The annual 420 Rally & Community Picnic at Flagstaff Gardens in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia ended in disaster on April 20, when law enforcement sabotaged the event and hauled peaceful patients off while ignoring the medical cannabis law.
The Australian parliament amended the Narcotics Drug Act in 2016 to allow medical cannabis. In Victoria, doctors and nurse practitioners can prescribe medical cannabis, but certain products need approval from the Commonwealth Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).
The 420 events there today are a mix of celebration and a call to action. Jason, aka “Ancient Jay” organizes the 420 Rally & Community Picnic each year. Ancient Jay says this didn’t deter police from arresting people smoking peacefully at the rally.
“A pre-planned assault on some of Victoria’s most vulnerable members of the community, the police intimidated and illegally searched just about everyone passing through the park including a cancer patient recovering from recent brain surgery,” Ancient Jay told High Times.
“I was approached by one elderly gentleman who had been strip searched in plain view of everyone despite not having any cannabis or illicit substances, the humiliation he felt was visible in the tear rolling from the corner of his eye.”
Ancient Jay is a drug reform advocate, host of Ancient Jay’s Argo Nights, and has used cannabis for medical purposes for over 30 years.
British tabloid Daily Mail profiled one particular incident in which several officers dragged a man and ignored his pleas that he held a prescription for medical cannabis. The man was handcuffed and dragged away. He also said he obtained his cannabis legally from a pharmacy. The man told reporters that he assumed he’d have a good time for what was his first time at the event with legal medical cannabis.
A Victoria Police spokesman said police were on-site at Flagstaff Gardens on Wednesday for the protest, and that the man was released later—but after first being arrested, handcuffed, and hauled away. It’s not the kind of freedom advocates envisioned with legalized medical cannabis in the state.
A blogger from Platform 2 Melbourne was at the rally, and decided to record and post it on YouTube, considering the nature of the event, despite a DJ playing music in the background.
Police aggression can be plainly seen on the video, and commenters called the police “uniformed thugs,” “cowards,” and other names.
Part of the problem is accessibility for medical patients. “Despite the legality and availability of prescription cannabis the present laws create a situation that allows patients rights to be ignored,” Ancient Jay said.
The actions of police signal that they are not observing the state’s recently implemented medical cannabis law.
“The aggressive approach by police towards the 420 Rally indicates a total lack of understanding or empathy towards these vulnerable members of the community and an intimidation focused approach towards law reform campaigners.”
Psychedelic artist TROG is based in Victoria, and has many connections with the cannabis community there. He was also impacted by the course of events at the rally.
“It’s 2022, every human knows cannabis isn’t harmful, incidents like this shouldn’t happen, it’s incorrect,” TROG told High Times.
Around half of Australians say that cannabis should be legalized. According to a survey in 2019, 41.1% of Australians believe cannabis should be legalized in the country—a significant jump in approval ratings compared to 2013 when they were asked the same question. In an online survey, conducted by polling company Essential Research between March 30 and April 2 of 2022, 50% of respondents said that they were in favor of full cannabis reform.