The War on Drugs has always been a heated debate topic across the country and among state and local governments, but on Wednesday approximately 300 marijuana rights supporters gathered at the Lafayette Parish Courthouse to show Acadiana they believe the time to end prohibition of cannabis has long since passed.
Legalize Louisiana's local march started at 3 p.m. in Girard Park and then snaked through the UL Lafayette campus toward downtown. It was lead by Dave Lucito, a local radio jockey at KJCB 770 AM. He carried a sign adorned with only a Bible passage written in a large black marker. It was Romans 11:15, "For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?"
"I'm really honored that all of these people came out to stand up for themselves and to stand up for one another as well," said Lucito. "There was definitely a grassroots response to the media messaging that people found on social networks."
Those marching waved signs that read, "Don't Panic, It's Organic," "Cannabis: Nature's Answer," "Power to the People," "Say No to Dealers, Say Yes to Dispensaries."
"Basically all I did was put out a press release sort of as an individual representing an idea and from there I entered the marketplace of ideas," added Lucito. "I found out today that 300 people totally believe in the same thing that I do, and we heard a lot today about peace and we heard a lot about freedom and that's connected. We stood there, and we were peacefully assembled and we thanked all of the peace officers who were there to support us having our free speech."
Zane Gabor, 20, who is studying to become a diesel mechanic at Louisiana Technical College's T. H. Harris campus in Opelousas, was the first of many protesters to deliver his tale of how marijuana has helped him after he was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. "Before I got sick, I noticed severe pain in my arms that eventually went to numbness then pain in my wrist," said Gabor. "I later found that that was [due to] a lack of blood in my body. During my chemotherapy experience, I went to a very [prestigious] child hospital, which I won't name, but during that pain they do provide medicine and some of the times the medicine does work, but some of the times it doesn't."
Gabor also mentioned that due to his lowered immune system during the chemotherapy, he contracted H1N1, which landed him in the hospital under heavy sedation for a month and half. Gabor doesn't remember much of his stay because of the amount of pain medication he was receiving and said being bedridden for so long also caused him severe loss of muscle mass. "The only reason I had enough strength and enough power to just force food down is because I got high," Gabor thundered. "When it's passed the point of tears, when you're just laying in bed, I've smoked weed. It might not have solved everything, but at least I can communicate with people. At least I can feel somewhat normal. Making weed illegal takes away my comfortability rights."
"Let me tell you who's right: every one of you!" exclaimed Donna McKinley, 67, a cancer survivor who was handing out marijuana fact-sheets to anyone willing to accept them. "It'll take you through chemotherapy. It'll take away the sickness. It'll give you back your appetite. It'll build your body. "In 6,000 years, there has never been a case of an overdose. Six thousand years! You don't die from it," McKinley boomed with just as much, if not more, energy as the countless twenty-somethings receiving her cries. "It's a non-criminal crime! They make criminals out of people for no crime - not against God, country or another person or yourself. I went through cancer and chemotherapy and I smoked it and it helped. It helped me through everything."
One woman, who identified herself as Sally Johnston, came to the rally dressed as a nurse and waving a sign that read, "Don't Jail Me, Tax Me!" "I actually represent a friend of mine that is a nurse," Johnston said. "She also helped me make this sign, but she couldn't be here today because she's at work. And for fear of the fact that it's illegal, a lot of people don't want to be associated with it." Johnston believes there would be less crime if the drug were decriminalized, and she hopes to see legalization of marijuana in her lifetime.
"Marijuana should be legal!" bellowed Matt Bergeron, 22, a student at UL Lafayette majoring in renewable resources and a member of SPEAK (Society for Peace, Environment, Action, and Knowledge). "It should be allowed for consumption. It should be taxed. It should be supported, and we should not be criminals. Because they consider us criminals, we have to find criminals to smoke weed. Some people in this world just want peace. Some people in this world just want love. Some people in this world just want to get along. Some people are asking for the leaders to listen."
Lucito said an early headcount conducted before the march started put the crowd at around 260 people, but many more added to the fold as the march inched toward the courthouse. One such curious onlooker was Katie Pinsonat, an environmental and renewable resources major at UL Lafayette. "I was at the park, and I saw all of these people take off and I was like I'm going to see where they are going," said Pinsonat. "I saw a flyer in (H.L. Griffin Hall) and I knew it was today and I rode by the park and I just kind of joined along."
Police made their presence known to the crowd, standing guard at the doors of the courthouse building and urging participants to keep the walkway clear for those entering and exiting the building. Officers refused to comment on the event.
Lucito said the next project he has in mind will be presenting these issues directly to the Lafayette City-Parish Council at its next board meeting on March 15. After that, another demonstration is in the works for the cannabis subculture's holiday, April 20 (4:20). "It was such a total success as far as what we aimed to accomplish," said Lucito. "We did accomplish it. We stood there with each other today and said the truth."
(Photos by Wynce Nolley)