Last Saturday saw the second phase of the Global Marijuana March. While the May Day marijuana marches two weeks ago appeared to be concentrated in North America, last Saturday it was the turn of the Europeans and Latin Americans to take center stage.
Buenos Aires (Mike Bifari in front row, wearing green)
Known variously as the Global Marijuana March, the Million Marijuana March, the World Marijuana March
, or, more informally, International Weed Day, the actions in cities around the globe are designed to advance the cause of marijuana legalization and celebrate the global cannabis culture.
From nerve centers at Cures Not Wars in New York City, Cannabis Culture magazine in Vancouver, and the European NGO Coalition for Safe and Effective Drug Policies (ENCOD) in Brussels, activists in more than 320 cities across the planet took the local initiative in the own communities. In some places, particularly Canada and New Zealand on May 1 and Rome and Latin America last Saturday, marchers came out in the thousands, while in others, including small communities and college campuses across the US, the number was in the dozens or possibly the hundreds.
During the first phase of the Global Marijuana March, the largest turnout was in Toronto, where an estimated 20,000 people rallied for legalization and to free "Prince of Pot" Marc Emery. (See related story here.) That turnout was exceeded this week in Rome, where an estimated 30,000 people marched and, quite possibly, in Mexico City, where no crowd estimates were made, but where video of the march shows a multitude of marchers filling the street for block after block. Buenos Aires, meanwhile, was the scene of another large turnout, with organizers there estimating the crowd at 8,000.
The march in Rome, while the largest world-wide this year, was smaller than usual, said Alberto Sciolari of the group Mefisto, which organized the event. "This year, we didn't allow techno sound systems on trucks, just some reggae, to enhance specifically cannabis awareness among participants and to avoid problems with young people possibly using chemical drugs and not caring about cannabis," he said. "So the march was smaller, but we were happier."
While Sciolari reported no problems with police at the march, there have been lots of problems with police for Italian pot smokers recently, and the march addressed that issue. "It was dedicated to the victims of prohibition, of which we've had so many in recent times," he said. "We also had a press conference with relatives of some of the victims Saturday morning."
New York (courtesy Andrew Seidenfeld)
By contrast, turnouts were smaller in Northern Europe this year, reported ENCOD's Joep Oomen. "There were about 150 people in Brussels, 500 in Paris, and 1,000 in Amsterdam," he said, laying the blame on cold, chilly weather.
In Buenos Aires, an Argentine cannabis community energized by last year's court rulings invalidating the law against marijuana possession (Congress has yet to draft a new one), left its traditional rallying spot at Parque Planetario and took to the streets, marching first to the Plaza de Mayo, home of the presidential palace, then down Avenida de Mayo to Congress.
"This last march was historic, nothing will be the same after this incredible demonstration," said a jazzed Mike Bifari, one of the organizers and speakers at the rally. "We were tired of just sitting there and doing nothing; we wanted our voices to be heard. And this march was so big and energetic, like never before, because there were so many groups organizing the rally and people were coming from all over the province of Buenos Aires, as well as from the popular neighborhoods in the city itself."
Speakers honored the dead, including Edith "La Negra," a famous Argentine pot smoker and Jack Herer, said Bifari. "It was like his spirit was there telling us all the benefits of our lovely plant," he said.
The theme in Buenos Aires was "stop the raids against our brothers, stop the police from arresting people for marijuana, and release our brothers in prison," Bifari said. While Congress dawdles in writing a new pot law, "We suffered a few raids these last few months, mainly in the interior of the country," he said.
"One thing that everybody agrees on is that the law must catch up with us because it can't stop our growing healthy cannabis movement, especially now that we know how to gain the streets when we need to."
In Mexico City, where the annual march celebrated its 10th anniversary, thousands packed the Zocalo before marching between the towers of downtown. Organized by AMECA (the Mexican Association for Cannabis Studies) and nearly a dozen other groups and collectives, marchers called for legalization of the weed, not the pseudo-decriminalization passed by the government last year.
"We are at a conjunctural moment," said AMECA's Leopoldo Rivera Rivera, citing the prohibition-related violence plaguing Mexico even as the US -- the largest market by far for illicit Mexican drugs -- appears headed toward relaxing its drug laws.
In Rio de Janeiro, about 1,500 marched for marijuana legalization on May Day, reported Luiz Guanabara of Psicotropicus. Marches took place in other Brazilian cities last Saturday, except for Fortaleza, where a judge blocked the march as an "apology for crime."
And so, another year's worth of Global Marijuana Marches have come and gone. Will next year be the year people take to the streets to celebrate landmark advances in marijuana legalization in the US? Stay tuned.