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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Out of the closet and off the couch, a vanilla toker joins the march

By Susan Olander

MassCann NORML's participation in the Global Marijuana March took place in spite of intermittent thundershowers, and my own hasty, last-minute participation took place despite a private inner storm. Early on the morning of May 7, I was sitting having coffee with my husband, bemoaning the fact that we had just been ripped off for $200 trying to buy marijuana from someone we didn't know. It was a lot of money to us, and a hard blow. Since moving to Massachusetts five years ago, I have not had safe, legal, or consistent access to a medicine I used to purchase safely and openly, from a licensed dispensary.
"Hey, look at this," I said to my husband. "There's something called a Global Marijuana Meander happening this afternoon in Boston."
He looked at me over his reading glasses. "You should go," he said.
"What if someone takes my picture?" I asked him. "What if someone from my job sees me?"
"This is still America, isn't it?" said my husband. "It's your right to protest, you know. You won't be doing anything wrong."
"But what good is it for someone like me to show up?" I asked him. "I'm no activist. I'm just a plain middle-aged vanilla church lady."
"That's the very reason you should go," he said, closing his laptop and turning to face me squarely. "I'm serious," he said. "For every brave young person who shows up in an outlandish costume, there are a hundred quiet boring tokers just like you who are too scared to show their faces."
I didn't answer.
"Is it fair to let other people do all the hard work?" he asked. "Listen, don't you want the laws changed?"
I nodded uncomfortably.
"Then go. Share in the labor so you can reap the rewards with a just conscience."
"Hmm," I said noncommittally, but I was already planning what I was going to wear.
"Hey," said my husband suddenly, "if you can manage to bring something home—"
"It's not gonna be like that." I shook my head sadly. "It's not that easy."
"Well," said my husband, "that makes it even more important that you do your part. –And, Babe?" he said as I got up to leave. I stopped and looked at him. "Try to march behind someone with some good shit," he said, "and make sure to breathe deep!"
That's how I found myself standing out in the rain with a small group of dedicated MassCann supporters, chanting for the cause. I was the only person in "business attire," and I felt distinctly out of place. Everyone was friendly and welcoming, though, and after a while I stopped feeling afraid. In fact, at one point, I surprised myself when a friendly kid in the crowd called out,  "Give me some weed, you guys! I can't get legal medicine! I'm from California, man!"
"So am I!" I yelled back. "And I can't get my medicine either!" I suddenly realized that the chanting had stopped; the crowd was moving closer, interested. "You want some weed?" I shouted. "Then come join us! Come join us and get the laws changed! THAT's how you'll get your weed!"
The kid smiled, spread his hands and said, "Hey, lady, don't sweat it so hard! Do what I do; buy it on the street!"
"Why should I have to?" I yelled back. I was thinking of the lost $200—not just the money, but the disappointment and despair, the humiliation of having reached out and been defeated. I suddenly felt about to cry. "Why should I have to buy my medicine on the street?" I raised my voice and appealed to the crowd.  "Do YOU buy your medicine on the street? Do you? WHY SHOULD I HAVE TO BUY MY MEDICINE ON THE STREET!"
I hadn't realized how loudly I was shouting until I saw the faces of the other protestors, regarding me with great surprise—and a touch of amusement. Just a moment ago we had been having fun, grooving with the crowd, and now here I was, shaking my cane in the air and yelling like a crazy woman. I felt embarrassed, and melted back into the safety of the group.
I wasn’t the only one with a story that day. I met a lot of courageous people, and they all had a reason to be there, a story to tell.
There was the young Asian man who carried a handmade poster honoring his friend who had died in a police drug sting. She had been arrested for possession of two ounces of marijuana, he told me, and the police had talked her into a deal; they'd drop all charges if she would buy a large amount of Ecstasy from "very bad men," as the young gentleman described them. It would be safe, the police had told her. They would be watching, waiting. They would burst in at the right moment and arrest the bad men. "What happened?" I asked the young man, and he had simply answered, "Something went wrong." This had taken place three years ago to the day. The date was an omen, he felt; a sign that he should join the protest, make her story known. "People die needlessly in wars," he said to me, "and a drug war is no exception."
There was the soft-spoken college boy who approached me as we entered the Common. "I wish my mom could talk to somebody like you," he said.
"She's concerned that you use marijuana?" I asked him.
"No, she's concerned that I'm active in the pro-legalization movement," he answered. "She thinks I won't be able to get a job if I'm too public. She thinks I'm ruining my future."
"Tell her not to be afraid," I said, remembering what my husband had said to me. "Tell her you aren't doing anything wrong." He nodded gravely.
There were the bright young women who added their vivacity, energy, and organizational skills to the board of MassCann and to the day's events, one of them leading us in chants and songs, encouraging us as we wove our way through the narrow Boston streets. It was heartening to see these young women, so brave and outspoken and beautiful.
There was the noted scholar who carried a sign that read, "It is Evil to Deny Marijuana to Sick People."
And, of course, I will never forget the generous circle of tokers who shared their pipes with me in the park, and who shouted "Happy Mother's Day!" as I waved goodbye.
At one point in the day as we moved through Faneuil Marketplace, I looked back to see that what had started out as a small rag-tag group had swelled to a crowd so large I couldn't see the end of the line.
"Hey!" called out a yuppie-looking tourist, waving a twenty over his head. "I'll buy a two-dime bag if you got one!"
"Selling marijuana is against the law, sir," shouted a tall man holding a "Free the Weed" sign. There was scorn in his voice. "And we're not criminals."
One of the bright young women raised her sign and rose her voice in a chant: "WE ARE NOT CRIMINALS! WE ARE NOT CRIMINALS!"  As I joined in, I felt a sense of solidarity and a sudden, surprising fierce affection: These are my people. I don’t look like them; I don't dress like them. But I am very definitely one of them. And I owe them my support, my allegiance, and my presence.
My message to all Vanilla Tokers is this: Don't be afraid. Speak out. Get out of the closet, off the couch, and join the fight. As the young man on the Common said to me as he gestured at my little pink jacket, my carefully coiffed gray hair, and the reading glasses hanging from a chain around my neck, "Beautiful. I'm glad you're here. We are the world, man. We are the world."


  1. Absolutely a beautiful story. I wonder if there are events in my state of Rhode Island. I've been looking for rallies but I never find any online.

  2. What a beautiful story! Wish I wasn't filming that day - will definitely make it to next years' meander!

  3. It's so difficult to stand by when one of your loved ones needs medicine that is illegal for them to buy. Thank you for sharing your story.


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