Pot Protestivals and the Role They Play in the Legalization Movement

normlrallyAs we approach the late summer/early fall festival season, I wanted to take a moment to discuss the annual pro-pot festivals, sometimes called “protestivals.”

In the early years of the marijuana legalization movement, pro-pot events in the same vein of the Civil Rights Movement’s lunch counter “sit-ins” occurred. These cannabis community events were called “smoke-ins,” a reference to the crowd of individuals willing to risk arrest and jail by protesting marijuana prohibition. The smoke-ins were intended as an exercise of one’s First Amendment right to publicly protest unjust policies.

While public smoking was never a regular NORML tactic, I did occasionally attend an event organized by others, including the 1977 July 4th Coalition in Washington, D.C., where I spoke in Lafayette Park across from the White House on more than one occasion. Surprisingly, even in D.C. in the 70s, most of us discovered we were safe smoking in the middle of a big crowd without being hassled by the police. Law enforcement lingered on the fringes of the event, observing the smoke-in and making sure nothing got out of hand; but there were few arrests, and those mostly involved attendees who had the bad fortune of smoking too close to the edge of the crowd, where they could be singled-out. I suppose we should have been paranoid about lighting up in public, but our idealism overruled our good sense. And all of us felt empowered by this act of civil-disobedience.

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