There isn’t another day in the cannabis calendar like it, not in size nor speculation or anticipation; Four Twenty is like Christmas and New Year rolled into one, in 2014 we got to celebrate it on Easter.
As one commenter posted on Facebook “I stayed up all night and ushered in 420 like New Year with several different strains. Excited to head down to the park for the celebrations.”
My first real taste of freedom and “living it like it’s legal” was when I went to Colorado in 2011 for the 420 celebrations. About 15,000 people were in Denver outside the State Capital building getting together to celebrate cannabis and share different strains, and edibles that have been grown and made just for the occasion.People had travelled from all over America to be there for the 40th NORML conference and it was the year that really started to see the cannabis industry reach a tipping point. This year Denver saw 100,000 attend the High Times Cannabis Cup alone. Boulder and Denvers 420 celebrations must have ushered in a large pilgrimage community from every states legalisation-dreaming tokers.
Back in across the pond in London 420 was being celebrated in its infancy. There was a turnout of around a tenth of what was in Denver but sure enough it was all that was needed to have a successful day with the London Cannabis Club and the many others that turned up to part take in the civil disobedience. It was also enough to help build the foundations for the annual event that we now see and have just again attended.
Upon arriving at the park around 11am on Sunday morning we could see the presence of the police quite clearly. The Met had erected a 12 foot digital traffic message board inside the Speakers Corner entrance of the park warning that cannabis was illegal and that they wanted to keep the park “crime free” this weekend. At the gates around the park were big red posters in the park A frames again warning that cannabis possession was illegal which provided a perfect photo op for the day for all the attendees to remember the day by. Inside the park was a manned CCTV van and a couple of police vans with officers inside.
There was a dog onsite and several patrolling cars making routes around the park. Officers in their high vis jackets were patrolling the park in groups of two and three. Several hundred people had already gathered by this point, huddled around in groups by the snack huts. Some officers did take a walk through the groups and were having discussions with the early arriving tokers.
NORML UK and UKCSC were told by one of the patrolling cars that no signs, advertising, promotion or sales were allowed inside the Queens park, we cooperated and were informed that setting up outside the park would not be their problem. The passing footfall however seemed to work in our favor as the incredibly hardy volunteers that stood out in the rain away from the actual festivities all day were able to interact with the attendees and the passersby and onlookers that had questions about the purpose of such a mass gathering in a public place on Easter Sunday.
Quite early on I started speaking to two officers that were taking the information of a young black male who had been stopped and asked to surrender his cannabis joint in the cannabis surrender bin. They told me they were taking details to make sure that there were no wanted people there and that they wouldn’t be giving out fines and arresting people that they didn’t need to. At this point a large roar filled the air and high vis blurs streaked across the park to a large crowd. A man was being tacked to the ground and this upset everyone. Jeering and shouting arose blaming the police for starting something unnecessary and unease that the day was going to end much sooner than everyone hoped. People were standing their ground though and the resilience to the weather sent a strong message that we, the cannabis community are here to stay – rain or shine we aren’t going anywhere and we aren’t going to stop our love of cannabis.
Much of the police’s concern came from not wanting gangs to be drawn to the event because of the “criminal element” that cannabis has. As we have been saying all along though, the criminalization of possession, sales and cultivation are what draw the gangs to it in the first place. After the arrest of the man early on four more loaded up police vans made their way through the park and lined up with the rest. As the couples of police made their way through the crowds the small individual groups were starting to move away, from an observers point of view it was like watching Blue Planet, sharks swimming through the sea and the schools of fish picking up pace and move in another direction. It seemed that the reaction to move away from police gave them the impression there was something to be hiding. People just didn’t want to be hassled which is more than understandable. Eventually a guy holding a sign saying “legalise it” started leading the crowd around the park in any which direction shouting “we are free people, we are free”
For those that had concerns that there were a “bunch of stoners in the park” on Easter Sunday just remember that there are as many people using cannabis regularly in Britain as there are going church on Sundays – 3 million, a number not to be ignored. When David Cameron’s claim that England is still a Christian country is refuted that’s also a nod that we should be comfortable speaking up for our very strongly rooted cannabis culture. There was admittedly some tension in the park between attendees and officers but once senior officers came down and spoke to the organisation team agreeing to allow us to have a peace area where we could have a centralized focal point it calmed the air.
People generally settled from that point on and the police allowed people to use sound systems which didn’t cause any problems at all and if anything took the hair-dryer out of the bath and helped keep the peace. There were various groups divulging in various activities, MCing about the plant and the law, to every kind of music you can think of. An umbrella protected sound system allowed Stuart Harper, Political Liaison Officer for NORML UK & UKCSC and myself to address a large section of the crowd, but by no means did we manage to reach the majority. Still, the interaction was appreciated from both us and those that stuck it out to watch us. The biggest cheers of the day came for Hyde the Hemp Plant though. No drum circle this year, that I saw. KSH and the Going goods gave an acoustic set for 45 minutes in the rain before we had more talking time with more of the activists from the growing cannabis community. Michelle X was last year raided for growing her own medicine to help control the symptoms of MS so that she can live a normal life. She spoke about how cannabis has helped her since she was very young and how it has made her out live her doctors life expectancy, and I must add in style. The energy that Michelle X has for this cause is beyond admirable. After telling everyone how she ended up being asked to take a caution for 36 plants and 50 ounces of cannabis by Oxfordshire police she introduced the NORML UK Women’s Alliance, soon to be a very vocal and strong voice in the debate to regulate nationally.
