Smells Like Victory! The 2018 Cannabis Parade & Rally in New York City
by Rick Cusick
Fun In The Sun In the Concrete Canyon!
Let’s start with a little confession. I hear it’s good for the soul: I’ve been smoking pot for forty-six years. Maybe a little longer. Not surprisingly, I can’t remember exactly how long it’s been.
What I do recall with extraordinary clarity is copping nickel and dime bags of weed in the shadows of Union Square in New York City on Friday nights when I was sixteen years old. I was part of an early bridge and tunnel crowd that crossed back over river like a conquering hero with a sack of that good giggle grass that the Jamaicans would sell.
Forty-six years later I stand on a stage in the sunshine facing the statue of George Washington where I used to buy my pot. Between the Father of Our Country and myself there is now a sea of stoners – several thousand, in fact – listening to my great friend, the indefatigable Joy Beckerman, pontificate on the power of hemp. I first met Joy twenty-three years ago when the U.S. Secret Service harassed her for stamping “I grew hemp!” next to Washington’s face on dollar bills circulating in and out of her Woodstock, NY hemp store. I was an investigative journalist at the time and broke the story that was picked up by the Associated Press, resulting in national major newspaper headlines “Her Hemp Dollars Draw U.S. Hollers!” From that whimsical seed of dissent sprang forth one of our nation’s top hemp activists. Truth always pours from her like honey and so, with Washington’s stern approval, the crowd hangs on her every word. It is 4:18 pm on the 5th of May and Joy’s voice echoes throughout the concrete canyon.
The event – the 48th annual New York City Cannabis Parade & Rally – was already a vibrant success. When Giuliani was mayor before the turn of the century the NYPD hassled the attendees and arrested hundreds of those who toked up in civil disobedience each year. After 9/11 the rally shrunk to a few hundred stalwart souls marching through Manhattan before landing in the Lower East Side. But more recently the Rally has returned to life as marijuana law reform has spread through the land like windblown hempseed. As I stand on the stage and listen to Joy I can’t help noting how far we’ve come – how far I’ve come – in this singular journey to restore the reputation and utility of the world’s most maligned plant.
Accordingly, today’s roster of pot rally speakers includes a full range of fresh arrivals along with the usual suspects.
New York State Senator Jesse Hamilton, Assemblyman Richard Gottfried and New York City Council Members Jumaane Williams, Rafael Espinal and Donovan Richards all spoke to the crowd, as did gubernatorial candidate Joel Giambra who two days earlier dropped out of the Republican Party to announce he would run as an independent. Giambra promised that if he were elected “the most well-crafted, tightly-regulated legalization of adult-use marijuana will become the law of the land… Cannabis is coming to New York,” he promised, “and it’s going to make us a healthier, safer, freer, less criminal, more ethical, more open minded place for us all.”
Green Party candidate for Governor Howie Hawkins reminded everyone that the New York Greens have supported marijuana legalization for over 20 years, and, during that time, over 800,000 New Yorkers have been busted for weed!
Guardian Angels founder and WABC right-wing reactionary radio personality Curtis Sliwa showed up to jump on the budwagon and grouse that he only uses medical cannabis to alleviate the symptoms of Crohn’s Disease. This admission comes as a surprise from Sliwa after a fevered lifetime of virulent anti-cannabis crusades that includes threatening to arrest me – personally – live on Fox Good Day New York when I pulled a bag of weed out in the studio on the day New York City decriminalized.
“But you can’t arrest me, can you?” I taunted and Fox co-host Rosanna Scotto gave me a conspiratorial wink. Sliwa looked like he wanted to strangle me, but the fact is we were both grandstanding then. Now he says, “If not for the marijuana, the pain would be unbearable,” and I wish him happiness and good health.
Unquestionably, the star of the show was Cynthia Nixon, famous for her role as Miranda Hobbes in HBOs Sex & The City and currently seeking the Democratic nomination to be the next Governor of New York. Ms. Nixon admits that she has only smoked marijuana twice in her life, but that was enough to give her a nuanced understanding of the problems we still face.
“I want legalize cannabis in New York… first and foremost because it’s a racial justice issue,” she declared. “If you are black or Latino you are ten times more likely to be arrested for cannabis than if you’re white… That’s not what we believe in New York, and it’s not what we should believe in the United States of America.
“Arresting people, especially people of color, for cannabis is the crown jewel in the racist War on Drugs and we must pluck it down,” Ms. Nixon affirmed.
There were over thirty-five speakers and nine bands at this year’s rally plus the comedian Rob Cantrell. The police were present but very laid back even though, technically, blazing in the park violates the decrim law. This was to be a day of celebration more than a day of protest, although if you looked around you saw plenty of both. Joy wrapped up her fire words and handed me the mike while it was still hot. With just a minute left to go I told everyone to remember that the war on weed was still not over, that despite the many breathtaking gains we’ve made, we still have a host of formidable hurdles
“Over 650,000 Americans were arrested last year for simple possession of cannabis,” I called out and over 400,000 of those were under twenty-five years old. “The war on marijuana is a war on youth,” I cried out. “Even though we’re winning, the enemies still abide.”
Then someone told me the time had come, and I turned back to the crowd and cranked it up to eleven:
“Ten… Nine… Eight….”
I looked out over their cheering heads at the statue of Washington – looking right at me, I thought.
“Seven… Six… Five…”
And forty-five years collapsed into a single moment of perfect time.
“Four… Three… Two… One!”
And from the stage it looked like George Washington’s smiling face disappeared into a cloud of smoke.