CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE AND THE UK CANNABIS CAMPAIGN
By James Collins
There has never been a better time for smoke outs. There has never been a better time for protest and civil disobedience. The auspice of medical cannabis has flown out the door and the battle for full medical and recreational access is being fought. It’s not only being fought, it’s being won. Inertia is, for the first time since the prohibition of cannabis begun, finally in favor of the cannabis movement.
The weed is nearly free.
Civil disobedience has been a proud tradition of change since human beings gathered in groups and did stuff that we call “society”. When the tribal chief of the hominid hunting group got a little too big for his loincloth, the other monkey-men beat his ass down with some sticks to put him back in line or replace him. During the French Revolution they developed a device to neatly lop off heads for the sake of efficiency and humanitarianism. Vietnamese Buddhists tested the stomach of American voters by setting themselves on fire while news cameras rolled. In India they spun cloth in their spare time, to support of a boycott of British goods. Protest, from mild to extreme, has brought change before, and it can do it again.
Slow normalization has worked magnificently over the last 10 years or so. Cannabis has come out of the closet in a very major way. If you’re old enough you will remember a time that one did not simply buy premade “blunt wraps” with a pot leaf on the package down at the 7-11. Now every corner store in the western world has drug paraphernalia right on the counter as impulse buy items, right where a stoned person would stare at them as they waited in line to get milk. Who is hiding now?
I remember a time when one did not simply spark up a joint in public. You went and hid behind a dumpster, and you were afraid somebody would smell it. Now I see people walk through the streets of major cities with a five-paper cone in hand like it wasn’t a big deal. Cops are getting jaded about the whole thing, how can they hope to arrest every pothead in a world where everyone on MTV is stoned?
The pattern is very simple: People get sick of something being illegal, and then go out and do that thing and have protests until it changes. When has this worked?
The Stonewall Riots, the Civil Rights protests, the declaration Martin Luther nailed to the church door, labor riots across the western democracies during the 1920-30s, the Suffragette movement, the fight against Apartheid; history is filled with change being precipitated by civil disobedience of some kind. Sometimes it is a matter of people refusing to take action, like Ghandi did in India. Sometimes it is a matter of taking to the streets armed and making some serious noise, like workers have in every nation on Earth at some point, which is why we enjoy something called “weekends”. Whatever example you use, all change has been the result of civil disobedience.
You don’t get justice by following unjust rules.
We’re not talking about a need for some riots here. You can keep recycling your beer bottles, it isn’t quite time to start making firebombs. Peaceful civil disobedience has a power on its own. It’s pretty easy to make a bunch of people throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails around seem like thugs and hoodlums; nobody wants to have their car burned to a blackened wreck. People sitting in a park quietly smoking/vaping/eating something aren’t nearly as scary, and other not-smoking people could get used to them.
In a sense cannabis has already had its D-Day. Colorado, Washington State and Uruguay are the beachhead. We’ve landed troops and cannabis has been liberated in three jurisdictions! There are green boots on the ground and all signs for further penetration into enemy territory look good around the globe. This is the time for the final push, not to fall back. We have prohibition on the ropes for real this time!
There are people buying weed to get high just for the sake of being high with the consent of government right now. That wasn’t true two years ago. Whoever thinks no progress is being made is not examining the facts, keeping their ear to the ground in political circles or paying attention to the news. CNN’s in-house doctor dude gave weed the thumbs up, and CNBC is running shows about how rich you can get growing cannabis. John McCain, a conservative Republican Senator in the heart of prohibition country has given cannabis his nod.
The heart of the beast hath been struck. American won’t be a prohibition state for long, and they’re the ones that told the U.N. to go mean on weed. The American government stymied Canadian efforts to decriminalize in the past, they’ve leaned on Mexico to maintain a hopeless war that consumes their people and economy; but now the smallest boy at the back of the class named Jose has stood up to the bully and walked away clean. The game is completely changed now, and all the momentum is heading in the right direction. You can bet your sweet bippy that the day the American President signs off on the end of prohibition federally, the dominoes will fall around the world in very short order.
