There have been several protests in London this year. From anti-austerity protests demanding David Cameron’s resignation, the May Day March, Stop the War Coalition’s anti-war protests, even protests against the Parliament’s decision to bomb Syria.
I like protesting; sometimes they do achieve results, mostly not. I have attended several protests in India; mostly the subjects would revolve around anti-rape, animal cruelty, women’s safety, and the occasional march to show patriotism to my country.
It has been a while since I protested. When the protest against the Parliamentary decision to bomb Syria was happening, it was a weekday, a lot of us wanted to go. Sadly, we had classes, so our priorities shifted.
But this Easter break, when I found out there was a cannabis legalization protest in Hyde Park, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. The activist in me was re-ignited. I couldn’t wait to yell at the top of my lungs.
It wasn’t a cause that I had really ever thought about. In India opium or bhaang as we call it, is legal in most places, and we actually consume it for one of our festivals (Holi: The festival of color). But one of my friends was really excited to go, and I knew I’d get a great story out of it.
So with my ulterior motives, I headed to Hyde Park on the 20th of April, which is popularly known as World Weed Day. Or in pothead terms: 4/20.
What does 4/20 Mean?
Before anyone begins to wonder, the 20th of April is not Bob Marley’s birthday, (it’s Hitler’s, and I’m pretty sure no one sensible wishes to pay an ode to him), 420 isn’t code for “someone is smoking pot close by” and it’s not police code for a marijuana raid. No. None of that.
The actual origin story is that in 1971, a man called Waldo Steve was given a treasure map to a patch of weed on the Point Reyes Peninsula. A friend whose brother was in the U.S. Coast Guard and was growing cannabis gave the map to him.
The coastguardsman was paranoid he would get busted. The Waldos, was a group of 5 friends, (I do not know why they called themselves that) and they all agreed to meet at 4:20 p.m. at the statue of chemist Louis Pasteur on the campus of San Rafael High. They met, got high, and drove out to search for the patch.
The friends would use the term ‘420 Louie’ to remind each other of their after school quest. They eventually dropped the ‘Louie’ part and just said ‘420’ to refer to cannabis.
Originally ‘420’ was nothing more than a private joke between the friends, however, it was picked up by others and spread from generation to generation, city to city, country to country, across decades, and throughout all media around the globe.
Legalize Cannabis 2016
As I walked into Hyde Park through the Marble Arch entrance, a police dog and 3 policemen greeted me. The dog jumped at me, not sure what to do I petted him. The policeman smiled at me and said, “Don’t worry about it.”
As I walked away, I turned to my friend and asked, “Why are there drug dogs here?” And he replied, “It’s weed day man, everyone’s going to be smoking up. They will arrest people for possession.”
It was an interesting concept. Coming from a country where rules are a joke, the police can be bought, and criminals in jail can become ministers in Parliament. (Not to give my country a bad name, but India has a lot of corruption.) I always tried to behave myself in England. Tried to not break rules, except the occasional running to cross the street when the traffic lights clearly showed that I shouldn’t.
To think that, in a country where people follow rules just because it’s easier than the trouble they’d face if they were caught, over 5000 people would be smoking an illegal drug in public. With the police watching. The paradox perplexed me.
I walked to the part of the park where the “protest” was supposedly taking place. All I saw was a sea of people, a giant cloud of smoke rising above them, reggae music playing and I could feel the smell of weed being to stick to my hair and clothes.
This was not a very typical protest. To be honest it wasn’t a protest at all. No one was upset; there was no sense of outrage. Everyone seemed to be having….. fun? What a time to be alive.
So I sat with a group of people, and I started to talk to them. I asked if they weren’t afraid that the police would catch them, and I got responses like, “F**k the police” “They’re p*ssies” “They can’t arrest all of us”.
I gathered that they didn’t really care if cannabis would be legalized at all. There were some people, who were trying to protest, holding up signs and flags, some with the cannabis leaves on them, some that said, “Warning: This is not a riot” “Legalize Cannabis” “Yes we CANnabis” among others.
It was more of the pro-cannabis lobby groups like Norml-UK, Brighton Cannabis Club who were giving speeches to the rather dazed crowd.
There were people from iSmoke Magazine giving out information pamphlets, an organization called Freedom Seeds had its people giving out free cannabis seeds.
I have never seen such a sense of community in my entire experience in this country. People were sharing weed, food, and beer. Everyone was jovial and calm.
The police would come and try to stop people from smoking weed, but there were too many people. When I called the Met Police for a statement, the spokesperson rather indignantly said, “We arrested 23 people, we can’t arrest all 5000.”
More than 120 countries celebrated 4/20 this year. Cannabis is legal in less than 25 countries.
Cannabis is illegal to possess, grow, distribute or sell in the UK without the appropriate licenses. It was criminalized in 1925.
Doctors cannot prescribe cannabis because it comes under Schedule 1 of the Misuse of Drug Act. If moved to Schedule 2, prescribing the herb to patients will be legal.
I met Yas T., 28-year-old American citizen doing his PhD in genetics and gene therapy. With very dilated pupils and blood shot eyes, he said: “Legalizing marijuana would boost the economy, as it would generate revenue to the government from taxes. It would greatly decrease the number of prison inmates, which would reduce the burdens on the government and taxpayers. It would cut a major illegal funding route for organized criminal gangs and terrorists. The byproducts of the industry such as stems and leaves would be incorporated in paper industry and clothes industry.”
As 4.20 pm approached, people started to move towards what I was told was “the Cloud”, the smoke was definitely thicker there. The smells much stronger. And the people were a lot more disoriented than when I got there.
And as per World Weed Day convention, at 4.20 pm everyone lit up their joint in unison and raised them to the sky. The weed gods must have been pleased because for the first time in many months it didn’t rain at all that day.
At about 5.30 pm, when the people wouldn’t leave, I think the police got sick of having to deal with this public misdemeanor, and I don’t know the exact number, but it must have been at least 250 police officers, who started to make their way in a very organized formation towards the crowd.
The police were at least 300 meters away, but all the protesters just got up and left. I just sat there watching a very comical situation, the police calmly walking towards the crowd and the very drowsy looking crowd making a run for it.
I waited for something dramatic to happen, but there was no forceful pushing the people out, no beating anyone up.
It was definitely a very interesting thing to experience, and I’d say that everyone should attend one such protest in their life. It has to be the most fun I have ever had. And I do have very high standards when it comes to having fun.