New Jersey marijuana activists organized a state-record turnout of at least 350 demonstrators on March 21, 2015, for the “NJ Spring Smoke-Out.” Organized by Kyle Moore, Vanessa Maria, Jo Anne Zito, Jeremy Santos and NJ Weedman, the marijuana demonstration served as the third and largest one in the state over the past year. On April 20, 2014, nearly 150 persons attended “Stoner Day: Confront Christie’s Cannabis Policies,” and on October 18, an estimated 250 persons came out for the “NJ Cannabis Conference.” If the pattern of growing protests continues, then Governor Chris Christie may face thousands of demonstrators during his presidential election campaign in 2016.
The large turnout on March 21 can be credited to the wide coalition building and inter-state cooperation among marijuana organizations. For the first time in history activists from New Jersey, Delaware, New York, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania came together to demand progressive measures on marijuana policies in NJ. Moreover, the representatives from each state were no “Johhny-come-lately” to the marijuana scene, but were in fact notable veterans and celebrities from the Movement. Speaking on behalf of the two leading Delaware organizations were Cyn Ferguson of DE-NORML and Zoe Patchell of Cannabis Bureau of Delaware. From New York came Solomon Seagal, a major participant and organizer for Occupy Weed Street and the May 2 Global Marijuana March, and Jano Tantongco, head of New York’s Cannabis Legalization Coalition. From Rhode Island came former gubernatorial candidate Ann Armstrong and marijuana activist Alan Gordon. Numerous Philadelphia activists were represented by two of the most famous marijuana activists on the east coast: N.A. Poe and former Philadelphia Police Captain Ray Lewis. The mere fact that the leading marijuana figures from the east coast gathered in New Jersey of all places, reveals the radicalization of the movement and our times.
Besides the large crowd, it was the props that made the event so exciting. DE-NORML once again led the way in having the greatest props. DE-NORML members carried an 8-foot bong and a two-foot bong, while the organization’s mascot Hempy the Leaf attracted thousands of pictures. As in the previous rally in October, NJ patient and activist Wayne Burrini carried the 6-foot Weed Cross during the entire march, and Wordsmith Williams once again wore a suite and Obama mask. When everyone smoked at 4:20 P.M., there was a brief uproar when a Snoop Dog impersonator made an appearance, until it was discovered that he wasn’t the real Snoop Dog. Hundreds of others held marijuana signs and flags, while wearing marijuana-themed attire. Overcoming years of psychological oppression, marijuana users proudly called themselves potheads that day and celebrated by smoking in public.
The NJ Spring Smoke-Out was also the first time that Trenton police threatened non-medical patients with arrest, although this failed to intimidate the morally-courageous crowd. This came as a shock since police voluntarily looked the other way when people smoked at the two previous massive demonstrations, as well as at the 20 weekly demonstrations from July-November 2014. According to police, the wide media publicity surrounding this event “embarrassed” them because they were not performing their duty. I responded that the goal of the rally was to “embarrass” Chris Christie and his awful policies, not the police. Nevertheless, half-a-dozen officers were stationed at the State House.
Subsequently, I arrived at the Trenton Riverline Station at 2:30 to launch the “Million Joint March,” but instead had to negotiate with a dozen different police officers who informed us we couldn’t march in the street or smoke weed, otherwise we faced arrest. This once again came as a surprise because at previous marches the police were essentially absent and made no arrests. Thus over 200 persons were stretched out over a block long on the snow-covered sidewalk. Having just been threatened with mass arrests by two different police groups in an hour, I was initially horrified when police arrested one walker during the parade, but later learned he was drinking an open container and was not really part of the rally. At the time, however, I was worried about others being arrested, and began to mentally prepare myself for arrest.
The first blow against the police came after the march, when 350 persons gathered at the State House. During the 5-minute duration before the first speaker, nearly the entire crowd smoked cigarettes or cannabis across the street from the State House, exactly where police didn’t want people to smoke. To my surprise, however, the half-a-dozen police officers didn’t harass anyone. Then, at 4:20, nearly 350 persons ignored police orders by smoking across from the State House in civil disobedience. It was the People uniting together for a shared cause that made the demonstration a success; and it will be the People uniting together that will lead to the legalization of marijuana.
The demonstration gained significant publicity, but unfortunately the estimates by the press about the number of participants was dramatically low, which has been historically true of protests. Identical articles posted in Asbury Park Press, NBC10.com and NorthJersey.com, estimated “roughly 200” appeared, while claiming “several” smoked openly. NJ.com and the Trentonian News oddly claimed that “more than 100 people” came out, despite having pictures showing several hundred. Regardless, the press wrote about the rally in a positive light and mentioned numerous complaints about the current policies under Gov. Christie.
The NJ Spring Smoke-Out is now the largest marijuana rally in the state’s history, and the organizers plan to continue to build larger demonstrations in the future. Another event in Trenton will be organized by NJ Weedman and Nyambi Ali for April 20, and the same organizers for NJ Spring Smoke-Out will organize the “Poor People’s Parade for Pot” in Camden on May 2 for the Global Cannabis March international celebration. More and more people continue to support marijuana legalization, while Christie and other dictators continue to believe they can ignore the people who elected them to office. The antiwar demonstrations during the 1960s also built off one another. In 1965, over 25,000 persons demonstrated against the Vietnam War in New York City. In March 1966, more than 50,000 protested; in April 1967, over 400,000 protested, breaking the country’s largest protest record; in October 1969, the record was broken again with over 750,000 demonstrators in NYC.
The Vietnam demonstrators in the 1960s and the marijuana demonstrators today also share a passion for civil disobedience. Beginning in 1965, only several scattered youths around the country burned their draft cards in defiance of the war, but by the time the war ended over hundreds of thousands of young people had courageously burned their draft cards, despite facing the possibility of several years in jail. Today young people are making the same selfless gestures by lighting their joints up in public, not for their own profit, but for the purpose of helping millions of others who suffer from these unjust laws. Chris Christie has a lot to learn about morality from the young Freedom Fighters in the Marijuana Movement today.