by Kimball Allen
– The Capitol Hill Times –
This past November, Washington voters made national headlines and history by approving Initiative 502, the legalization of recreational marijuana. A few weeks back, I began to notice that Capitol Hill light poles were tagged with flyers calling Capitol Hillites to join the “Cannabis Freedom March,” which was held this past Saturday, starting in Volunteer Park, and eventually making their way down, one puff at a time, to Westlake. My initial reaction to the flyer was more of an internal dialogue—“Why are we marching for cannabis freedom? Didn’t we already vote on this?” I needed some answers as to what “freedoms” marijuana supporters were peacefully rallying for.
I like to consider myself a responsible journalist, so this past Friday, I made sure that I went to bed at a reasonable time. Neighbors at 3 a.m., I believe, was the last stop. I rolled out of bed at 10 a.m., grabbed a Red Bull, and hoofed it up the hill towards Volunteer Park. It wasn’t very hard to find where the rally was congregating; I followed the melodic reggae sounds, and the plume of smoke signals.
Besides the mini-cannabis plants lining the front of the stage, and the occasional dancing fairy, the event was incredibly tame, and seemed more like a summer concert in the park than a protest. There were even a few families picnicking with their young children, waiting for the speeches to begin. Imagine a Rick Steves type of family—as in the PBS European travel guru, and, surprisingly, one of the biggest advocates for the legalization of marijuana in our state. Perhaps it was the secondhand smoke, but the picnicking families were far from the stereotypical criminal delinquents that many anti-marijuana advocates portray.
A Native American man from Chief Seattle’s clan drummed his way through an opening prayer to bless the event, followed by a group of supporters who invited the audience “to have a moment of silence, and roll a bud for all of those who are incarcerated for the possession of cannabis.” Instead of “amen,” a puff of smoke was collectively exhaled by the crowd. I cracked a joke with my photographer that we may need a fire department present quickly, noticing that there was no Seattle Police Department presence whatsoever—well, besides the Seattle Interim Police Chief, Jim Pugel, who briefly spoke at the end of the march in Westlake. The Seattle Times reports Pugel stating, “We are not here to condemn it. We are not here to endorse it.” Although a natural one, it is a profound stance that the SPD is taking on cannabis. Many other statewide police departments are taking notice.
As Washington State legislators and the Liquor Control Board finalize the governing laws behind I-502, many at the rally are “concerned that the voters have been misled, and that there is trouble in paradise for medical marijuana,” as stated by one of the protesters.
A piece of literature that was being circulated at the rally read, “Our greedy, tax-hungry legislators in Olympia have been working behind the scenes with the Liquor Control Board to come up with a devious plan to end medical cannabis here in Washington without a vote of the people or even an opportunity for public input.”
Medical marijuana advocates fear that they will be required to conform to the same standards as recreational users, such as a higher, 85-percent tax, a 1-ounce limit, no personal plant growing, restricted doctor recommendations, and, instate, a minimum age of 21-years-old for all patients. In a nutshell, the message that I got out of the Cannabis Freedom March was essentially: If you don’t act, medical cannabis in Washington will die this year.
For further information on the group that organized the rally, visit Cannabis Action Coalition’s Facebook page, or call 206-612-9044. The next medical marijuana rally will be held in Olympia at the state’s capitol on May 21.