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Marijuana Activists Take To Streets For Annual Global Marijuana March

Drug War Chronichle, 13th May 2006

Tens of thousands of supporters of marijuana legalization rallying under the banner of the Global Marijuana March took to the streets in cities around the country and the globe this weekend. While events in the US were peaceful and small-scale, some cities saw large crowds and yet others suffered police repression. According to march organizers, protests occurred in 200 cities worldwide and on every continent.

Herewith, some of the highlights:

Toronto saw what was probably the second largest turnout of the weekend, with an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 people gathering in front of the Ontario legislature under the slogan "Stinking It to the Man" and filling the air with the stinky, skunky smell of high-grade Canadian weed. Booths at the day-long event sold pipes and vaporizers and t-shirts, as well as cookies, baked goods, pizza, and hotdogs, and business was good, Canada Press reported. Thousands of students, Goths, and hippies mixed peacefully with a prominent but restrained uniformed police presence to demand that the conservative government of Prime Minister Steven Harper lay off the herb. The Harper government recently announced it would not seek to pass the Liberals' decriminalization bill and has warned it will seek stiffer sentences for marijuana grow operators.

In Rome, in the largest turnout of the day, tens of thousands marched in that city's 16th consecutive Global Marijuana March to the Piazza della Repubblica to demand an end to the persecution of marijuana users, the recognition of medical marijuana, and the right to freely grow the plant. And in a message aimed squarely at the newly elected government, the Rome marchers called for the immediate repeal of the "Fini" law, passed in March and named after the neo-fascist minister in the former Berlusconi government. That law stiffens penalties for drug use and possession in Italy.

In Mexico City, more than 500 people gathered in the Alameda to celebrate marijuana and protest the Fox administration's reversal of a controversial bill that would have legalized the possession of personal use amounts of all drugs. Among those demonstrating was presidential candidate Patricia Mercado of the small Alternative Social-Democratic Party, who told the crowd: "Decriminalization does not create more users... we have to decriminalize the discussion of decriminalization." But for many, the day was not about discussing but about doing, and the scent of pot smoke hung heavy over the openly-smoking crowd.

"The president has declared war on users," said Alfonso Garcia, secretary of AMECA, the Mexican Association for Cannabis Studies, the group that sponsors the Mexico City event. US officials asking Mexico to reconsider the drug bill amounted to interference in Mexico's internal affairs, he added.

The event was peaceful. At one point, a half-dozen uniformed police officers confronted pot-smoking protestors, but they retreated after being surrounded by a crowd shouting "Take us all! Take us all!"

In Nimbin, Australia, home to the annual Mardi Grass celebration, more than 10,000 people endured a massive, heavily militarized police presence and 93 arrests as they marked the weekend of the Global Marijuana March. While Nimbin has a decades-old reputation as a pot-friendly community, New South Wales police characterized their presence as going after amphetamines. But earlier, New South Wales Police Commissioner Carl Scrully had warned that Nimbin would no longer be "a post-70s hippie no-go zone for police."

Mardi Grass organizer Michael Balderstone said such police tactics only drive hard drug use underground. "Heaps of kids last night were taking ice, pills, and powder," he said. "Police can stop the joints, but it just makes them use more dangerous drugs."
Police presence or not, Nimbin was a haze of marijuana smoke as revelers fortified themselves for such athletic events as the bong toss and the joint-rolling competition. Sharp-eyed shopkeepers even got in the swing of things, selling pre-rolled joints to happy customers.

Police repression was more effective in several other cities. In Porto Alegre, Brazil, police actions blocked the march, while in Moscow, local authorities for the third year in a row refused to grant permission for the march. Similarly, in Tel Aviv, municipal authorities put an early end to the rally there, shutting it down on the grounds that organizers had failed to gain proper permits. In Kiev, Ukraine, pro-marijuana marchers tussled with several hundred nationalist, neofascist demonstrators in what the local press called "a riot."

Several thousand pro-pot demonstrators also marched through the streets of Prague before gathering for music and a rally at Letna Plain. Cries of "Legalization, Legalization" filled the air and marchers unfurled banners calling on politicians to legalize the "partnership" with marijuana, a reference to the Czech government's recent approval of registered partnerships for gay couples. But political support came only from the junior Freedom Party, whose chairman and Justice Minister Pavel Nemec addressed the crowd in a white t-shirt saying "It's Legal to Use It."

The most bizarre press account of a Global Marijuana March event came from the Sofia News Agency in Bulgaria, which got the story completely backwards in its initial reporting. The news agency Saturday described the march as "a peaceful promenade expressing disagreement with the usage of marijuana" and added that the Sofia marchers also "gave out leaflets explaining the damages of this drug addiction." By Sunday, the agency story had changed. The march was "a peaceful promenade expressing disagreement with the ban on marijuana usage" and marchers handed out leaflets "explaining the damages of other types of addictions compared to marijuana." Oops.

In the US, events were, for the most part, much smaller. About one hundred people gathered in Fayetteville, Arkansas, another hundred or so met in Bakersfield, California. Similar numbers showed up in Eugene, Oregon, and Madison, Wisconsin, while other towns and cities reported turnouts in the dozens. Larger events occurred in places like St. Louis, Kansas City, and San Francisco, according to organizers.

Even in New York City, home to Global Marijuana March maven Dana Beal and his group Cures Not Wars, the turnout was a disappointing 200 or so. While construction in Battery Park, where the rally has been held since it was pushed out of Washington Square Park, meant that the city refused to issue rally permits, some observers interpreted the small size of the crowd as more of a comment on the state of the march in its home city than on the hazards of permit acquisition. As High Times editor Steve Bloom commented in his blog, "from thousands of supporters in the '90s to a handful on Sunday, the rally appeared to be on life support."

"High Times won't back the New York march," said Beal. "The media is just interested in marijuana, and High Times wanted me to drop ibogaine as an issue. The media doesn't see that this is about harm reduction, not just marijuana. We had a woman who talked about the Rockefeller drug laws."

Beal also defended small turnouts in the US. "You don't have to have thousands of people to have an impact," he said. "This is a worldwide event, and everywhere we were, the local media covered it and mentioned 200 other cities. And these are not just smoke-ins -- these are political events."

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