The June 6th Medical Marijuana Actions: One Week Later 6/14/02

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As DRCNet initially reported last week, a campaign organized by Americans for Safe Access (http://www.safeaccessnow.org) saw protest actions at 54 DEA offices and other federal buildings across the country. Because of the Week Online's publication deadline (the evening of the event), our coverage was necessarily sketchy and could not include an analysis of media responses to the events. This week, DRCNet looks a little deeper into the demonstrations and their ramifications.

The June 6th actions, part of a growing national campaign to force the Justice Department and the DEA to "Cease and Desist" from arresting medical marijuana providers and patients, included a large contingent of cities in California, where the DEA has recently undertaken a series of raids aimed at medical marijuana providers, but also included cities across the country ranging from such obvious sites as Washington, DC, Portland, and Seattle, to more surprising locations, such as San Antonio, Wichita, Tampa, and even Rock Island, IL and Saginaw, MI.

In two cities, Washington and San Francisco, protestors engaged in acts of civil disobedience. In both cases, protestors blocked the doors of federal buildings. Ten were arrested and released in Washington, plus eight in San Francisco.

In other cities, events ranged from simple picket lines to demonstrations to direct actions, such as banner drops in highly visible locations. The single largest demonstration was in Santa Rosa, CA, where more than 300 people showed up to protest DEA raids there the previous week.

According to press reports compiled by ASA and the Media Awareness Project (http://www.mapinc.org/alert/0243.html), the demonstrations forced the closing of federal buildings or DEA offices in various series. In other cities, buildings were operating with skeleton crews. The series of demonstrations garnered extensive local media coverage in mid-size and smaller cities, but largely failed to dent the national media. In Washington, DC, for example, the small conservative newspaper the Washington Times published a large article, but the nationally prominent Washington Post covered the arrests at the Justice Department with just two sentences. Neither were the demonstrations picked up by the national TV networks.

"There were not a whole lot of print stories," conceded Adam Eidinger, whose DC-based Mintwood Media worked with ASA to organize and promote the national action, "but there were quite a few TV hits on local news -- and those are worth many thousands of dollars of advertising. Reuters did a dispatch that went out worldwide," Eidinger told DRCNet. "It could have been better, but with the war on terror and other hard news happening, I think we got a significant amount of press."

Berkeley-based Steph Sherer is the ASA's lead organizer. She told DRCNet that national media coverage was less than hoped for, but that she expected that to change. "At almost every place there was a protest, at least one local media outlet covered it," she said, "but we still face some challenges with the national media. That's nothing new. But I'm confident that as this movement grows, it is only a matter of time until the national press picks this up and begins seeing it as a national movement."

According to accounts provided by ASA, the Media Awareness Project and Mintwood Media, the protests garnered at least 17 stories in local newspapers (12 of them major dailies) and at least 34 local TV news reports. But Mintwood's Eidinger told DRCNet that if syndicated news services, such as Conus, which feed stories to small local TV stations are included, the number of stories is probably greater than one hundred.

"The effort was not in vain," said Eidinger. "It was a heavy news day and we still managed to generate coverage. What is clear is that we can generate positive press with this demonstration strategy. We need to continue organizing the grassroots and holding demonstrations," he added. "And with the extensive work done making media contacts prior to the demonstrations, we have laid the groundwork for future coverage. We may not have been covered as much as we would like, but now we are on the radar in newsrooms across the country. With more protests and more militant protests, we will begin to garner more attention," Eidinger said.

ASA's Sherer pronounced herself pleased with the June 6th actions, but called them "only a great first step." More is coming, she vowed. "Bush and the DEA have been put on notice," she said. "We had only 3 ½ weeks to organize these actions, and this one small call to action shut down federal buildings across the country."

The movement will continue to broaden its support base and organize more intensely locally, said Sherer. "We need to build larger constituencies, and we need to prepare for an emergency response if and when the DEA makes its next move," she said.

That could come soon. On Thursday, US District Judge Charles Breyer issued a permanent injunction barring the Oakland Cannabis Co-op and several other medical marijuana providers from distributing the medicine to their patients. That move could be the green light the DEA has been waiting for.

But Sherer and ASA aren't waiting. "People are coming to us from all over the country, wanting to organize ASA chapters," she said. "We need them, we need them to organize their communities. This will take the effort of the entire nation."

Eidinger's eyes aren't raised that high, but he also advocates a higher level of resistance. "We had 300 people here, 100 there, 200 somewhere else," he said. "We need thousands of people in the streets. Then they'll start to listen."

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