Now is the Time for Civil Disobedience


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.

Civil disobedience with thousands of people smoking pot at the 420 Hyde Park smoke out organised by the London Cannabis Club.

10,000 people maybe more at the Hyde Park 420 cannabis smoke out.

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.

Hempfest in Seattle, Washington State, USA.

Tens of thousands converge at the Hempfest in Seattle, one of the two US states where cannabis is now legal. Civil disobedience works.

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.

President Jose Mujica of Uruguay, the first world leader to officially legalize cannabis.

Jose Mujica

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.

Civil disobedience: People peacefully protesting against Britain's unjust cannabis laws at Hyde Park 420 smoke out.

Fight crime not cannabis! Civil disobedience in Hyde Park April 2013.

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.

Posted in News and tagged , , , , , .


  1. To be clear there has been no shift in policy and the government are planning on stepping up the war. Whilst this might mean allowing prescriptions for some people to use cannabis, and perhaps only fixed penalty tickets for minor offences, the weapon of choice is the drug test. Very soon cannabis users will be barred from driving, completely, very soon tests will be used to cut benefits and steer people into all kinds of interventions. The ‘free the weed’ mantra is hopeless, and ‘it’ can never be free – this is a human rights issue and the right is for peaceful dominion over the self.

      • @ mac Believe it my friend. The government have just closed a consultation process on a zero tolerence approach for illicit drugs while driving. This includes cannabis and could mean any trace in your system will lead to disqualification, impaired or not.

  2. yes James,what a perfectly intelligent masterpiece article !!
    we should involve our parents,brothers and sisters,friends and everyone else to advocate for the legalization.
    The door of legalization has snapped and It’s opening very soon.
    Thanks for your work.

  3. Saturday 21st September 2113

    The Essex Cannabis Community Autumn Gathering
    Central Park Chelmsford Essex
    Time: 13 00 to 1800

    Saturday 21st September 2113

    Hampshire Cannabis Protest Picnic- Eastrop Park, Basingstoke, September 21st,

    Sunday 22 September: East Midland regional; Nottingham, Derbyshire, Leicestershire, South Derbyshire and Burton cannabis clubs host a day of peaceful protest and awareness raising at Bass recreation ground in Derby.

  4. The only ones that are throwing a big fuss about the whole thing is the Republicans. The Democrats are trying to get it legalized everywhere. The Clintons were trying to push to get it legalized when Bill was president, but he got too much opposition from the Republicans. If you want pot to be legalized as it should be….you’ve got to get the Republicans out of office….They’re just the church’s puppets.

  5. Having been prosecuted 8 times for possession,supply and cultivation I am in the sights of the enforcers again .. police helicopter paying me frequent prolonged visits at tree top height. Very obvious to my neighbours that I am the centre of their attention again.
    Last time in court the recorder’s tears flowed as my witnesses described the suffering that cannabis had brought relief to.
    I have stood in defence of this wonderful plant for over 30 years and am ready to do so again !

  6. I don’t think that one off smoke outs will do much good. A better idea would be to establish an area in each major city (to begin with) where smokers gathered in large numbers every weekend. this would do far more to normalise the practice.

  7. Sorry for the copypaste, but I think this is relevant.

    Excerpt from a sermon by Martin Luther King Jr. titled “But If Not”.

    “Civil disobedience is the refusal to abide by an order of the government or of the state or even of the court that your conscience tells you is unjust.

    Civil disobedience is based on a commitment to conscience. In other words, one who practices civil disobedience is obedient to what he considers a higher law. And there comes a time when a moral man can’t obey a law which his conscience tells him is unjust.

    And I tell you this morning, my friends, that history has moved on, and great moments have often come forth because there were those individuals, in every age in and every generation, who were willing to say “I will be obedient to a higher law.” These men were saying “I must be disobedient to a king in order to be obedient to the King.”

    And those people who so often criticize those of us who come to those moments when we must practice civil disobedience never remember that even right here in America, in order to get free from the oppression and the colonialism of the British Empire, our nation practiced civil disobedience. For what represented civil disobedience more than the Boston Tea Party. And never forget that everything that Hitler did in Germany was legal! It was legal to do everything that Hitler did to the Jews. It was a law in Germany that Hitler issued himself that it was wrong and illegal to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. But I tell you if I had lived in Hitler’s Germany with my attitude, I would have openly broken that law. I would have practiced civil disobedience.

    And so it is important to see that there are times when a man-made law is out of harmony with the moral law of the universe, there are times when human law is out of harmony with eternal and divine laws. And when that happens, you have an obligation to break it, and I’m happy that in breaking it, I have some good company. I have Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. I have Jesus and Socrates. And I have all of the early Christians who refused to bow.”

    • To those religious folk that think this is a sin…but you sit there with beer and think that that is alright…I ask you…God created Marijuana and man created alcohal….Who do you trust?

      • I’m not a Christian, but I have always wondered how prohibition fits in with Genesis 1:29 (“And God said , Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth..”).

        There’s no disclaimers in the back saying ‘unless your government decides otherwise’. I’ve checked.

