From Amsterdam to Arequipa to Auckland, from Anchorage to Albuquerque to Austin to Amherst, from one end of the country and the planet to the other, the worldwide cannabis nation took to the streets Saturday for the 2011 Global Marijuana March. At the same time, in Mexico, marchers trekked from Cuernavaca to Mexico City, and gathered in other Mexican cities as well, to plead for an end to the drug war violence that has killed more than 37,000 people in the past four years.
In Toronto, tens of thousands of people came out for the Freedom Fest. A haze of pot smoke hung over Queens Park as revelers were treated to an afternoon of bands and speakers, including Jodie Emery, wife of imprisoned Prince of Pot Marc Emery. The Toronto march may have been this year's largest.
An estimated 25,000 people marched in cities across Argentina, including at least 1,000 in Rosario and 15,000 in the capital, Buenos Aires. Marchers there demanded that the government move further down the path of decriminalization and harm reduction.
"The march in Rosario was great," said Silvia Inchaurraga of the Argentine Harm Reduction Association (ARDA). "In the first march we organized here in 2002, there were only a handful of people, and now we have more than 1,000," she told the Chronicle. "We don't need more speeches from politicians, even progressive speeches, we need a new drug law and a new drug policy. Despite the Supreme Court rulings of 2009 [decriminalizing marijuana possession], the old drug law is still in effect and drug users are still arrested and punished, and harm reduction is not the official policy of the National Secretary on Drugs."
In Jakarta, Indonesia, the number of marchers may have been small, but their audacity was great, and their action sparked preemptive warnings from police and Reefer Madness-style denunciations from people who should know better.
Police first warned that the march was illegal, but then announced they would only arrest people breaking the drug laws. The day before the march National Narcotics Agency spokesman Gen. Indradi Thanos said the group behind the march should "stop their campaign to legalize marijuana because the substance was defined as an illegal addictive drug in the narcotics law." Indradi added somewhat ominously that the agency would hold talks with the network activists to determine if there were "vested interests" backing them," according to the Jakarta Post.
But on Saturday, the Nusantara Marijuana Network (LGN) led some 50 or so people on a march to the Tugu Tani monument in central Jakarta. Unlike Western marchers, most were dressed uniformly in white t-shirts with green ribbons. But like Western marches, posters of Bob Marley bedecked a pick-up truck leading the parade.
"As a first step, we call on the government to provide objective information about marijuana," LGN chair Dhira Narayana said. "People need to be informed that marijuana can be used to cure cancer. Marijuana is also no more addictive than coffee or tea," he added.
The Jakarta march certainly sparked a reaction. The Indonesian Child Protection Commission announced it rejected pot legalization because it could have negative effects on children. "Children's brains will be damaged, as will their future, commission head Arist Merdeka Sirait told Tempo.
The National Narcotics Agency and University of Indonesia psychiatrist Dadang Hawari also rejected legalization. Dadang told Tempo that marijuana leaves don't kill, but have ill effects on the brain, including long-term mental and behavioral disorders. Marijuana was appropriately categorized as a narcotic, Dadang claimed.
And also reacting was former Vice President Jusuf Kalla. "We cannot legalize marijuana because at certain doses it is unbelievably dangerous to health," he told the Jakarta Post.
The work of cannabis education has clearly only just begun in Indonesia, but at least it has begun.
In Mexico City, where the work of cannabis education has been underway for some time, thanks to groups like the Mexican Association for Cannabis Studies, hundreds gathered Saturday downtown to demand decriminalization. They chanted and cheered for musical actors and speakers, including the association's Leopoldo Rivera.
"We consider it prudent to be informed on this topic. People who consume are not necessarily criminals or ill, it could be any regular person who is a productive, contributing member of society," Rivera said.
But in Mexico, it wasn't just about freeing the weed -- even at the Global Marijuana March. "We are lobbying for the decriminalization of marijuana as a way to reach peace. Currently, the number of dead in Mexico is 40,000, and it is due in big part to drug trafficking," said environmentalist Arnold Ricarde.
Led by poet and essayist Javier Sicilia, whose son and six others were found murdered in Cuernavaca in late March, presumably at the hands of the Pacifico Sur cartel, by the time the march arrived at the Zocalo, Mexico's City's gigantic central plaza, it had morphed into a mass of humanity crying out for an end to endless cycle of violence.
"We don't want any more death because of this growing mess," said Sicilia, from a platform in Zocalo... "No more deaths, no more hate. We've come out to walk these streets with dignity and peace... violence will only bring us more violence," he added.
A manifesto for the march called for the government to solve the killings and disappearances, address social ills, fight corruption, impunity, and money-laundering, and drop its "war strategy" in favor of a focus on citizen safety.
Sicilia's crusade has brought a sharp focus to the growing disenchantment with President Felipe Calderon's decision to take the battle to the cartels in December 2006. Despite the deployment of some 45,000 federal troops, the violence has not diminished, but intensified. The government has to change its strategy, the protestors said.
"We've had it with this terrible government that goes unpunished. We want peace," said Araceli Vazquez, 60, as he held up an improvised placard with his demands.
On Monday, President Calderon offered to meet with protest leaders, a clear sign that their voice is being heard. But he was not backing away from his insistence on a military solution to the cartel problem. "We can agree to disagree," he said.
The somber multitudes of Mexico City are a world away from the happy tokers of Toronto, but whether it is marijuana legalization or ending the drug war paradigm that has produced the murderous Mexican madness, drug prohibition is the underlying cause that unites them.