Columbus, Ohio USA
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High Hopes for Hip Happenin' High Folks
A Very NORML 4/20
By Allex Spires
May/June 2013 Issue
Saturday, the Twentieth day of April in the Hundred-Score-and-Baker’s-Dozenth Year since B.C.(E.)
A crowd of NORML supporters at Circus Bar on 4/20 celebrate weed and the fight to reform laws. Photo © Trevor Smith / Arch Vista Photography
The Central Ohio chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) held a public party in celebration of marijuana on 4/20, internationally recognized as the marijuana smoker’s holiday, and it was set to begin at 4:20 p.m. at Circus Bar, 1227 N. High. I had no idea how a NORML party might go down, but I’d find out Gonzo style: Just throw myself in and hope not to get thrown out.
My friend Max drove me to the Short North and dropped me outside the bar at 4:15. I went in and saw an ad for The Joint,1182 N. High, above the bar’s ATM. At the opposite end of the long main room a deejay onstage played House of Pain’s Jump Around. Along the walls hung Ripley’s-style circus side-show posters that featured The Human Blow Torch, Rubber Girl, the Magician, Voodoo Torture, the Midget Bull, the Two-Faced Girl, Human Blockhead and Electrica, the Crushing Death, Gorilla Girl, the Sword Swallower, Corkscrew Boy, and the Human Dynamo. The posters promised all were real and alive.
As I made my way through the bar’s low-light atmosphere to the restroom, I took a quick head count of about sixteen people, most of them around college age, by the bar and at a few tables at the end of the room facing the stage. I stepped down a corridor by the stage and mistakenly entered the ladies’ room but didn’t mind, and nobody noticed. As I came out, I tasted the aroma of burning hemp flowers and saw sunlight seeping around a closed door at the end of the hall. I followed the light, opened the door and stepped out. Several NORML members and eight more people were on the fenced-off patio smoking cigarettes. Some were passing joints amongst themselves in the chilly, windy afternoon under a cloudy sky.
I recognized Michael Revercomb, vice president of Central Ohio NORML, and approached him. He had a bunch of pins and buttons on his jacket: a green ribbon that said “Legalize,” a pin that said “LEAP Law Enforcement Against Prohibition,” a button that read “NORML, It’s normal to smoke pot,” another that said “No Victim No Crime,” one that read “Hide your ‘Stache,” another read “Say Goodbye to Chronic Pain.” Another said “Burn a Fattie Not the Flag,” one showed George Washington beside a red cross and a pot leaf along with the text “Grew Medical Marijuana,” the last button said “Ask Your Doctor About the Benefits of WEED.” Mister Revercomb told me he had spoken at Ohio University earlier in the week along with Fairfield County Sheriff’s Deputy Carlos McDermott at a lecture called Legalize Choice, which centered on ending the war on drugs as a whole. Revercomb has been involved with Central Ohio NORML for eight years and he’s been a board member for the past five. I asked him why NORML decided to hold a public 4/20 party.
He told me that with fourteen campuses and almost 200,000 students in Central Ohio and nearly ten percent of the state’s 11.7 million people known to be users of marijuana, NORML just wants to grow the culture. “Marijuana isn’t something people should feel ashamed about,” Mister Revercomb said. “We want people to have places they can go to and feel comfortable. It’s not something for everybody but it’s for some people.” He mentioned that some people like alcohol, some like pornography, some like gambling, some people like comedy television. “This is our getaway,” he said. “We’re NORML. We’re just normal people and we wanna be treated just like everybody else. If you’re not hurting anyone but yourself you damn well should be allowed. That’s how it’s supposed to work, and that’s a conservative mindset.” He added that “sniffing windowsills is not good use of police resources.” He also pointed out, “It seems that marijuana users are the only people in America asking to pay more taxes.”
Mister Revercomb mentioned that as we were speaking, about 3500 people including Rebecca Forbes from Moms for Marijuana, “Wayward Bill” Changelis who is president of the US Marijuana Party, and Shawn Dunagan from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition were all speaking at a huge Overgrow the Government rally in Lafayette Park in front of the White House. They had to get special permission to hold that rally in light of the Boston Marathon bombing earlier in the week. They got that permission and stomped the streets of D.C. “If we’re trying to create a more peaceful world,” Mister Revercomb said, “We can use a little less explosives and a little more weed.” I later learned that as we spoke a 4/20 gathering at a park in Denver, Colorado, where medical and recreational marijuana use is legal, was disrupted by a non-lethal shooting that injured two people.
A man in a NORML shirt who had a box of black bags gave me one, the first hundred people through the door were supposed to get one. Inside the bag, I found an ad for The Stash House, a smoking accessory store at 26 S. Sandusky St. in Delaware, Ohio, a Bic lighter with The Stash House’s contact information printed on it, a pack of rolling papers, a marijuana grinder with the store’s logo, and a line of hemp wick for lighting joints and pipes without the use of a lighter or matches.
