More than 300 people—both Lafayette residents and University of Louisiana at Lafayette students—bore signs and a spectrum of green-hued attire when hiking from Girard Park to the Lafayette Parish Courthouse March 2 as part of a statewide protest of more than 70 years of marijuana prohibition laws.
Legalize Louisiana, a grassroots marijuana advocacy campaign established in December 2010, was behind the event held in cities statewide that called “for better integration of the university and municipalities as education, discussion and action moves forward on (the marijuana) issue,” according to the event’s press release.
“I found out today that 300 people totally believe in the same thing that I do,” said Legalize Louisiana representative Dave Lucito, 26, after leading the crowd to the courthouse. “We heard a lot today about peace, and we heard a lot about freedom. . .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.”
More than a dozen police officers and several courthouse employees stood outside the building’s entrance and in the streets observing the protest—which endured without incident—assuring the walkway remained clear for those entering and exiting the building. Officers present refused to comment, but march attendees held no reservations in voicing their opinions and personal experiences involving marijuana.
“I used to have to lift my legs over a handicapped curb because I couldnt lift them that high,” said Zane Gabor, a 20-year-old diesel mechanics student at Louisiana Technical Colleges T.H. Harris campus in Opelousas. Gabor said he survived acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a cancer that involves malignant, immature white blood cells continuously multiplying and overproducing in bone marrow. While undergoing chemotherapy, Gabor also said he contracted the H1N1 virus and was bedridden for more than a month, an impairment that caused him severe muscle loss.
“The only reason I had enough strength and enough power to force food down is because I got high,” he confided before protesters and police. “When it’s past 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.”
“Legalize, tax and regulate marijuana!” read 21-year-old UL Lafayette history senior Cayce Duncan’s poster as she stood outside the courthouse during the protest. Although she said she believes the cause is valuable, she also thinks the movement will need better organization and a more professional delegation in order to be taken seriously.
“I think it was worthwhile to get it out in the news, but we could have been better represented,” she said, noting that chanting “Weed! Weed! Weed!” (as some marchers did) and bearing signs reading “Who want’s (sic) some tacos after this?” forsakes the legitimacy of the protest.
“But think about it,” added Duncan. “It was 3:00 on a Wednesday afternoon. A lot of people are at work, or they’re just scared to go out in public advocating marijuana because they don’t want to be condemned by their co-workers and families.”
Lucito reported through Facebook on March 4 that one marcher claimed he was terminated for attending the rally, but Lucito has not yet released information on the currently unnamed protester.
At press time Monday, Legalize Louisiana representatives were planning to attend the March 15 Lafayette City-Parish Council meeting to continue public discussion on the issue, with more events planned statewide for April 20.
“I think the main thing for everybody to do is get educated on the hemp plant—cannabis, marijuana, whatever they want to call it,” shouted Donna McKinley, a 67-year-old cancer survivor and protester who said she smoked marijuana to alleviate the severe pain associated with the disease. “Educate themselves. . .and they’ll know what to do.”