Oaksterdam University supporters celebrated 4/20—the calendar date that matches a code word often associated with pot smoking—with a march in Oakland protesting the recent federal raid of Oaksterdam’s facilities and demanding the federal legalization of medical marijuana.
At 11 am, supporters gathered at the Federal Building on Clay Street in downtown Oakland. Starting off as a rather small gathering of some 30 medical marijuana activists and patients—many in wheelchairs—the group grew to around 200 people by midday. The protesters waved flags and signs reading “Hey Obama! Keep your promise!” and “Cannabis is Medicine. Let’s start to regulate!”
Medical marijuana has been legal in California since the passage of Proposition 215 in 1996, but it remains illegal under federal law. In his 2008 campaign, President Barack Obama had promised not to interfere with state-sanctioned medical marijuana laws.
Jeff Faure, who was holding one of those signs, came here all the way from Porterville, in central California. In his hometown, dispensaries have been banned completely, he said. “I am here because I want to see them legalize cannabis eventually. But the minimum is that medical marijuana patients have a safe access to their medicine,” Faure said. ”We are not the criminals, we are the patients. If they want to take the criminal aspect out of the issue then they need to legalize and regulate cannabis. That way, they would take control of it again.”
Another protester, Jon Gordon of Richmond, said that Obama is the first president he has ever voted for. He is over 50 years old. “I am so disappointed that he is letting us down like this,” he said, referring to the Obama administration’s tough stance on marijuana.
Lisa Marie Hopwood participated in the march on behalf of the California Cannabis Hemp & Health Initiative, which is being proposed for the 2012 state ballot and would legalize cannabis in California. “I am here because I am trying to continue to spread awareness for the legalization of marijuana here in Oakland,” she said. “We need to come back to an all-natural environment and we need to come together as a community to fight for the legalization of cannabis together. They have cigarettes and alcohol out there, why can’t we have our weed out there as well? It would certainly help decriminalization here in Oakland.”
Sam Clauder, originally from Humboldt, said that this march is his first public appearance for cannabis. “I’ve known Richard Lee since 1986 and I am here to support him,” he said, referring to the founder of Oaksterdam University who announced he was stepping down after his home, as well as several university facilities, were raided earlier this month. (This week, Dale Sky Jones, Oaksterdam’s former executive chancellor, announced she’d be taking over Lee’s position.)
At noon, the group of activists became a bit louder. They stopped chatting with journalists, handing out business cards and tweeting about what was happening and instead started singing “Happy birthday, 4/20,” followed by chanting slogans such as “Hey Obama, keep your promise!”
Then Richard Lee took the stage, telling the crowd that the California Medical Association voted in favor of the legalization of the medical use of cannabis last October. “This shows that we have the doctors on our side. It is only the police that are against us, but I think people will listen to the doctors more than to the cops,” Lee said.
Next on stage was Stephanie Tucker from San Francisco. “San Francisco stands in solidarity with Oakland,” she said. “We are outraged and disgusted by what has happened here. We want to send a clear message to the Obama administration and tell him to stop such actions immediately.”
Dale Sky Jones followed, saying: “I have a question, Obama: What advantage do we have from denying sick patients their medicine? Take cannabis away from the violent drug cartels! Name the advantages of continuing this drug war, President Obama!”
Then Jones invited everyone to peacefully walk to the Obama campaign headquarters in Oakland with her in order to hand over a letter, which was written to the president in the name of the community of Oakland, asking him to help legalize marijuana. On the way to the headquarters, people chanted “What do we want? Equal rights! When do we want them? Now!”
At 12.30, the protesters arrived in front of the campaign headquarters, shouting “DEA, go away!” and “Obama keep your promise!”
One activist stuck out from the group—Chris Brown, who was dressed as “Oaksterbong,” a towering white bong wearing green sunglasses. “I created this outfit as an icon of the Oaksterdam business district and to stress the point that this is not a dangerous issue. Look at me—do I look threatening to you?” Brown asked.
“I believe marijuana should be legalized because there are tremendous health benefits and we need to pay more attention to the research, which proves that,” he continued. “I am really happy with the turnout of the march. The fact that there are so many journalists here shows that the media is taking this issue seriously and that might result in the Obama administration taking it seriously as well.”
The gathering in front of the Obama campaign headquarters dissolved at one o’clock. Some of the protestors went to an after-party at the Oaksterdam Student Union on Broadway in downtown Oakland, where a 4/20 film festival began, showing films focused on the world of weed. The last film will be shown at 6 pm.