If it's springtime, it's Million Marijuana March time. Come May Day, grassroots activists in about 200 cities around the globe will be hitting the streets to celebrate marijuana and demand its legalization. A tradition that has endured (under various names) for more than 30 years, the marches have been a means of forcing the issue of marijuana and its consumers into the public eye, as the pot culture lets its freak flag fly. The marches provoke media coverage -- not necessarily all sympathetic -- especially in the more remote locales, such as Spokane, Washington, or Yuba City, Arizona, not to mention Rosario, Argentina, or Stockholm, Sweden, a hotbed of Nordic prohibitionism that will see its first Million Marijuana March this year.
"We're at about 150 cities right now and we think we'll make 200 before it's all over," said the march's founder, Dana Beale of Cures Not Wars (http://www.cures-not-wars.org), a group devoted not only to reforming marijuana laws but also to proselytizing for the virtues of the African plant ibogaine in treating addiction. That is about the same as last year, when slightly more than 200 cities participated.
Finding organizers for the marches in various cities is a constant challenge, said Beale. "While we get new cities each year, there are also cities where it has happened in the past but activism has sluffed off," he said. Expansion of the marches is also stymied in part for lack of funds for organizing, he added. "If you want this to flourish, you have to begin working on it the previous summer and you have to have people doing some traveling. It can be done cheaply, but we need to be able to have someone go to different cities where we know someone, but they don't quite have it together."
The veteran organizer has his eyes on new lands as well. "There is not a single event planned in all of India, and there is a huge marijuana culture there," he said. "And there is only one event in all of South Africa. We want to branch out and expand, but you have to send someone to those places to make contact with the people there." There is a tipping point, he argued. "We should be in 900 cities, not 200. At some point, if we get into enough cities and have large enough events, we could break through. What we need are the equivalent of those global antiwar rallies that were covered on every channel and in every newspaper," he said.
The marches have long been a fixture in North America and Europe, but have begun spreading in Latin America as well in recent years. This year, marches are set for Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, Rosario, and Sao Paulo.
"We will be doing a festival and concert called the 'Festival Against Intolerance,'" said Silvia Inchaurraga of the Argentine Harm Reduction Association, who is involved in organizing both the Buenos Aires and Rosario events. "There will be rock groups and speakers in both cities. Last year, we had 12,000 people in Buenos Aires for the festival, and we are doing it in both cities this year," she told DRCNet. "We expect maybe 15,000 in Buenos Aires this year and several thousand more in Rosario. We started with a Million Marijuana March in Rosario in 2002, and support and attendance continue to grow, as does debate on the issue," she said.
As for event organizers around the planet, for Inchaurraga the annual march is an opportunity to highlight local or national issues in the context of a global movement for marijuana liberation. "Here in Argentina," she said, "we are doing this in the framework of our Argentine depenalization campaign, a project to modify the national drug law. There was a bill introduced in November to depenalize possession for personal use, and we are supporting that."
Last year, said Inchaurraga, they created a CD called "Music for Depenalization" with cuts from groups that performed at the festival. "It was a selection of songs against prohibition, against the war on drugs, and in favor of marijuana depenalization or legalization. We plan to do that again this year to keep on having an impact after the march is over," she said.
Back in New York, Beale explained that this year's slogan is "May Day is Jay Day" and the overall theme is regulation, not prohibition. "We're not doing medical marijuana," he said. "We are trying to stress the idea of the Dutch model, the fact that they have been extremely successful in controlling their overall drug problem by separating cannabis from the hard drug markets."
The Million Marijuana Marches are a unique demonstration of the incredible spread and variety of pro-marijuana groups and the grassroots pot culture, with participants including numerous local and national chapters of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, a Students for Sensible Drug Policy chapter or two, Berlin's Hanfmuseum, the First Church of the Magi and Sacred Truth Mission in Fayetteville, Arkansas, the Finnish Cannabis Association, the Stoner Club in Las Vegas, Sister Somayah's Nigerian Kief Society in Los Angeles, Mountaineers for Medical Marijuana in Parkersburg, West Virginia, the Philadelphia Pot Party, and Tarzan's Mission of the Sacred Herb in Sturgeon Falls, Wisconsin.
And they may be scruffy and they may smoke pot on camera, but while that bothers some more buttoned-down drug reformers, it doesn't seem to bother the celebrants and it definitely doesn't bother Beale. When asked to respond to a question about whether the movement would be better off if the hippies stayed off camera, he bristled. "They don't say that about gay people, do they? If they think we're so unclean, how can these people claim to represent us?" Besides, Beale pointed out, he has short hair and wears a three-piece suit when he goes lobbying.
Visit http://www.cures-not-wars.org/cities.htm for a list of MMM cities and organizers.