In celebration of the recent legalization of marijuana in New York, an event titled “Smoke Weed in Front of the Binghamton Police Station” was hosted tonight on the sidewalks next to the County Office Building on Hawley street by Binghamton activists, with an estimated 200 people showing up in support. The event was hosted by the groups Northside Mutual Aid, DAROC Broome County, Justice and Unity for the Southern Tier (JUST), Truth Pharm, PLOT; Progressive Leaders of Tomorrow, and 100 Black Men of Broome County, according to the events Facebook page.
The event featured speeches from activists in a central tent with “Black Lives Matter” and LGBTQ flags attached. Tables were set up to give out free food such as pizza, fruit, and granola bars. Water, t-shirts, bracelets, and marijuana paraphernalia were also provided. Most who were there were either smoking marijuana, or were designated drivers. Attendees smoked marijuana openly using pipes, joints, and other methods of marijuana consumption. Music was played from the tent using large speakers.
Speeches by organizers focused on the legalization of marijuana in New York, and its implications for the community. The speakers also spoke about the criminal justice system, and other racial justice issues. The event began shortly after the verdict was read in the Derek Chauvin trial, which was also celebrated by attendees and organizers. Call and response chants were led, such as “Black lives matter,” “If we don’t get it, shut it down,” “No justice, no peace,” “Tell me what democracy looks like, this is what democracy looks like,” and “Whose streets? Our streets.”
Activist and organizer Salka Valerio said she helped host the event “to celebrate 420 and to also educate the public about their rights around the legalization of marijuana.” She said legalization was important to her because “it’s gonna be less population of people going to jail now because of it, so it’s important. People need to know how much they can carry, how much they can’t. What they can do and what they can’t do, to protect themselves.” When asked what marijuana legalization meant to her, she said; “Legalization means to me that we are free. No longer would black and brown people be going to lock up because of weed… we don’t have to run with that fear anymore with being caught with weed.”
Organizers took special caution to encourage a healthy and safe environment, and asked all attendees to be 21 years or older, wear masks, social distance, carry a legal amount of marijuana, and to not share pipes due to COVID-19.
There was no visible police presence at the event.
The event’s Facebook page featured a graphic which said “Smoking Marijuana in New York is now fully legal wherever tobacco can be smoked. Join us as we break in this new law and discuss the details and implications of this moment, all while getting responsibly baked. Free music and munchies provided + on-site Narcan training.” 278 people responded “Going” on the page, and 591 responded “Interested in going.”
An attendee named Cassie said she was there “to show support for the community, we’ve had a lot of situations with the police especially recently, so even though on the surface it may seem like we’re here to mess around and smoke weed, we’re here to just show our presence and show where the community stands.” She referenced issues which prompted her to come such as criminal justice issues and racial justice issues such as ‘stop-and-frisk’. She said she started smoking marijuana after she was 22 years old, saying; “It was after doing a lot of research and realizing there was a lot of different medical issues that I was experiencing that it could help with.” When asked what legalization meant to her, she said; “I think a big thing is the expungement of records for people who have gone to jail for it in the past, and who have had their lives kind of ruined for something that has been widely seen as harmless for a lot of people.” She said she looked forward to the freedom to get together with friends without worrying about someone reporting her for consuming marijuana.
A former army veteran, sound engineer, and member of organizations such as Cures not Wars, Food not Bombs, and Mothers in Prison, James Betley, said he was “High as a Georgia Pine” and recounted his stories of marijuana criminalization in the 60s and 70s. He said “We would do the pot rallies and the cops would arrest 200 people in the crowds… you knew they were going to arrest kids.” Betley, who said he had 60 previous “unlawful possession of marijuana” charges, said to him legalization means “I don’t have to hide… it means at home I don’t have to take my jar of my medicine, not having to conceal it, not having to hide it from my damn landlord.” He also said he was looking forward to “the freedom to cultivate” marijuana.