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May 2, 2004 - DrugWar (US Web)

It's A Protest, Not A Pot-Fest - MMM 2004

By Preston Peet, for DrugWar com (Note: This article has a number of photos and links which can be viewed at

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May 1 was a beautiful Spring day, perfect to spend outside in Battery Park at the lower end of Manhattan in New York City, where an estimated one to three thousand people attended the 2004 Million Marijuana March and rally in support of medical marijuana and Drug War reforms.

"The repressive cloud of the Rudolph Giuliani regime has blown out to sea," Dana Beal of Cures-Not-Wars said. "I was bummed out last year due to the low turnout of people and angry police attitudes, but this year I'm really happy with the way things have gone." Beal noted that it was a "protest not a pot fest," and specifically pointed out how few officers there were raking the crowd for victims to take downtown.

With just three arrests -- one for possession, one for having an open container, and one activist with Cures-Not-Wars arrested for using a bullhorn -- this year was remarkably peaceful in terms of police actions. While the march itself, which stretched a good three city blocks, was covered by the usual compliment of hundreds of police officers hemming in the marchers along the entire route, the police presence at the subsequent rally in the park was, compared to recent years past, non-existent. There were a few park police in green uniforms, and a small number of uniformed cops, but there were no blatant undercover officers picking out the unwary who might be brave enough, or simply unaware of the danger, to light up in the park.

"Put it out" said the officers to these two very lucky blunt-smoking gentlemen before they walked away without arresting them.

To put the icing on the cake, while chucking around a Frisbee with some fellow pot protestors and friendly strangers, I myself saw a group of black guys gathered under a tree twisting up a blunt not five feet away from me. What I did not see were the two uniformed NYPD officers approaching until they were right on top of the group, now smoking their twisted blunt. To both my own surprise and that of the smokers, the two cops simply told them to "put it out," then walked away from making an extremely easy arrest. I and the smokers all about fell down on the lawn in shocked surprise, considering how violent and aggressive the NYPD has been at past years' events, not to mention every day life in the Big Apple, where more people are arrested for marijuana offenses each year than just about anywhere in the country-despite the fact that marijuana use and personal possession are merely civil offenses in New York, since New York is one of eleven U.S. states which have decriminalized marijuana use since the 1970s.

"This is my first protest in NYC," said event coordinator and Cures-Not-Wars public relations person Karen Tuominen. "The march was great, with lots of people there. The police are pretty much being friendly."

"This year's event was much better than last year's," said event organizer Robbie Robinson, who works with NY Cannabis Action Network and NY NORML. "We actively promoted this as a non-smoking event. One woman affiliated with the NYPD here today pulled me aside to thank me for stressing that to the crowd. Overall I'm very happy with the day."

"I'm glad to be here, and happy to participate," said Infamous Los, a rapper who came to the event with Ed "NJWeedman" Forchion of Camden, New Jersey, to perform and represent for marijuana reforms.

"We live in a police state," said NJWeedman, who later told the crowd about his own numerous battles with the state of New Jersey over pot and the stifling of his freedom of speech. "It's hard to get people out to participate in protests like this," he said, remarking on the relatively light crowd of about a thousand still in the park at exactly 4:20 in the afternoon.

"The fact that under federal law people can smoke marijuana for religious purposes on federal property isn't getting media coverage, so it isn't getting out to the people in general," said Cornell Dixon, who accompanied NJWeedman and Los to help bring attention to the dire anti-pot situation in New York's neighboring state of New Jersey. He was talking about the Freedom of Religion Restoration Act of 1993, a little known federal law which basically legalized the use of marijuana for religious purposes on federal property. Dixon himself is facing 6 felony charges for a variety of marijuana-related offenses in New Jersey, so has a strong personal stake in ending the perpetual war on marijuana.

"Now we have federal marijuana sanctuaries," continued Dixon, "which is ironic considering the outrageous current federal efforts to lock up medical marijuana using patients around the country. It would be nice to get a lot of these people here today to come to the religious events at the Liberty Bell we hold every third Saturday of the month."

