Demonstrators calling for the legalization of marijuana took to the streets in approximately 200 cities across the globe on May 4, making this year's staging of the annual Million Marijuana March the largest yet. Only in New York City, notorious for its massive number of marijuana arrests annually, did police move in to make large numbers of arrests of smoking demonstrators. Police reported 148 marijuana arrests as thousands of marchers gathered in Lower Manhattan.
For Dana Beal, former Yippie and perennial pot agitator who heads Cures Not Wars (http://www.cures-not-wars.org) and was the primary organizer and central repository for the global actions, this was the best year yet. "We didn't have a million people, but we had a bunch of cities with thousands of people, a few with tens of thousands. It's starting to add up," he told DRCNet. "And we got more national media coverage than ever. We were on CNN Headline News every half-hour for a whole day." The New York Times also graced the protest by covering the event, something it had been loathe to do it the past.
Perhaps as important, the protests generated coverage in the provincial press. Papers such as the Lansing State Journal, the Paducah Sun, the Rapid City Journal, the Salt Lake Tribune and the Santa Cruz Sentinel, among others, all reported on demonstrations in their towns, and little of the coverage resorted to crude "stoner dude" stereotypes.
Marches took place in 30 countries, including multiple locations in Canada, England and Germany. An estimated thousand people gathered in Prague, "several hundred" in New Zealand, and events were scheduled for such diverse locales as Israel, South Africa and Australia. According to Beal, reports have not yet been received from all cities with marches scheduled.
As for the arrests in New York, Beal's home base, the mustachioed yipster was mellow. "There was no rough stuff and no pepper spray," he said, "and nobody was bum-rushing the cops. There was no twisting girls' arms and frog-marching them off in front of the crowd. This was more like professional security at a rock concert than the brutal Giuliani cops," said Beal.
Beal was less pleased with a broken promise by police to only issue tickets for marijuana infractions, instead of the typical practice of arresting and holding them in precinct detention cells for an average of 20 hours. "They were under a federal court order not to hold people like that, so they did give them tickets, but only after holding them for a few hours. Technically, they kept their word, but people still ended up being held for hours," he said. "Anyway, it is convenient for the cops and the courts to just ticket them, rather than have to process hundreds of pot-smokers at once."
Beal bristled a bit when asked if the marches hurt the reform effort by showing the face of the marijuana culture. "Right now, we're in a struggle for our image. If we succeed in being a nonviolent civil disobedience movement, we will win," he said. As for those people in the drug reform movement who argue the marches are hurtful, "they're perpetuating a damaging stereotype themselves," said Beal.
"We don't have to go to their conferences," said Beal, who was visibly absent from last month's NORML conference in San Francisco. "If we are not welcome, we have our own international forum and movement. National NORML didn't even put us on their web site. I don't have time for those people."
Beal turned more congenial as he told of Radical Party members at the march who complained they couldn't get arrested in Europe. "Hey, we'll tout New York next year as the home of marijuana civil disobedience," he enthused. "We can guarantee you'll get arrested, not like that repressive tolerance in Europe."