Public Pot Protests Set For National Road Tour
By Julian Slade
Cannabis activists, who protest prohibition by publicly smoking marijuana at Auckland's Albert Park, will tour 42 towns in 42 days for daily law reform rallies.
The aroma of marijuana lingers at the Victoria St East entrance to Albert Park as cannabis is openly smoked in 4:20pm protests on Wednesdays and Fridays. Placards with slogans such as "End the Drug War" are displayed, as is a New Zealand flag and Maryjane the cannabus - an old Bedford customised into a mobile smoking lounge and information centre - is emblazoned with drug law reform messages.
"Go to the top of Victoria St East and follow your nose," beckons a descriptive post on the NORML (National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) internet forum. And the clouds of cannabis smoke draw passing smokers, tourists, and police to the 4.20 spot, underneath the Gateway sculpture by Chris Booth, a distinctive archway of basalt boulders.
The public pot consumption has attracted scant police attention. The 4:20 sessions have been going for just over two years but protesters have been searched and questioned only on rare occasions and only a few arrests have been made. However police officers swiftly appeared to confiscate a mature flowering marijuana plant the activists transplanted in a public ceremony.
For the most part, police tolerate the regular protests. Officers in patrol cars waiting at adjacent traffic lights watch activists openly toking, then drive off. The liberal law enforcement approach extends to cannabus sessions in Queen St on Friday and Saturday nights. Activists say visitors over the age of 18 are invited to consume cannabis in the mobile smoking lounge and passing police patrols don't seem too fussed.
"We're showing the workers and residents of the city that cannabis smoking is not something evil to be ashamed of," says self-proclaimed "daktavist" Ken Morgan (aka Dakta Green), who has previously been arrested for possession at the 4.20 site. "We're showing pubic support for law change by smoking in public."
He has complained to police minister Annette King, alleging harassment of political protesters after a police operation at the site on Friday February 8.
Mr Morgan has served prison sentences in New Zealand and the United States for cannabis cultivation. He told parole board members at his final hearing - prior to being released from prison after serving two years and eight months of a three year sentence for cultivation - that he would not grow cannabis again, but would continue smoking it and work fulltime to change cannabis laws.
He has since devoted a year of his life - starting last November and working towards this year's elections - to fighting prohibition. He and fellow daktavists plan to drive their cannabus south, leaving Auckland in mid March as they head to their ultimate destination of Dunedin in late April. Along the way they're stopping in 42 towns and cities to discuss law reform with local media, politicians and residents before staging daily 4.20 protests. In May, the cannabus will head to Wellington, with activists planning to petition Parliament.
"What this tour is all about is protesting in the strongest possible way that New Zealand citizens who are in Parliament lock up their friends and neighbours . Do New Zealanders want to keep locking up people who are part of the cannabis culture?"
Mr Morgan says it's time for New Zealanders to stand up to the United States over marijuana in the same way we did over nuclear ships: "It's time to say the same to the evil anti-cannabis policy they impose on the rest of the world. When countries choose to liberalise cannabis laws they threaten trade sanctions.
New Zealand Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell called for a national discussion on cannabis in November: "And we have risen to the challenge, we're going to have a conversation with the public about cannabis," Mr Morgan says.
Activists drove the cannabus north and held public smoking sessions at Waitangi during the recent Waitangi Day celebrations.
In an anarchic response to occasional police searches and arrests at the 4.20 site at Albert Park activists have posted video of raids - including one where an undercover officer "busts" Mr Morgan for what turns out to be a bag of nettle tea - on sites such as www.cannabis.com.
Julian Slade is an Auckland Based Journalist specialising in urban issues and boxing.