I would like to remind the reader that I am about the most cynical person alive, and if I can see the light at the end of the tunnel it has to be absolutely blinding to anyone objective. The time for universal normalization is now. This is the final push.
To normalize something you must make it seem normal. How do I define “normal” in this sense? Things you see all the time and no longer take particular note of because they are so commonplace they lack interest. Cars driving by, birds in the sky, the sun, the colour of the road; you don’t consider any of these things in much detail because you see them every day. Cannabis needs to be normal. It needs to be every day. That isn’t going to happen if it’s always hidden behind a dumpster or behind closed shades.
The first time people see a bunch of dreadlocks and doobies in the park they are going to freak out a little bit. In some places where there have already been smoke out events you can be sure tongues were wagging over dinner plates that week. It will make the papers the way it has in some areas and journalists will either play it off as nothing or use it to talk more of the same nonsense. The second time they see it, they’ll be annoyed, but only in the sense of “those damn hippies are at it again”. The fiftieth time they see it they won’t even break stride, or pause in their conversation about the salacious new rumor concerning the Coronation Street characters. Eventually, with continued presence and effort, cannabis will become normal. I dare say I might live to see the day that cannabis is even boring.
It’s easier to say yes to something that you are so accustomed to it is no longer exciting or scary, and even fails to draw your attention.
As long as cannabis remains in the closet then prohibitionists can continue to believe the Reefer Madness model of consumption. They think we’re all freaky-eyed giggling fools, presumably covered in nacho fragments and milk shake stains while staring hypnotically at a test pattern on the television. They need to see that isn’t the case. They need to see that a bunch of people passing a joint around in the park are no more threatening than a bunch of people sitting in the park NOT passing around a joint.
When the mystique is dispelled, the Cheech and Chong image will be returned to the realm of parody where it belongs, and then cannabis itself will sink into the background noise. The nonsense in the Daily Mail will lack credibility altogether, because they won’t even have the benefit of the doubt with the non-toking public. Those people however distant from cannabis issues will have seen and even smelled cannabis so many times it is no different than people sipping beer and watching the football game down at the local pub. Everybody will have seen Reefer, but nobody will have seen Madness to make the visceral association.
People can’t get used to a thing they never see, can they?
The idea that victory can be achieved from the home by proxy through a handful of lobbyists is absurd. Cannabis already has a face, and it’s cloaked in mystery and intrigue. It’s associated with a particular sort of people. When it is seen in the hands of all races, all religions, all demographics, right out in the open air doing a harmless thing as consenting adults, then it will seem a whole lot less mysterious and a whole lot more mundane.
This isn’t about making change overnight. It isn’t about striking one fatal blow. It isn’t even about getting on the news, because that is always editorialized with a strict agenda. It’s about making cannabis so ubiquitous it becomes almost passé, and then the hysteria against it will be as well. That’s all it takes. If every few weeks people in towns across the United Kingdom see pot smokers politely consuming their drug of choice and not making a commotion, they’ll start to get bored with it, and then they won’t care, and that is the point you win. You don’t even need signs, they’ll smell the cannabis, and after a time it won’t be a problem.
Don’t leave your garbage behind, don’t leave your roaches on the ground, and just play politely with the uniforms when they show up as they most certainly will. During the organization phase it might be prudent to organize a small tidy up crew, to catch anything people flake on when they get a good head full of some new strain. Pictures of garbage strewn around a park make crappy public relations. Make sure there are lots of cameras on the good guy side as well and nobody will have to worry about getting clubbed. Smoke a bowl, eat a sandwich, have some polite chat about cosmology and who gassed who in the war de jour, then just wander off without a fuss. Document what you do and show the world you did it. We’re talking about an hour here, two hours tops.
It’s already happening. Nobody is even getting arrested. If it grows in size, and it just keeps happening rain or shine, before you know it you won’t even have to go out anymore. Let’s face it, we like smoking our pot at home, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Our fridge, our bathroom, our flat-screen television and our comfy spot on the couch is here. There will be lots of time for hiding at home and being a good well-behaved cannabis consumer like beer drinkers are when we can stand in the same line for our green down at the shops.
James Collins is a Canadian blogger, author and activist.