Activists plant pot seeds at City Hall

February 15, 2004

Glenn Chapman, The Oakland Tribune

OAKLAND -- Medical marijuana advocates dipped into burlap sacks filled with cannabis seeds and planted a pot crop on the City Hall lawn Sunday to protest a proposal to tighten restrictions on 'Oaksterdam' dispensaries. Two dozen self-described medical marijuana patients dressed in wide-brimmed hats, bib overalls and other gardening garb hefted hoes and shovels as they prepared for an unauthorized planting in Frank Ogawa Plaza. An estimated 1 million marijuana seeds weighing a total of 25 pounds were in two sacks on the ground.

The sacks were decorated in the spirit of their contents, and one bore the words 'Red Hair Sinsemilla ... Superior Quality Seed.'

A straw-stuffed scarecrow on a pole bore a picture-face of City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente, who wants to cap the number of dispensaries at four and ban marijuana from being consumed on the premises. The proposal set for consideration at Tuesday's city council meeting would also reduce the number of plants a patient could grow for personal medicinal use to 18 from the current 72.

'It is absolutely crazy,' said Angel McClary Raich, one of the speakers at the protest event organized by Americans for Safe Access. 'The city is taking a step backwards. I am ashamed the city of Oakland is taking away our medicine.'

The proposed restrictions would force medical marijuana users to use their doses in the streets instead of in supportive and controlled settings at dispensaries, those at the subdued, hour-long protest maintained. Making the prescribed drug harder to get and use could also cost patients their lives, warned A.S.A. Executive Director Steph Sherer.

Hillary McQuie led those gathered in a brief petition to Mother Earth and the sky to nurture the seeds into healthy plants.

'We see this as a safe zone for patients,' McQuie said before the sowingbegan. 'They can harvest medicine in Frank Ogawa Plaza and then go in City Hall and medicate.'

As they tossed seeds, planters sang 'Inch by inch, row by row, De La Fuente let us grow.' A while later, the chant was given a playful twist, finishing with 'make De La Fuente grow.'

The event garnered little attention from passersby. Police officers working on nearby downtown streets paid no heed to the gathering. State law makes it illegal to cultivate marijuana, but those with medical marijuana cards are afforded latitude.

Some protesters wore cannabis leis and others handed out homemade treats designated only for medical marijuana patients. Members of the group scooped handfuls of seeds from the sacks and strewed them about the plaza lawn. Sherer made a special point of piling a mound of seeds at the base of the De La Fuente effigy. Among those at the protest was Jeff Jones, director of the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Club, which was shut down by federal officials.

Sherer said opponents of the medicinal marijuana restrictions will be out in force at the coming City Council meeting.

'If it doesn't go well, we have a backup plan,' Sherer said as those around her sowed more than seeds of protest. 'We harvest.'

The seed sacks remained about half-full by the time the activists held hands in a circle and closed the protest by singing 'We shall overcome.'

'I hope to come back a couple of weeks from now and see young plants everywhere,' said Aundre Speciale, a 37-year-old mother and Montclair homeowner who uses marijuana to curb panic attacks. 'That would be a beautiful thing.'

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