At 4:30 I went back inside, the population had nearly doubled. People were having a nice time chatting, eating, and drinking beer. The deejays onstage, D-Mass and Toad Nuggz, spun records supporting or describing marijuana from an eclectic old school mix of artists across a range of genres: Afroman: Because I got High, Ben Harper: Burn One Down, Bizzy Bone: Sticky Icky, Blind Mellon: No Rain, Bob Marley: Smoke Two Joints, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony: Buddah Lovaz, Cypress Hill: Hits From the Bong, David Essex: Rock On, Dr. Dre: Nuthin’ But a G Thang and more. The pair planned to stay onstage until 9:30. There was also a raffle offering gift certificates donated from local tattoo shops and accessories from local smoke shops, as well as a signed copy of Steve Elliot’s The Little Black Book of Marijuana.
More people were coming in all the time: young and old, Black, Brown, Yellow, White, and Mixed Race people from all over the city, the state, and from across the country came to show their support and take part in the celebration. Four guys at a table by the entrance said they’d come to help get medicinal marijuana petitions signed in time for the upcoming ballot. Moddie and Max, who just moved to town from Austin, Texas, came for the goodie bags. I met a construction worker who came to support NORML. Bob and Chris came because they love marijuana. A group of people came from Pittsburgh because they love Circus Bar’s Clever Crow Pizza. They didn’t even know there was going to be a 4/20 event but chose to hang around anyway. Brandon came out to support NORML and their cause, not just to legalize marijuana but for the whole hemp industry. Steve came because he was in town visiting friends and it seemed like something better to do than just sitting at the house. Rich came with his wife in celebration of their anniversary. A couple from Cleveland came just because it seemed like a fun idea. Heather said that she came to support NORML because they support the marijuana culture. Matt came because NORML is working to liberate nonviolent offenders from America’s prison system. Greg just wanted to celebrate the day. An older man with a gray beard and hair said he was a medical marijuana patient and supported NORML all the way. Another Brandon said he came because marijuana is just a beautiful thing, flat out.
At about five I looked out the bar’s front windows and noticed a pair of stilt walkers on the sidewalk inviting people to come in. One of the stilt walkers, in a paisley top with a rainbow colored Rastafarian hat from which faux dreadlocks dangled, held a sign that said: “I’m so high!” I got myself a Peeber and then went out on the patio to drink it and smoke a cigarette. I sat at a picnic table where other people smoked cigarettes and passed joints, all friendly and rather polite. No over-the-top behavior broke out, as one might expect at an alcohol or hard-drug-based event. One of the stilt walkers, this one in a green top with a teal wig and a pair of green sunglasses, ducked through the patio doorway and held up a white hula hoop that had green lights on it. She proceeded to play with the hoop and finally twirled it around her waist while on the stilts.
I joined a group of 31 people, including both stilt walkers and the people from Central Ohio NORML, for a photo. I raised my glass and accidentally held my arm in front of the face of the guy beside me. I apologized but he said it was probably best if he weren’t in the picture, anyway. I estimated that there were about fifty people still inside the bar and about twenty more on the patio who didn’t want to be in the picture.
A fire spinner showed up and performed incredible feats of wrist, arm, and hand coordination. His whirling blazes sent off loud whooshing roars in time with his hypnotic movements, entrancing onlookers. I backed up and almost tripped over a stilt walker who, in turn, almost tripped over me. Neither of us tripped, though, so it was okay.
I ran into Michael Revercomb again, and he told me that he smokes pot every day except 4/20; he said he’s probably one of the only people too busy to imbibe on the day. He also told me more about the 4/20 raffle and added that a NORML guitar is being made, intended to be raffled at ComFest the last weekend in June at Goodale Park. Last year, he said, the ComFest info booth directed more people to the NORML booth than to any other locale in the park. Mister Revercomb and I talked about Chris “The Anarchist” Ryan, one of ComFest’s original organizers and grand marshal of the Columbus Marijuana March (held the first Saturday in May every year) who just ended a three-and-a-half year stint jailed in Montana for transporting a bulk quantity of medical marijuana into that state for patients. Marijuana has been found to put certain cancers into remission and help the body through healthy metastasis, wherein the body works to fight off bad cells in creating new healthy ones.
“We have 11.7 million people in [Ohio],” Mister Revercomb said. “If just 8 percent of the state uses marijuana, that’s almost a million people. But those are a whole bunch of very [diverse] people. They all need the chance to come out and have their voice heard at [events] they can feel comfortable at. When you base everything on... I don’t wanna say on the “hippie” mindset because I have a lot of friends that have that mindset, that love folk music, that like to wear tie-dye, and do all those things, and I applaud those people for being willing to come out, but if we don’t make festivals and concerts and events that cater to other groups of people, they’re never gonna have a chance to come out, to support. So that’s my thing. I’m not worried about initiatives; I’m worried about growing the culture.” Mr. Revercomb wants to organize all the Columbus smoke shops into the city’s largest food donation group.
At about 6:00 p.m., I went back inside: At least a hundred people were now in the bar enjoying the 4/20 celebration. A hundred-and-twenty-one people had signed up to attend on the Central Ohio NORML FaceBook page. I set my empty glass on the counter and rolled up a cigarette. The party would last well into the night and merge with the Funkdefy dance party, Stoned Funky, later on, but I had gotten enough info for a full story and decided to call it a day. I saw no need to get excessive, I mean... it’s just weed.
The Central Ohio NORML webpage is at www.centralohionorml.org
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