Nearly a hundred demonstrators smoked at the State House in Trenton, NJ, on April 20, 2015, the international pothead holiday known simply as 4-20. At 4:20 P.M. everyone lit up at the WWII Memorial, directly across the street from the State House, which is technically a park and therefore illegal to smoke at, even for medical patients. Therefore patients and non-patients smoked together in civil disobedience, and no one was arrested. Prior to smoking, medical patients and demonstrators spoke with two friendly police officers outside the State House. Both officers agreed the medical policies needed to be changed, and just like previous NJ demonstrations, the officers left at 4:20 P.M. to turn a blind eye toward the cannabis smokers.
On the international pot holiday events took place in at least 126 countries, compared to 100 the year before, according to some sources. Many events included meetings or festivals, but certain groups chose direct action and civil disobedience. Internationally, the most famous protest occurred at Hyde Park in England, where over 10,000 persons gathered and 53 were arrested. Despite enormous publicity, non-civil disobedience groups such as CLEAR denounced the event, although CLEAR failed to gain any attention itself. Despite rain and cold weather, hundreds gathered and smoked at the annual 420 rally in Ottawa, and over 20,000 attended the 20th annual Canada rally outside the Vancouver Art Gallery (Global News). Nationally, a few dozen persons demonstrated in Phoenix, Arizona; Mississippi; Omaha, Nebraska; and in Ashville, North Carolina. Minnesota-NORML organized hundreds of demonstrators who smoked on the steps of the Capitol in St. Paul as they chanted “Yes We Cannabis.” (CBS Minnesota) Around 60 persons held a “smoke-in” on the National Mall, where D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Norton showed her support of direct action by saying, “You can’t make a revolution simply by going to ask the Congress to do something.” (CBS-DC) Thousands gathered at Civic Center Park in Colorado, where 160 citations were issued to those smoking in public, although this was not condemned by conservative marijuana organizations like the London rally was.
Weather reports all weekend predicted massive thunderstorms all day for Monday, 4-20, but by noon the rain stopped and didn’t begin again until midnight, with only a few minutes of light rain in-between. In Philadelphia, the smoke-out at Penn Treaty Park organized by the East Coast Cannabis Coalition (ECCC) was moved indoors to the One Art Community Center. In New York City, the smoke-out planned by Occupy Weed Street and Jano Tantongco of Cannabis Legalization Coalition was moved to Tuesday, April 21 (predicted to be a sunny day), in Washington Square Park. NJ Weedman postponed the “#LegalizeNJ: 420 Festival” (now 420.5) to Saturday, April 25, due to the fact that the weather conflicted with the festival and concert set to take place in Mill Hill Park. Instead, Weedman called for die-hard potheads to join him and smoke in front of the State House at 4:20 P.M. on Monday, rain or not. Luckily the sun was shining down on the smokers at 4:20.
The hundred demonstrators proved to be a great turnout, considering no event page was made for it and it was announced only a few days in advance. On 4-20 the year before, over 150 persons smoked across the street from the State House, although not in the Memorial, which was organized by NJ Weedman. This one protest had a powerful ripple effect in the Movement, although at the time it was just one more pot demonstration for Weedman, who had been organizing them in NJ since the 1990s. But it was my first marijuana demonstration ever and I was immediately hooked. I felt that bigger demonstrations could be organized because 4-20 that year landed on Easter Sunday, so most people stayed home. I then had the fortune to organize with Weedman a state-record turnout of 250 persons on October 18, when we performed civil disobedience by smoking in the Memorial. Then, with Vanessa and Jo Anne, we organized another record turnout of 350 persons on March 21, when we attempted to comply with police orders and smoke off the property of the Memorial, but then smoked there after people began to spill off the sidewalk and into the streets.
New faces appeared at the Trenton rally. I had the pleasure to meet two such persons: one woman who smokes for medical purposes, and a man who smokes for recreational use but also treats his wife’s brain cancer with medical cannabis. We were also joined by NJ.com reporters who live-streamed the smoke-out on the newspaper’s website. The smoke-out members followed the social mores implanted in the Cannabis Community: everyone shared and passed to the person next to them.
Afterward a dozen of us retreated to a bar, where Wayne “Kannabis King” Burrini passed out copies of his article published in the new edition of “1000 Watts Magazine.” We then listened to radio station 101.5 out of the Weedmobile in the parking lot. The hosts were talking about the issue of marijuana legalization, which they clearly support, and I kept urging Weedman to call the station’s private number to speak about the protest. It took several requests until he picked up the phone and called in, brilliantly destroying Christie’s anti-pot propaganda with his quick jabs. Weedman is naturally intelligent and charismatic, but his years of speaking on television and the radio trained him to keep the attention of the audience with witty comments. In a way he is similar to the 1960s antiwar activist Abbie Hoffman, a goofy but media-conscious Yippie (he founded the Yippie Party in 1967), who performed dramatic protests such as dropping dollar bills onto the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, telling reporters he would perform a “exorcism” on the Pentagon during the 1967 Pentagon March, running a pig as the presidential candidate during the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, and mailing joints of marijuana to 3,000 people including a TV newsman. “Recognizing the limited time span of someone staring at a lighted square in their living room,” Hoffman later wrote about himself, “I trained for the one-liner, the retort jab, or sudden knock-out put-ons.” (Todd Gitlin, “The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage,” 233) Weedman functions in the same fashion and can always make a fool out of Christie.
Globally, 4-20 can easily be considered a success and it is becoming very obvious to everyone that it will be legalized over the next few years. Weedman and others who practiced direct action and civil disobedience gained significant publicity, much more than meetings that occurred behind closed doors. In New Jersey we will continue to take the fight to the street, where everyone can be involved in participatory democracy actions. Future NJ demonstrations will take place in Trenton on April 25, and in Camden on May 2.