On March 4th, a cloud of smoke scented Union Square Park at a NYC Cannabis Parade & Rally, a demonstration to celebrate marijuana and demand its legalisation. New Yorkers gathered following protocols set by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation in a mood to enjoy an event that was notably cancelled in 2020. This year’s meeting was unlike any other. Barricaded area was limited to 200 people and a little stage where artists and activists voiced their thoughts and spoke about the bill to legalise weed, recently signed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Attendees were joined by US Senate Majority Leader, Chuck Schumer, who pledged to legalise cannabis “the right way” on a federal level.
Highlights and Attendees
Among this year’s highlights, we could mention: the attendance of public officials, such as NYC Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, great police tolerance for those smoking, and a recently enacted law that has allowed New Yorkers to publicly possess up to three ounces of cannabis or 24 grams concentrate.
“The bill creates automatic expungement of previous marijuana convictions that would now be legal” claimed Governor Andrew Cuomo via Twitter.
At the Big Apple Cannabis Parade’s main event, after marching down Broadway from Midtown, Manhattan, a multicultural crowd of veterans, artists, activists, and enthusiastic attendees filled Union Square. There, they grooved to live funk, rap and reggae, with joints in hand, while activists took the floor in between sets to fight for cannabis legalisation.
60% of the 20 million residents of the State of New York (East region of the US) have already been vaccinated with at least one dose, according to official sources, and free vaccination sites spread across the city. This made it possible for this year’s rally, postponed in 2020 because of the pandemic, to be organised in a more limited way, but with some novelties such as a virtual event on May 2nd, broadcasted live on the social media of the event.
A Growing Movement
New York City Cannabis Parade & Rally (NYCCPR) is one of the longest-running events on cannabis legalisation in the world. What started as a “Smoke-In” at Washington Square Park, arranged by the Yippies in 1973, has become a three-part event: a parade down Broadway, a rally in Union Square Park and an after-party celebration, all on the first Saturday of May. Sister events take place in cities all over the world on the same day. NYCCPR is the founding chapter of the Global Marijuana March.
While the state legislature considers the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act—the last hope for cannabis legalization this year, since it was left out of the state budget—the Cannabis Parade serves as a reminder of how far the movement has come.
Apart from Schumer and James, many Albany County lawmakers, including senators Alessandra Biaggi, Brian A. Benjamin and Jessica Ramos, in addition to Shinnecock Nation chairman Bryan Polite, a Shinnecock delegation and industry leader Steve DeAngelo were part of the NYCCPR event. They have all addressed the recent cannabis legalisation in the State of New York.
Rally, Meeting and Virtual Event
Traditionally, the Rally takes place in Union Square Park at 14 St., between University Place and 4th Avenue. It begins at 1 PM when the parade arrives at the park. Musical entertainment was delivered by world-class artists such as Redman, 420, Funk Mob, and Immortal Technique. Speeches were given up to the 4:20 countdown and the Rally continued with music until the program ended, at 5 PM sharp. Reform organizations and sponsors set up booths and tables opposite the stage in front of the George Washington statue. On May 2nd, a virtual event was livestreamed, featuring a more traditional line-up of speakers and performers.
Masks were mandatory and social distancing was highly encouraged. Smoking cannabis was allowed anywhere tobacco could be used, as the street or on the sidewalk. However, smoking anything in any New York City public park is still against state law and city regulations. Tolerance for weed smokers at Union Square Park was a clear sign of what this movement has achieved in 40 years of history and fight.