An extremely warm day for May with temperatures reaching into the 90’s, the Texas Marijuana March, part of the Global Marijuana March, held in Austin, Tx this past weekend was not what we had hoped for, but there were some high points that made it all worthwhile.
After fighting through slow moving Cinco de Mayo traffic and finding a parking-spot downtown, we made the half-mile walk to city hall where the march to the state capitol was scheduled to begin. Getting there thirty minutes early, we were warmly greeted by the people already gathered who were displaying signs to traffic, eliciting supportive honks and waves as people drove by.
As we waited for the march to begin a car with all sorts of messages spray painted on it, with a gigantic billboard strapped to the top of it with slogans about ending war, taxes, the police state, etc began circling city hall, honking as it drove around. After a few passes it stopped and the driver laid on the horn for a good solid minute before the police went up to him, at which point he moved on.
About ten minutes later the same guy walks through the area we’re sitting in, yelling all sorts of obscenities and yammering on about the pigs (cops) and how they told him he couldn’t honk his horn. After some people tried to calm him down he started cussing all of us and said that we were with the pigs. No written description could do justice to the scene we witnessed because of this guy, but he eventually moved on and wasn’t seen for the rest of the day. A person that was walking by asked if that guy was with our group, to which I responded definitely not. In fact, it is rare to witness such a person who is involved with cannabis events.
With about five minutes to go we’re told that extra signs were made and that if we wanted we could grab one to carry on the mile and a half trek to the capitol building. As I sorted through the signs, some of the slogans saying “Marijuana is Medicine” and “End the War on Drugs” among a slew of others, I came across the one I wanted, and I regret not getting a picture with, that said “Re-Legalize It.” A simple yet telling slogan, educational in the fact that cannabis was not so long ago legal to grow and sell.
As about 150 of us marched through the streets, Austin police guided our route and directed traffic. It was surreal, seeing the police there not to heckle us, but to help. Major props go out to the police of Austin who were at all times courteous, friendly, and helpful. The reception by those along our route ranged from interested to enthusiastic, with a lot of honking, yells of support, and picture taking. Amazingly enough, there was not at any time anyone visibly opposed to what we were doing, not so much as even a dirty look from my vantage point.
Led by the 420 Truth Car, we finally made our way up to the steps of the capitol building where about another hundred people awaited our arrival to form an estimated group of about 250 people, well short of the 400 or so in attendance the previous year. Of this group, about nine or ten children were present, which is very encouraging given that these events are family appropriate. One could understand why a person would choose not to bring their children to such an event though.
The lineup of speakers included Vincent Lopez, a medical marijuana patient and Texas NORML patient liaison, Cheyanne Weldon, Texas NORML’s Secretary & leader of Texas NORML Women’s Alliance, Jamie Spencer, Texas NORML’s Legal Counsel & Lifetime Member of NORML’s Legal Committee, Josh Schimberg, Texas NORML Exec. Director, Dr. Kenneth Hendrickson, Sam Houston State Univ. NORML Kats Faculty Advisor and History Professor, and Clif Deuvall, NORML of Waco Founder, and Candidate for Texas House District 56. Music and entertainment was performed by RDP and Alex Marley.
As the day wore on, getting hotter and hotter with only a few sparing moments of a welcoming breeze on an otherwise still and sultry day, the size of the crowd began to dwindle as we baked on concrete under the sun. All of the shaded grassy areas were conveniently roped off, inaccessible by people attending the protest, even though the next day it appears that people attending the Ron Paul rally were not prevented from entering the same areas that were off-limits to us. One has to wonder why we were kept off of the shaded areas, given that the year before we had access and the Ron Paul rally being held the next day had access as well.
Speaking of Ron Paul, we had quite the gathering of Ron Paul supporters at the rally as well; an estimated 30-40 people. There were no Obama supporters or any other politicians being represented in the crowd. It is no surprise though that many who are involved in the cannabis movement have begun to shun president Obama considering his hostile policies towards medical marijuana states, providers, and patients.
The only media that I saw present was Fox, who interviewed various people in the crowd and stuck around for the majority of the event. The article found on their website about the march was to say the least, lackluster.
The best speakers were saved for last, with Dr. Kenneth Hendrickson giving an energetic speech emphasizing the fact that we are trending towards a police state where swat teams are busting into homes, often the wrong ones, killing pets and all too often innocent people as well, turning up very little or nothing at all in the way of drugs. That we must fight for our rights, to be ever vigilant so that our children will not have to suffer from this war. You could feel the passion and the energy radiating from this man, especially after his speech was done and he was shaking hands with people.
Another subject he touched on was jury nullification, a long held tradition in English Common Law granting juries the ability to not only judge if someone has broken a law, but whether or not the law is justified. Yet this practice is rarely discussed, even to the point where activists advocating jury nullification at courthouses have been arrested for handing out pamphlets containing information about the practice.
Following Dr. Hendrickson was Clif Deuvall, who gave a riveting speech about how medical marijuana turned his life around after losing the quality of his life on VA prescribed methadone for an injury he sustained while on duty in Vietnam. He talked about his time as a teacher and emphasized that our number one priority should be the education of our youth, that money wasted on the drug war could be used to help bolster school funds rather than see the current cuts being made. He also talked about his efforts to speak with his representatives and stressed the importance of contacting them, making your voice be heard, and actively working to vote out those who would go against the will of the people. A line he often repeats, “you’re alone in the voting booth, so get to the polls and make your vote count.”
It’s just a shame that the crowd had dwindled to about fifty or so people by the time these two got up to speak.
Closing the rally, Josh Schimberg made a few closing statements, one issue he addressed being a question posed repeatedly by a reporter from the Austin-American Statesman summarized as “Why do you encourage people to break the law, which by extension feeds the drug cartels and enables mass murder to the south of our border?” The reporter later wrote an incendiary hit piece with only choice bits and pieces added to it.
Understandably this is a frustrating question to be asked considering that before federal and state laws were put into place, this issue with the drug cartels did not exist and it is all too obvious that the prohibition is the root cause of these problems. Though I for one would like to know, what is a good response to such a question?
Obviously organizations such as NORML are not encouraging people to break the law, they are simply policy advocates. However it is obvious that the majority of the people in the cannabis movement either break the law themselves, or supports others in doing so. Are we not somehow wrong for encouraging people to break the law? It’s an honest question worthy of some discussion, and surely many would like to know how to respond to such a criticism.
Also noteworthy is that at no time did I observe anyone break any laws at this rally, and that is exactly how we like it. I also wanted to mention the kind woman that attended our rally, and is found at the capitol on most days chatting with people about their civil liberties, dressed as the Statue of Liberty. If you’re ever at the Texas capitol building and see her around, stop and talk with her.
Ultimately it was a good time, full of great speakers and information, an event that more people should experience. Much thanks to Texas NORML for putting on the march, all of the speakers for their valuable insights, and everyone who attended. Mark your calendars and plan to be at a local march next year on May 6th, bring your family and friends, and help make a difference in a movement that isn’t about getting high, but ending a miserably failed war on our own people for a plant that is non-toxic and is by far safer than any legal substance.
By: Stephen Carter