Since I started writing this column last October, I've been amazed at the number of organizations and events, and the complexity of marijuana activism. The most recent event to appear on my personal horizon is the May 7 Cures Not Wars Cannabis Liberation Day. The fact that it is taking place is no surprise. What surprises me is that it has been going on since 1994 in New York, and in Detroit since 2001. I never heard of it before and apparently it has not been big in the media.
"It's about legalizing pot worldwide for adults," says Bob Rysztak, a Michigan NORML member who lives in Belleville and helps organize the event. "The first event I went to was 1999 in Cleveland. There were about 20 cities participating that were listed on the poster. They've been trying to spread this worldwide — from Amsterdam to Rome and Tokyo — and now it's up to some 300 cities."
Well, there are about 200 cities worldwide listed on the Cures Not Wars website, which describes the organization as "a coalition of drug-reform activists, users, health-care and drug-treatment providers and social-justice activists committed to advocacy and nonviolent direct action to stop the drug war, whether in small, local protests or in regional or national actions."
Detroit's event (others are planned for Ann Arbor, Traverse City and Lansing) in Grand Circus Park is pretty much a rally with speakers and bands. It has not been a major affair; last year's had only two tables representing organizations, and organizers estimate there was a crowd of about 200. The count is unclear partly because it was difficult to tell who was there for the cannabis event and who happened to be wandering by en route to the Detroit Tigers' game that day. Next to the Hash Bash, which drew a reported 6,000 people in what wasn't the most hospitable April weather, Cannabis Liberation Day is small potatoes. In some places it's called the Global Marijuana March, but in Detroit the marching has involved crossing Woodward with the traffic lights while carrying signs.
This year it will have a higher profile than in the past. That's partly because of the medical marijuana movement.
"It'll be bigger than last year," says organizer Heidi Parikh, president and executive director of the Downriver Compassion Club. "More people want to be involved, and we've got about 20 booths lined up so far. There's a lot more marketing involved. It's definitely going to have more of a medical overtone to it because most of the community that is coming out is the medical community. They are the folks who are going to move it, who are going to end prohibition."
It's part of the growing partnership between marijuana legalization efforts and the medical marijuana movement. There is some obvious common ground. And while medical marijuana activists who don't want to take it any further wince at the prospect of the full legalization crowd causing a backlash and imperiling their access to medical marijuana, the legalizers see an opportunity to push their cause. For instance, last year Parikh attended her first liberation day and saw potential for growth.
"The day after the march I called Dana Beal and said we have to get this going next year," Parikh says.
Irvin Dana Beal, a former Yippie, originated the Global Marijuana March in New York City. This year's events are focused on support for him. In February, Beal was arrested in Barneveld, Wis., while a passenger in a vehicle that was stopped while carrying 186 pounds of marijuana.
It was old hat for Beal, who was also arrested in Nebraska in 2009 with two others and 150 pounds of the weed. Also, in 2008, he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor marijuana possession in Illinois.
"I'm for the end of marijuana prohibition for sure," Parikh says. "There are a lot of medical qualities to this, but I am for total legalization. May 7 was always about total legalization. This year we'll take a little trend toward the medical because that's what's being focused on right now. I don't have any problems with that."
Detroiter Tim Beck, who helped write the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act, has already crossed that bridge. Beck was quoted in a recent article from the progressive news site Alternet.org saying, "I'm not going to deny it. It is an interim step to legalization. It's a model for tax-and-regulate."
That should be no surprise to local activists. Beck is a principal member of Coalition for a Safer Detroit, which organized the petition to put the question of decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana on the Detroit ballot. The Detroit Elections Commission chose not to put it on the ballot last fall, saying that it would be overruled by state law. CSD is pursuing a legal appeal of the Wayne Circuit Court decision backing the Elections Commission. At medical marijuana meetings and forums, Beck has not been shy about pushing the legalization agenda.
It's not a matter of activists pushing for legalization using medical marijuana as a cover. It's more an alliance of convenience, wherein each faction sees where the other can help its cause. In the end, legal marijuana works just as well for the medical patient. And the legalization crowd, well, they want their medicine too.
There are all kinds of organizations, some old, some new, working on various marijuana issues. Here is a little primer to help you keep up with who is who and what they are doing.
NORML: The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws is probably the best-known group advocating for the repeal of marijuana prohibition. It has chapters in every state and MINORML is ours.
ASA: Americans for Safe Access is the oldest national organization supporting medical marijuana. It has chapters in most states.
LEAP: Law Enforcement Against Prohibition is a group of police officers and former police officers who have seen the drug war up close and don't like it.
MMMA: The Michigan Medical Marijuana Association provides service, advocacy and information to patients, caregivers and health care professionals.
MACC: The Michigan Association of Compassion Centers advocates for medical marijuana-related businesses and the rights of medical marijuana patients.
CPU: Cannabis Patients United defends the rights of Michigan medical marijuana patients.
SSDP: Students for a Sensible Drug Policy is an international organization working for better policies than the failed drug war.
Another interesting tidbit from Alternet: A March 21-24 survey of California voters by Lake Research Associates found that 72 percent support smaller penalties for possession of small amounts of all drugs. Apparently Californians would rather spend their money on education and health care instead of on incarceration.