Hello, my name is Judyta. I came here almost seven years ago from Poland to do a postgraduate course at Queen’s, and I decided to stay here. Believe me or not, but I have grown fond of Belfast and I like living here.
Last Friday I was even more happy with Belfast than usual. It was because on that day I went to the 420 smokeout event at the front of the City Hall. I had a joint there with well over a hundred other people, strangers of all shapes and sizes, nationalities, social classes and religious backgrounds – all having a smoke and chatting. There was some waving of the banners, some singing and playing a guitar, a lot of cheering and laughing. No disturbance, no troubles, all nice and quiet.
Kids and oldies
I must admit that I did fear a little bit that there might be some trouble. There obviously were going to be plenty of young people, and some young people in Belfast are known to cause trouble. Before the event, on the Facebook event page, some older participants expressed concern that there might be only 'kids' present and that they would feel out of place. The 'kids' (people in their late teens/early twenties) called us 'oldies' in retaliation. I thought I saw an emerging risk of conflict or some other trouble.
But I was completely wrong. It turns out that the pothead kids are just as peaceful and friendly as the pothead oldies. There were many differences in the crowd, but we all managed to have a good time together.
Cannabis is a society-friendly drug. Whenever you see a shouting, vomiting, aggressive person on the street – quite a frequent occurrence in Belfast, unfortunately – it is never going to be someone who smoked weed. It simply doesn’t work like that. It makes you calm and relaxed, it gives you a happy and friendly mood. It cures people from pain, insomnia and anxiety. It does not make you a junkie.
I’m not going to talk about who is responsible for the current state of matters. I want to point out who is responsible for changing it. And here’s the big thanks to the kids, who made the crowd on Friday. The oldies were definitely under-represented. Is it because there are far less oldies smoking cannabis than kids?
No! Being 31, I was counted as one of the oldies. At least half of my friends, of my age and older, occasionally have a smoke – teachers, artists, lecturers, doctors, people working in business, administration, culture and media. People with normal lives, going to work, raising kids, planning holidays in Spain (well, perhaps Holland more often). Some of them are regular users. Only one of them went with me to the 420 smokeout event. The others had their excuses – they didn’t want their photos to be taken, their employers to find out, or their names to be associated with the campaign. The oldies prefer to stay in the comfort of their own houses, have a smoke with close friends and not care, for example, that they have just paid their money into the criminals’ pockets. One would think that people in their thirties should be more aware and feel more responsible for the well-being of their own society. And changes do not happen by themselves, someone has to get up from the couch. Do we want to see ourselves as too old to be bothered anymore?
Let’s be loud
The event in Belfast was small – my estimation is at around 150 people, i.e. more or less as many as those who declared they would go on the Facebook event page. But on the page of the London event there were almost 5,000 declaring to go. There was not a word about any of these events in the mainstream media, local or national. The only information you can find is from the community websites and youtube videos. You can google as much as you want, but you will not find a single press article referring to the local events – the only thing you can get is a couple of Reuters reports on the 420 events in Colorado and Alaska. Thousands of people in London were overlooked.
I am usually extremely skeptical about all kinds of conspiracy theories, but this time I’m not so sure. How is it possible that a newspaper takes care and time to write about some minor incident in Alaska, but does not mention a local event? How is it possible that there is nothing to be found in the newspapers, TV news or news websites in the UK after weeks and weeks of the information about the events being available for the public and widely advertised?
Whatever is happening there, it is now our responsibility to spread awareness. Don’t wait for the mainstream media to encourage you. Don’t watch a youtube video of the event without sharing it. Don’t hesitate to educate those around you about the real aspects of the cannabis use. And don’t forget to come to the 420 smokeout next year!
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