July Protest: UK Hemp Activists Big Plant Out, By Che Capri

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This summer, there are likely to be numerous sightings of hemp plants once more  as parks, roundabouts and suburban gardens are targeted as a mass gardening civil disobedience gets underway this summer.

Sunday July 19th may go down in history as the date when hemp kick started the fight for its right to grow free in the UK! On that day, activists all over the country will participate in a Seed the Future protest that combines public demonstrations in major cities and private acts of guerrilla gardening around the country. The aim of this campaign is to publicise the legal plight of the hemp plant in the UK and bring this most demonised of weeds to the attention of a mainstream audience.

The rebellion has already begun…. As Britain hunkered down behind locked doors for 100 days, Seed the Future was busy, well, laying the seed. The group has sent out 100 kilos of hempseed (organic and, with less than 0.2% THC, non-psychoactive and EU compliant) to activist networks around the UK and Ireland. Potentially that’s over a million hemp plants which could be popping up literally left, right and centre over the next couple of months.

One of the group’s spokespersons, Guy Coxall, says that while the protest is hemp focused, it has garnered support from across the cannabis community and beyond. “What we’ve found is that this plant unites many different groups and we are getting support from a coalition of interests who want to see a change to cannabis legislation.”

These include hemp advocates, CBD medical users and cannabis activists but also members of Extinction Rebellion, due to the positive environmental contribution the crop could bring and Black Lives Matter (the link between race and prohibition is well documented – around 75% of cannabis convictions in the UK involve members of the BAME community). The civil disobedience methodology behind the recent success of protests by the likes of these groups has influenced the format of the upcoming Seed the Future action.

Word of the July 19th action (‘Amnesty Day’) has spread on social media and members of the group have been busy preparing by growing hemp plants ready for transplanting in public spaces. This July’s planting is likely to be the biggest mass guerrilla sowing of cannabis seed since the Feed the Birds campaign in 2014 which targeted central London flowerbeds and politicians’ gardens. “It’s been amazing!” says Guy. “We have had so many photos shared by members who’ve been growing their hemp plants. In that respect, lockdown was very productive as people had the time to devote to nurturing their seeds. We’ve got a lot of people who are new to gardening and it has been great to see a little community develop with people sharing knowledge, tips and photos of their efforts.

The plan is to plant these out this month, but we’ve already heard about some of these seedlings and plants being spotted by neighbours (hemp grows tall and very quickly). Fortunately, we haven’t heard about anyone being reported. On the contrary, the comments we’ve seen have all been really positive – people admiring them as plants and interested to find out more. Already there are conversations taking place about hemp and that’s encouraging.”

In regards to the public protests planned for July 19th, Covid and lockdown restrictions have caused more disruption on the organisational front. “The situation has been confusing,” Guy admits. “And we had to shift the date because of lockdown. Boris (Johnson) has said people have a right to protest as long as social distancing is respected and we will be following this as our guideline. We have already advised more vulnerable members, such as medical cannabis patients, to stay away and contribute from home.”

Guy is keen to stress that safety is paramount, not just in terms of Covid, but participant well being when it comes to turning up in a public space with a pre-grown cannabis plant. It may well be non-psychoactive, but a hemp plant is illegal nonetheless, and while the hope is that this will be taken into consideration there is no accounting for the reaction of local police, for whom all cannabis plants tend to look the same.

“Yes there is obviously a risk, but if people do get arrested, we hope they’ll refuse a caution and challenge the law,” says Guy. To mitigate that risk, the protest format is many faceted with suggested optional activities beyond the planned city protests. These include acts of guerrilla growing in public places, calling the police (101 service) to confess one’s crime of illegally growing a hemp plant from seed, or simply sharing photos of hemp plants people have grown across social media platforms to stimulate debate.

Seed The Future is already looking beyond the July action. “We really are committed to challenging the legal status of hemp and the cannabis plant in general in the UK,” says Guy. “Prohibition has been going on for eighty years with an impact on lives, health and the environment. Now, more than ever we need this plant. The only way to change the current situation is to stand tall and mobilise public opinion through action that shows how ridiculous the legal situation is.”

Public protests are planned in cities across the UK including London, Cardiff, Belfast, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Bristol, Exeter and Newcastle. Activists plans include education and hemp product stands and information, the distribution of seeds for people to plant after the event, theatrical shenanigans and, in one case, the planned demonstration of a diesel engine powered on hemp diesel.

For a full list of cities and details of activities, visit the Seed The Future website or find the group on social media.

Written By Che Capri

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