  8. I would argue that now is NOT the time for ‘disobedience’. It may feel good to protest in this way and I know many people may have been on other protests for other causes (anti-war, climate change etc) but I feel that it does nothing to advance the legalisation cause and may even set it back. Who do we believe is convinced to change their minds by this kind of action ? We need to dispels all the negative stereotypes associated with cannabis use and show that it is something that crosses all social, racial, cultural and age boundaries. The people who are currently against reform of our drug laws (or at least undecided) need to be shown that cannabis can be an unobtrusive and acceptable part of everyday life. What changed things in America was the medical dispensaries in California which made cannabis part of ordinary life and opened up medical cannabis use to a wider cross section of society. People saw that the sky did not fall in and there was not an epidemic of addicts and the realisation began that prohibition and hysteria was not the way to deal with this aspect of human behaviour. ALL we have to concentrate on is re-assuring people that it is OK – a mass protest such as that one in Hyde Park does not do this.

    • By sitting in your home, looking out the window hoping that someday it will be legal, you aren’t going to to anything. If there are protests all over the country and is making national news all over the country, it will get the lawmakers to start looking more into it. By sitting there and not do anything, you’re telling the government that you agree with the law. You have to get them to start doing something about it.

  9. I enjoyed this article, however I fear that most have become overly zealous with their optimism.

    The reality is Cannabis is currently Class B in the UK. We have a conservative-lib Dem coalition and we all know who is calling the shots in that equation. Economic growth is slow, money is forefront of their concerns, amongst the occasional focus on military movements in other countries.

    I fear that the truth is the more toward the continued enforcement of laws against cannabis, as simply put, the government neither seems to care nor has interest in such a matter at this time. Police leniency towards those found smoking or possessing cannabis varies wildly depending on the individual and where you live, for example some policeman in wiltshire will turn and blind eye to such activities; while their colleagues almost ruthlessly hunt down and prosecute small time users with prison sentences.

    A comment from Darryl Bickler also raises one good point about drug testing, with kits becoming inexpensive and more widely available, alongside UK government support to police driving under the influence of cannabis, their is no leniency here. Testing and prosecuting those drivers under the influence is planned to become commonplace. The same could now be said in regards to employment, with many companies opting to enforce company wide random drug searches and even drug testing. Ever been asked if you take recreational drugs at an interview or randomly searched at work?

    I also find it surprising that no-one has mentioned the ramifications such a decision would bring from of the EU, as such a revolutionary movement from our current political stance would undoubtedly go unsupported and condoned. Just look at the pressure applied on Holland from EU officials and their conservative Holland MP counterparts to tighten up laws their. Think back to the recent movement toward the weed pass their, something set-up to discourage tourists from other EU (and worldwide) countries from visiting for such purposes. We do not hold defining power in the EU, that has already be shown true.

    Although i agree their has been steps towards a legal cannabis structure, most of these have been made outside the UK. And the U.S government are far from changing federal laws as only a handful of states are pro-pot majorities, many remain vehemently in favour of prohibition; so the weight of America’s influence will unlikely be felt here for some time to come.

    Simply put, it’s not that simple. There are still too many complications, outside pressures and internal conflicting opinions for such a movement to occur in the near future. Movements as such cannot be made until there is both a positive movement internally and a minority of negative outside pressures. Although we are winning the war in terms of public attitudes, i feel a step back and reality check needs to be made on the overall equation.

    Or to look at it another way, what possible motivation does our government have to support cannabis in this way? If you have found some reasons, as you should, consider the reality of these reasons, a realistic time scale of such developments, and weigh them against the obstacles that remain. It will all take time.

    Now i like to think I am realistic and not overly cynical or optimistic; however i get the distinct feeling that the passion involved in the pro-cannabis movement is clouding the cold harsh reality; life isn’t fair. Where scientifically, socially or financially such decisions may be positive, in this life, it doesn’t mean that the outcome will be, and that is a great shame. Maybe if cannabis became a Class C again, and we left the EU, and America changed its federal laws, then we might see a REAL change, as that may just tip the scales in favour to such a degree it would warrant the change. However for now, most of the positive movements, for this country at least, are only skin deep.

    We thats my piece for what it’s worth.
    Best wishes to all

  10. Civil disobedience when done in a way that makes people see the ridiculousness of the existing situation can be very effective at the right time, and I agree that this is the right time. Public opinion has changed and is changing further, the US and many other countries across the world are changing their laws too. The momentum is with us.
    Remember this plant is a weed! Left alone, it will grow like one. I wonder if there is a way that we could get all the “growers” out there to aim for a single date, say April 20th 2014, to prepare as many seedlings/clones/plants, then in their local area, somewhere conspicuous (City/town flower displays, outside Police Stations or public offices, etc…..) spend the night before, planting out.

    Anyone up for it?

  11. I’m afraid it may not be as paranoid as you think. Darryl assisted me with an application for judicial review regarding the dvla revoking my husbands licence on the grounds of persistent drug abuse. They came to that decision after a spurious allegation of my husband having epilepsy was made to them. They demanded medical record access, saw that he had told his doctorthat he used cannabis and demanded that he take a urine test. The test was the day after a trip to holland. The court decided that a single urine test and three trips to holland in a year was enough to revoke despite no evidence that my husband had ever driven while affected, recently passed the hazard awareness test for his bike licence with flying colours, had a clean licence and no traffic stops for around a decade. His licence was revoked in 2010 and there is no hope for regaining it while he goes to Holland regularly. I’ve read of people who have got their licence back sooner being caught drink driving persistently. This could happen to many, if not most of the readers of this site right now.

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