Sometimes, you have to take it to the streets, literally. At least that’s the approach Australian cannabis activists Will Stolk and Alec Zammitt take when trying to generate awareness around the flaws in Australia’s current weed regulations.
Stolk and Zammitt have been helping make cannabis a hot topic of discussion in Australia for the past eight years, rolling out annual 420 “Who Are We Hurting?” demonstrations that have captivated the ears and eyes of the Australian public. At the very least, Stolk and Zammitt aim to share a laugh and start a conversation with people about cannabis legislation reform, but activism is not without its hurdles.
As previously reported by High Times, both men are currently on bail for organizing a pot publicity stunt where they projected cannabis imagery onto the iconic Sydney Opera House on 4/20 in 2022. As of the writing of this piece, Stolk and Zammitt are scheduled to return to court on either the 4th or 5th of January 2024 to face charges—all for trying to help people not feel like outsiders and not feel objectified because they consume cannabis.
Stolk and Zammitt left no trace of their light show on the Opera House, did not disgrace its exterior with graffiti, nor was the property damaged in any way. Technically, they were never on the premises.
“We’re facing criminal charges for doing something that obviously is of mischief, but when we did the opera house stunt, we left no impact on it,” Stolk said over a video call. “We just want to be able to go down to the shop and buy cannabis, just like you can in California.”
Activism Meets Guerrilla Marketing
Since their first 420 stunt—where they donned a giant bong costume and attached a sign reading “Happy birthday, weed” to a bunch of balloons like in the movie Up—Stolk and Zammitt’s passion for activism was really to humor themselves. It just so happened that others well received their work, and suddenly, the “Who Are We Hurting?” movement was born.
Before their serendipitous meeting, Stolk was a professional skier and Zammitt was well-versed in guerrilla marketing, PR, and publicity stunts for corporate clients.
After an arrest in Utah for two grams of pot on a ski trip derailed his ski career for about six months, Stolk was pissed off and wanted to do something about it. Zammitt—who was also a cannabis consumer—wanted to change the negative stigmas around weed in Australia, and the two joined forces to jumpstart the conversation on cannabis reform and to educate people.
“There’s definitely a lot of knowledgeable Australians who can speak on the topic better than we can, but they might not necessarily be able to get in front of the right people or have the clickbait,” Zammitt said. “That’s what we’re trying to pair together—the people who can speak well on the topic and the platform that helps them give that message.
“We just supply what we know, and we encourage other consumers to do the same. If everyone was vocal about it, we’d be a lot further ahead of the stigma around cannabis.”
And according to Stolk, slowly but surely, the culture is changing.
“In 2016, when medical weed legalization was passed, it led to massive change, and two years ago in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), they decriminalized cannabis,” he said. “You’re allowed to grow your own weed and you’re allowed to smoke it, but you’re not allowed to sell it.”
The legislation puts Australian weed smokers in quite a predicament: While they can consume their own herb, they have no legal way of purchasing it.
“In Canberra, where Will’s talking about, you can grow your own, but it’s still federally illegal to import seeds and trade for them, so the plants would have to magically appear in your backyard,” Zammitt said with a laugh. “You’re also not allowed to use artificial heat or lighting sources, so if you don’t have a backyard, live in apartments, or security is an issue for you, you won’t be able to take advantage of the decriminalization.”
And that’s why “Who Are We Hurting?” does what it does. They’ve teamed up with politicians and different activists who can help enact change, or at least influence the people who can make the changes, such as the Australian political party Legalise Cannabis Australia.
“They’ve got four members of parliament elected across three different states in Australia,” Zammitt said. “People are voting for the change, and other politicians are starting to realize they’re asleep at the wheel.”
One of the main legislative problems “Who Are We Hurting?” is currently trying to fix is the unfair targeting of medicinal cannabis patients on the roadways.
“Currently, it’s the only prescribed medicine that you’re not allowed to have present in your system while driving,” Zammitt said. “We’re proposing an allowable defense so you can have it present in your system as long as you’re not driving whilst impaired.”
According to Stolk, even if you’re a medicinal cannabis patient, if you’re caught with any traces of cannabis in your system, you automatically lose your driver’s license for three months, regardless of impairment.
This means that even if you have a legal medical cannabis prescription, there’s a chance you could be unfairly cited while on the road.
“During my time over the past decade doing these stunts, the police have set up a specific task force to target activists who are doing what Will and I do, as well as what the climate protesters are doing,” Zammitt said. “They specifically targeted my car, kept pulling me over, kept searching the car and drug testing me.”
Zammitt kept coming up negative, but on two occasions three weeks apart, he returned two positive tests. He ended up going to court for those matters and, at the time, owned a private security company. Because of the roadside positive test, his license to employ security guards was revoked, causing him to close the company instantly.
“I wasn’t allowed to profit from anything industry-related,” Zammitt said. “It was iffy as to if I would even be legally allowed to sell the company I owned.”
But once he went to court, his driver’s license remained intact.
“They allowed me to keep driving on the roads, so I feel the police task force was trying to target some of my financial income to try and hinder the activism we’re doing,” Zammitt said.
“Obviously, they were targeting me, and they specifically went about it in that way to take my company off me, but there’ve been plenty of other people who have had consequences similar to mine just because they’ve been driving with their medication present in their system.”
This could mean that weed might still show in one’s system two weeks after initial consumption—depending on one’s metabolism. Thus, the work of “Who Are We Hurting?” aims to fix these holes at the highest levels of government and help people not live in fear of criminal prosecution for weed consumption.
Haters may ask, “Why publicity stunts? Why not print pamphlets and canvass around?”
“We do the stunts because we do what we know,” Zammitt said. “Rather than handing a pamphlet to one person who walks by who will probably throw it away, we would rather put a bit of effort into a stunt that could reach national or global news and get us in conversation with organizations like High Times Magazine and other mainstream media outlets.”
“Who Are We Hurting?” wants to push the doctors, scientists, and politicians to comment on legalization and do cross-over interviews with them to convert the nonbelievers and reverse the stigma.
“We do what we do to make the most amount of impact possible,” Stolk said. “When we do these stunts, we try to get people to talk about the elephant in the room, which is obviously ‘Who are we hurting?’ and the impact of these draconian drug laws.”
For Stolk and Zammitt, stunts make it possible to do something highly visible to push their message in ways that do not negatively impact the public.
“We don’t want to be going out there blocking major highways saying, ‘We want to make cannabis legal,’ because even people who smoke might be stuck in that traffic trying to get to work or trying to get their kids to school,” Zammitt said.
In other words, Stolk and Zammitt aim to be disruptive, but not in a way that pisses people off.
“We want people to resonate with our cause, but we don’t want to cause any conflict in society,” Stolk said. “I think the majority of people would agree that cannabis is safer than cigarettes or alcohol, can be used in both a medical and recreational way, and if we’re not driving impaired, we’re not really hurting anybody.”
Zammitt echoed similar sentiments.
“We’re not against the police, either,” he said. “There are a lot of police on our side and a lot of police who have family members in Australia who are prescribed medicinal cannabis. I feel like it’s just a few politicians and corporate folks who are pissed off and don’t want to see these changes go through. But we’ll play their game, we’ll keep lobbying, we’ll keep stirring the pot and I think we’ll see a lot of change moving forward.” (Full Story)