"We're trying to turn Liberty Park, (Independence National Historical Park) where the Liberty Bell is on display, into Peace Pot Park," added NJWeedman. "The fact that the Bell is there makes it very symbolic. We set up, say a prayer, then partake of our religious sacrament."

"I'm not too familiar with NYC," said Burton Aldrich, an wheel-chair bound activist with New Yorkers for Compassionate Care, a group pushing hard for medical marijuana reforms in New York, "but I wish more people had turned out. There must be more smokers in NYC than this," he said, also remarking on the fairly thin late afternoon crowd. "There are times, like right now, when I'm in serious pain and would like to smoke, but can't because I could get arrested. Fortunately there are medical marijuana candies and chocolate around today. When more people realize that it's possible to eat marijuana and not smoke it, perhaps this will change people's perspective."

"They're calling for zero tolerance," said Chris Conrad about prohibitionists who insist that medical marijuana is just a foot in the door to full on legalization of marijuana. "Any time we can get patients out of harm's way it's a good thing and we must do so."

Mikki Norris agreed both with compatriot Conrad and with the prohibitionists' statement about medical marijuana being a step towards legalization. "Medical marijuana is beneficial for so many reasons to so many people, and the medical marijuana laws that have passed around the country have demonstrated this. Patients are dispelling the myth that pot is purely a demon weed, which should help non-smokers to realize how harmless marijuana really is compared to most legal drugs, such as alcohol. We want to tax and regulate marijuana, to eventually sell it out of licensed businesses to adults. There's no reason alcohol drinkers should have the right to drink but we can't have the right to smoke pot. It is flat out un-American."

Conrad and Norris, hard working California activists and co-authors of "Shattered Lives- Portraits from America's Drug War," both took a turn addressing the crowd, informing them of the many victories large and small around the country and in California, stressing that despite the seemingly slow pace of reform, things are happening in marijuana reform and are moving towards sanity.

"It would have been nice with more people," said Steve Bloom, a senior editor at Grow America and High Times magazines, "but the speakers and performers are all really good this year." Appearing on the main stage in addition to Bloom himself were NJWeedman; Valerie Vande Panne, news editor at High Times magazine; Norris and Conrad; Paul Gilman, member of the coordinating committee of the New York Green Party; Playthell G. Benjamin, WBAI Radio Commentator; Julia Walsh, Village of New Paltz, Village Trustee (reading a statement from New Paltz Mayor Jason West); Burton Aldrich, Medical marijuana patient and activist with New Yorkers for Compassionate Care; Bonnie Tocwish, Activist, Cancer Survivor; and Don Silberger, a Libertarian US Senate candidate from New York. Performers included Arj Barker, Doug Benson and Tony Camin, the writers/performers of the "hit" show The Marijuana-Logues, currently playing at NYC's The Actors' Playhouse; and music by Bobby Steele (formerly of the Misfits); the David Nelson Band; Stir Fried; rapper Infamous Los; and hip-hop group Grand Finale. On the second stage The Subtle Chaos put on music for a mini-rave with a variety of DJs spinning the beats, inspiring most of the small crowd into dancing themselves silly in the sun.

This was a pleasant day in the sun, with easy vibes and friendly attitudes everywhere to be found. The two seperate stages drew the attendees into two distinct groups, with those interested in hearing the speakers and live bands gathered at the main stage, and those who wanted to dance and play gathered at the second. Although there were very few who had the nerve to light up, the mood was light and cheerful, even optimistic.

As it does each and every year, it occurred to me and many others I spoke with that if all those who came out today to call for an end to the War on Marijuana Users actually got themselves to the voting polls in November, we might see an end to the War in our lifetime. Until then, pot users will continue holding these rallies and marches, demonstrating to the world the fact that a lot of us use pot and we like it a lot, that this does not make us criminals, and that we do not want our tax money funding continuous warfare waged upon our neighbors, friends, families and ourselves.

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