An inspiring speech was delivered by Caroline Allen of the London Green Party who came out to show their “Green’s for Green” support, highlighting the Greens long standing views towards cannabis regulation. They mentioned the appalling record of the conservatives and labour in recent years and highlighted how having a Green Councillor in Thanet had allowed the UKCSC to engage in discussions about a cannabis ‘consumption room’. She expressed her willingness, and that of her party, to work with NORML and the UKCSC’s to help ensure the needless ruination of people’s lives through a cannabis inspired brush with the law will cease and agreed at how key political engagement is. Registration to vote, by post if needs be, especially in areas with small majorities, is all it can take to get the issue raised to the level it needs to be. Upon the outskirts of the main hive were small groups of friends, sat with a tent or under trees. Police grouping were making their way around speaking to certain groups, for what reason or criteria they employed for selecting ones to speak to I missed that briefing. I’m not sure how serious I should take the officer that told me no one would be getting cautions today. He also told me he had never given a cannabis caution in his two years on the Met – but he had made arrests for public use and possession. We are yet to be be informed of the total cautions and arrests for the day but we have put in a Freedom of Information request so we’ll let you know when we find out! One of the main utterances of the day that my ears picked up on was the question “how much is this all costing London tax payers?”
This is an important question and it was the first thing that came to my mind as I was greeted in the morning with the sight of cameras being fitted onto the top of a CCTV van. I guess when you get quoted in the paper for saying “Last year, there were lots of police but they didn’t do anything…Can they really arrest 10,000 people?” you should expect some kind of reaction. There were dozens of officers there, 6-8 vehicles, 2 horses, electric signs, posters, the admin hours for all the tickets taken, the arrest(s) made, and all this on an Easter Sunday overtime pay… On the non-police side of things any extra clean-up costs that were needed. A crew of volunteers kindly stayed for several hours after helping to clean up as much of the park as they could but in reality only made a dent in all. So if you come to one of our events or you go and spend the day in nature or public place ever – please be responsible for yourselves and bring a bag out to take your rubbish home with you or find a bin to put it in.
420 Across the UK Next year 420 does not fall on the weekend but we will be liaising with the Metropolitan Police and the Royal Parks Association to coordinate the traditional annual event so that it can run smoother. If anything we want to build stronger relationships with the police and authorities, prohibition is the driving force between much of the distrust that the public and many members from the cannabis community and culture have for the police. If we look up to the events in Glasgow, Coventry and Manchester the police agreed to cooperate and set out rules for the day before hand and made sure that no unwanted behavior or attendance from people looking to cause a problem turned up.
Glasgow had a good turnout again, with speakers such as retired Police Inspector James Duffy of Law Enforcement Against prohibition addressing the masses. Enforcement did bring the Dog Unit out at times and made many feel uncomfortable. Quite a contrast. Coventry saw a reduced turnout than they had anticipated, the weather really did put a downer on things though a good core of 50 people did stick around and some new relationships were formed which hopefully helps seed the future of the campaign in the Midlands. Manchester were a little more fortunate with the weather they had and the day proceeded without any negativity.
Jumping back to the flagship event in Hyde Park, 5,000 wristbands were given out by NORML UK stewards to the four twenty celebrators, many in the peace area that had entered from other entrances of the park missed out and many were pointed over to the Speaker Corner entrance when we were talking through all aspects of cannabis law reform and the need to regulate. It is possible that the total throughout the day 7,000 to 8,000 people showed. That’s quite extraordinary for the conditions – but not the reason. Many of people were also given packets of seeds, around 2,000 were given away by the Feed the Birds team with the London Cannabis Club. Many faces from many CSC’s from around the country made the journey some staying the night in hotels as the journey isn’t possible there and back in one day, from Brighton to Merseyside and way up in Cumbria.
NORML UK signed up a few hundred new members which is another great achievement and just shows how worth-while it is to hold these events and connect with the people that the unjust cannabis laws actually effect. The UK has needed a stronger footing in real-world-activism for some years and NORML UK have been doing that on the grassroots and at a political level since 2012 and show no signs of slowing down.
The United Kingdom Cannabis Social Clubs have already been flooded with e-mails asking how they can start their own Cannabis Social Club and how they can go about registering their garden under the Tagged Collective Cultivation models. This is again another sign to show that regulation is the direction that we need to start progressing towards in the UK. We deserve the right as citizens, as businesses and as an industry to conduct our activities without fear of unjust intervention and in a manner that upholds the highest respect and standards to everyone and the plant concerned. Cannabis Social Clubs are wanted as much – if not more than pubs in places like London, the revenue would we phenomenal, second biggest cheer to Hyde the Hemp Plant was when Colorado got a mention. The $2million in tax that they generated in January alone should be ringing alarm bells in the ears of every politician in the UK. Thank you all so much for attending and staying the whole day to socialise and celebrate cannabis – we showed that we are peaceful and law abiding, we just want this one daft policy fixed. Your support means a lot and we hope to see you at future events.
What’s next? Same again, this time in Cardiff, Wales on Saturday May 3rd for the Global Cannabis March. We will make our way through the city to protest, have speeches at the Welsh Assembly and then head to our end point to celebrate cannabis once again. It would be great if you can make it and show your support. Arrange your travel and find people on the UKCSC club pages if you would like to find a seat in a car! Join NORML UK today and help us force a change in the UK.
Coverage of the day in the media and elsewhere online: http://www.demotix.com/news/4522825/420-cannabis-rally-hyde-park-london http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/420-day-hundreds-cannabis-users-3436210 http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2609191/Rain-washes-cannabis-park-protest-London-just-dozen-activists-turning-instead-promised-thousands.html http://now-here-this.timeout.com/2014/04/20/celebrate-420-with-our-top-19-stoner-songs/ http://www.theguardian.com/society/shortcuts/2014/apr/16/high-in-hyde-park-420-day-cannabis