A Small Taste of Freedom at the Marijuana March of North Texas
As I wandered towards Burnett park in Fort Worth on Saturday, May 6th, the musky, skunky smell in the air left no doubt that I was in the right place. In a small green field, a few thousand gathered, listened to music, wandered around a few tents and booths, and prepared to act together in collective civil disobedience, protesting the state of cannabis laws.
The event started at noon and was packed by 2 PM. Speakers and music alternated, while the crowd waited to march towards the Tarrant County Courthouse. For seven blocks on the way to and from the courthouse, traffic stopped and stores emptied to watch the demonstration on the streets. The crowd was huge, the voices loud, and the smell was completely undeniable.
A lot has happened to cannabis laws since the start of the Global Marijuana March in 1999, which over 800 cities have participated in. Almost every state has changed their laws to decriminalize, or even legalize it in some form. This year alone Texas has 17 cannabis-related bills proposed, and two of them have gained momentum and left their first stage; HB 81, which would eliminate marijuana arrests for possession under an ounce and would replace them with a ticket, and HB 2107 which is a whole plant medical bill.
This particular march is the result of 3-4 months of planning by DFW NORML and their executive director, Shaun McAlister. In addition to merchants and food trucks, McAlister had to get permission from the city of Ft. Worth. They reached an agreement where the police would not enforce the cannabis laws during the protest.
The police lined the streets with their bikes and protected the demonstrators from traffic as they marched. In acknowledgement of the police service, they were given hundreds of “thank you’s” and fist bumps in appreciation. The police are not the enemy, they never have been. They just enforce the laws, and changing the laws is why everyone was gathered.
“As we stand here and talk we’re less than a hundred yards from the windows of guys who’ve put people in prison for thousands of years collectively, and I think it’s wild that we’re on their front lawn. Its beautiful,” stated David Sloane, an attorney, and the Public Information Officer for DFW NORML.
When the crowd reached the courthouse and ascended its steps, several speakers addressed the toking masses. The main theme was that change is coming, we just have to be vocal and keep in touch with those that we elected to represent us.
One of the speakers was active duty Dallas police officer and pastor Nick Novello. “Several years ago I had the privilege of meeting Tim Timmons, a quadriplegic who was dying, he looked at me with a smile and asked ‘Nick, am I a criminal because I smoke marijuana to arrest my tremors’ and I became very emotional and I had my epiphany…I love people and speak for decriminalization.”
It is no longer deniable that marijuana helps in many ailments.
It is becoming harder and harder for the government to keep up the lies that support prohibition. “We’ve crossed the Rubicon when it comes to people’s experiences with the plant.” said Russ Belville, an activist, journalist, and host of the daily podcast The Marijuana Agenda. “I used to have a stock line in my speeches that if you’re over 50, flip a coin, heads they’ve smoked pot, tails they know someone who has. Now that’s not the case, now among all Americans over half have smoked pot at some point in their life, so you can’t lie to them any more.”
It’s clear that both the public opinion and the laws regarding cannabis have had significant changes over the past few years, but there is still much work to be done. Ticketing for possession is still criminalization. Receiving a ticket and having to show up to court is not freedom. Restricting medical access to people with chronic needs still inhumane. While we can take a moment and celebrate those small victories, we can’t become lethargic. All people need to contact their representatives and stress their support to end prohibition in all its forms.