot users. Organizers say the “collective sense of purpose was very empowering. It shows us all what we can do when we put our hearts into it.”

? Nimbin Hemp Embassy:;; [email protected]

Happy Hempsters partying in Nimbin, AustraliaHappy Hempsters partying in Nimbin, AustraliaEuropean sensibility

Moscow’s march had an assembly of between 100 and 200 people. The beginning of the event was quiet, but that soon changed after police decided to break up the demonstrators, taking away 65 people to various police departments, although they were all later sent home without being charged.

Moscow authorities explained rather ironically that they forbade the public from conducting a hemp march because it “disrupts the declaration of rights and the freedoms of citizens,” and that a protest rally of this kind is the “propaganda of narcotics.”

In Paris, 1,000 people marched, carrying anti-prohibitionist banners. They spread leaflets regarding cannabis and driving, informing the public that new tests are required by government for railway workers and truck and ambulance drivers. Many people could lose their jobs, despite the fact that urine tests are unreliable in determining cannabis use.

Unfortunately, the 6th Annual Cannabis March and Festival in Brixton, England, was postponed due to a waterlogged park.

The marches held in Finland went well, with decent attendance numbers. 700 marched in Helsinki, 300 in Turku, 100 in Tampere, and 120 in Oulu. All four cities received plenty of coverage on newspapers and TV.

The Swedish Cannabis Organization organized the first-ever Stockholm rally that drew about 400 supporters, who showed up for peace and harmony in front of the building where the Nobel prizes are handed out. The police watched attentively, but from a distance. Arch-prohibitionists from the Hassela Nordic Network were present, but did not pose a problem.

The first-time Swedish participants were a bit worried about possible harassment, but everything turned out fine despite the plainclothes cops and crowd control officers present. The event resulted in two interviews in a prohibitionist magazine, three articles in an underground newsletter and a debate on one public service TV channel.

The event in Warsaw, Poland, resembled a picnic at the Royal Castle square in which almost 100 people took part, drawing attention from tourists and pedestrians.

The Polish organizers are now planning a series of actions, such as officially registering their citizenship initiative for drug policy reform, and officially gathering signatures for a cannabis legalization proposition during the Polish Woodstock in Kostrzyn, where almost 400,000 people turn out. They are also preparing public meetings with politicians and scientists in major Polish cities.

The smallest rally of them all took place in one of Europe’s smallest nations, as four devoted activists handed out leaflets in Luxembourg City, despite bad weather.

In Frankfurt, Germany, 150 people attended the musical parade, despite the cold and rainy weather. They were followed by several police vehicles and motorcycles, but there were no problems.

The biggest event in Germany was in Leipzig, with 550 participants. There were no negative incidents and police praised the well-organized event. Colorful trucks with sound systems led the crowd around major roads to the site of the final outdoor party.

Protestors in Tel Aviv, where undercover cops detained people for questioningProtestors in Tel Aviv, where undercover cops detained people for questioningTrouble in Tel Aviv

Though most marches around the world were peaceful events, there was one instance of serious difficulty in the Middle East. 32 people, three of them minors, were detained by undercover police during a pot picnic in Hayarkon Park in Tel Aviv, Israel.

The event, attended by 3,000 people, was halted after 80 police officers confiscated the sound system and ordered the park closed. The music was cut off just as folks were dancing to Peter Tosh?s reggae classic, “Legalize It.” Consequently, a mob of people gathered around the police, chanting “police state” and calling the authorities “fascists.” Fortunately, the event did not deteriorate into violence.

Event organizer Eran Vered told media, “We tried to organize a protest as is allowed in a democratic state. The police apparently decided that this wasn?t to their liking, so in a cruel and brutal manner they closed the picnic.”

Boaz Wachtel, founder of Ale Yarok (Green Leaf Party), the only pro-cannabis legalization and public health party in Israel, was arrested during the shutdown. He was released after few hours of investigation, having been charged with “organizing a drug party” and “running a business without a license.”

A Crohn?s disease sufferer was arrested while signing a petition for med-pot and was held for five hours at a police station. Another activist was said to have been beaten at the police station.

This was the seventh year in which the Israeli pot event has been held, but the first time it has been disrupted. The incident received much media attention and the organizers and activists plan to use the exposure to continue to fight for civil liberties and the abolition of the cannabis laws in Israel.

? Ale Yarok (Green Leaf Party):
? Boaz Wachtel: [email protected]

Far off places

Demonstrators in Dunedin, New Zealand, held a smoke-in inside the local police station! About 100 people sat smoking cannabis to mark the annual protest against the prohibition of cannabis in New Zealand.

“Today is a public statement to show that people who use cannabis shouldn’t have to exist in an underground subculture, but be free to openly use their drug of choice,” said spokesman Julian Crawford.

Protesters toked and listened to live music for several hours before walking down to the police station, where they sparked up both inside and outside the building. Senior Sergeant Bruce Ross said of the bold tokers, “We just ignored them. We don’t get involved in their protest.”

About 600 people made their way to the closed gates of Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa. This year’s march was intended to remind the government that the sharing of information with the people was an essential part of democracy. 10 helium balloons filled with hundreds of pot seeds were released into the air. Carried by the wind, they ended up in Parliament’s gardens.

At the fourth annual event in Tokyo, Japan, 800 people attended, while 500 showed up in Osaka, and 60 turned out for the first-ever event in Sapporo.

The main objective

The ultimate goal of the Million Marijuana March is global marijuana legalization. To all marijuana activists and cannabis lovers and medical users, organizer Dana Beal offers the following words of encouragement:

“We are working on getting a new international treaty,” he said. “If somewhere between 80 and 90 of the countries that are signatories to the UN conventions renounce them, they are no longer in effect. Our ultimate goal is to replace the existing treaty with one that not only recognizes the legality of marijuana but defines marijuana prohibition as genocide.

Beal wants to see the global march get even bigger next year: “It is extremely important that low-budget travel organizers fan out across the globe this summer in Australia, India, South Africa, Eastern Europe and North America to locate the local talent that will put us over the 300-city mark for major marches in 2005.”

At the time this article was written, dozens of cities had confirmed participation, with many more signing up every day. Be sure to support your local movement, and remember that it only takes one person to affect change. Imagine what we could accomplish together.

? To put on an event in your city, contact [email protected] by email or visit on line.
? Global Marijuana March: