MARIJUANA VENTURE MAGAZINE- AUSTRALIAN ACTIVISTS FIGHT FINES FOR PUBLICITY STUNT: ‘IT IS ENTIRELY A VICTIMLESS CRIME’
Jan 28, 2024
THIS ARTICLE ORIGINALLY FEATURED ON MARIJUANA VENTURE MAGAZINE'S WEBSITE:
Nearly two years ago, cannabis activists Will Stolk and Alec Zammitt were arrested at a hotel room in Sydney, Australia. Their alleged crime? Shining a laser image on the exterior of the world-famous Sydney Opera House on April 20, 2022, promoting the legalization of cannabis and the phrase “Who Are We Hurting?”
The lasers did no permanent damage to the opera house, nor, in fact, did they promote a specific product or commercial enterprise. A cannabis leaf, a couple basic graphics, a large 420 — and that was about it.
Yet, Stolk and Zammitt were booked on charges related to distributing advertising, and today, they continue fighting in court over the “victimless crime” that could carry an $1,100 penalty, but more importantly threatens the fundamental right to protest.
Marijuana Venture: What is the latest news on your court cases and repercussions from your various activist efforts?
Will Stolk: We have spent the last 20 months on bail for having a sense of humor, along with being passionate about the legalization of the fairly innocuous plant and actively doing something interesting about it.
A little over 10% of the entire nation of Australia regularly uses pot annually, according to statistics, so we are sticking up for the good of the common man. We are going to court again for the fifth time on February 9, for what is at most a $1,100 AUD fine. The police are trying to make an example out of us for protesting, and we aren’t the only ones currently being fucked with by the New South Wales Police; there have been many instances over the past few years where they have thrown the book at climate protestors, anti-lock-down protesters, and anyone else who goes against the agenda of the state. We stand up for our rights and for our constitutional right to protest.
Alec Zammitt: It’s the gift that keeps on giving. We have amplified our message, and our sentiments have been echoed on the ballot papers now that Australia has four elected members of parliament. The original legislation reform proposition that we were supporting at the time didn’t make it through; however, the opposition politicians are starting to realize they’re asleep at the wheel, pun intended.
After more than a year between the projection night and our day in court, the prosecution still had no evidence to support the fine they had issued against us. The judge allowed them one more future date to collect new evidence due to the reasoning that the officer in charge is a senior, respected officer. In my opinion, this should have been more reason to throw it out. If an officer of such level of experience can’t make the fine stick after having so long to prepare a case, is the fine plausible?
Marijuana Venture: Talk more about what happened when you projected art onto the Sydney Opera House. It seems like a victimless crime.
Stolk: It is entirely a victimless crime. We truly believe that cannabis is the god plant and was given to us from heaven and we have a God-given right to consume it as we see fit without the ramifications of legal action.
The opera house stunt was another example of this, and we took it upon ourselves to do something a little thought-provoking and overall funny … on what the former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said was the biggest billboard Australia has, the Sydney Opera House. But as you suggested, it was a victimless crime; we didn’t spray graffiti or anything like the famous “NO WAR” guys did, and we left no mark on the amazing landmark. All they had to do was tell us to turn it off, but, no, they wanted to arrest us and make examples out of us. To be honest, it’s all turned into a huge pain in the ass but this goes with the territory when you are campaigning for a change I guess.
Every single major movement of the 20th century that had a major involvement in progressing society was met with hostility by police and the establishment trying to hold the people back. It just goes with the territory.
Zammitt: Not much happened. We projected for almost an hour, from 4:20 a.m. until the Opera House turned its lights on in an effort to drain out our imagery. A heap of the crew went home to catch up on some well-deserved rest and we got on with distributing the press releases and processing the media in the hotel room. One of the ladies in the room saw police officers in the hotel reception from our room balcony, so we eagerly awaited the heavy knock on the door.
MV: Why fight the charges rather than pay the fine and be done with it? I’m guessing lawyers’ fees will add up to more than the fines themselves.
Zammitt: The charges have more holes than Swiss cheese, and we can’t let the rats win. I guess it’s principle, that the fines should never have been issued in the first place. If we just copped it sweet, that would encourage more of this absolutely disgraceful behavior on behalf of a small handful of politicians and other people in positions of authority. They are turning society against them and disgracing their colleagues, it’s just not right.
Stolk: Simply because we believe it’s our god-given right to protest, and we didn’t impact the building in any permanent way. The goal was to raise awareness about the unjust cannabis laws in Australia and around the world; the fact that we got arrested and are fighting back further shows the establishment and the public our commitment to our goal of changing these unjust laws that affect copious amounts of the community in negative ways. The illicit drug trade all over the world is worth billions of dollars. We believe that cannabis should be recreationally available like it is in Canada, California, Colorado and a plethora of other states in the United States. We believe this would reduce organized crime in Australia, and we believe that, as in a lot of these legalized states and countries, the yearly tax excise on recreational cannabis could be used for better roads, schools and hospitals, as well as for drug rehabilitation programs for harder drugs or youth consumption. The War on Drugs has been going on for over 80 years and it has failed miserably. Now, in the 21st century, we must learn from history or be doomed to repeat it. We need to move forward into a society where people enjoy the freedom of choice and one of those choices should be the ability to grow and purchase recreational cannabis.
MV: What is your ultimate goal with these publicity stunts? Do you think that goal is achievable?
Stolk: Our ultimate goal is the full recreational legalization of cannabis worldwide, and the right to grow it in your own house for your own consumption. Secondly, we would like a commercial market to be established in Australia in the way it is in California or Colorado, where a cannabis industry can be established in the medical, recreational, cultivation and agricultural spaces, all taxed and monitored by the government, and then we would like to see the earned tax used to better society. This has worked in the past in many U.S. states and is working quite well in Canada.
Numerous European countries are moving toward cannabis legalization but are being held back by outdated EU and UN drug policies which have been created by the pharmaceutical industry to stifle the potential cannabis markets and bolster their profits. These companies usually don’t care about the health or wellbeing of the world’s populations; all they care about is profits, and natural medicines like cannabis pose a threat to those profits — as seen time and time again, such as in “The Pharmacist” documentary or “Painkiller” series on Netflix.
Zammitt: Slowly but surely, we are already winning. When we started, we didn’t have medicinal and it looks like the Australian states are starting to fix the driving legislation that prohibits you from operating a motor vehicle while THC is present in your system, as studies and statistics do not support claims that this legislation improves road safety.
Beyond fixing the driving legislation and allowing people to grow their own medicine, I want to see convictions expunged from records and the release of people incarcerated for cannabis-related “crimes.” This is only fair: the politicians had it wrong and we wouldn’t want the public to think people are being punished for going against the government, as opposed to doing something that is actually bad for society.
MV: What’s standing in the way? Outdated stigmas? Big business interests? Biased politicians? All of the above?
Stolk: I personally think it is all of the above: biased politicians, big pharmaceutical interests, quasi-conservative god-bothering people stuck in the 1950s mentality. So many different things hold Australia and certain countries back from the utopian societies we could and should be living in the 21st century. Unfortunately, greed runs the world!
Cannabis provides natural solutions to a lot of ailments that pharmaceutical companies make billions from; they provide synthetic preventative medicines, which in many cases aren’t as effective as cannabis-derived treatments. While medical cannabis is available in Australia, this is only the tip of the iceberg. We the people need to stand up to our elected officials and tell them that we want change! Not tomorrow, not next month, not next year, but NOW!
Zammitt: The opposition and naysayers are few and far between and based on statistics. The majority of Australians want this fixed, and we are seeing change on the ballot papers and in the attitude of all Aussies.
MV: Is anything specific planned for 2024?
Stolk: In February we will be attending court for the fifth time, so hopefully that goes well. Then I will be doing my first round of raising money for our next steps into the international expansion of our cannabis companies and interests. We will then aim to do a second round of fundraising in the middle of the year. In March, we are planning on attending Spannabis in Spain, then back to Australia for our annual 4/20 protests, which we are planning on making the biggest one ever.
After that, we will see what transpires. We have a lot of different international projects in the pipeline and are working on some other secret projects that we are currently not at liberty to discuss.
Zammitt: Apart from court, nothing specific. A feature-length documentary is in the pipeline, and my crew are going to start engaging in more film and television entertainment productions, plus a few art gallery exhibitions. Apart from that, we’re just going to keep doing the do. I love what I do across the board, including for commercial clients, so I don’t see that changing any time soon.
MV: Tell me more about your company and how you came into the cannabis space.
Stolk: Yeah, we’ve started a holding company called Byron Bay Bio, and we’ve invested in a recreational cannabis dispensary at the entrance to Yosemite National Park in a town called Lee Vining, California. Our dispensary is called Tioga Green Cannabis. We have a fully operational cannabis dispensary, and we have recently launched a cannabis flower brand called Phenohunts, which is currently stocked in about 10 different dispensaries in California.
We recently launched our own CBD brand into the international market called Byron Bay CBD and have also invested in a pharmaceutical manufacturing facility in Florida that makes all sorts of CBD and hemp-derived products. I originally got into the cannabis space via being a professional athlete; I formerly was a professional big mountain and freestyle skier, and I used to get paid to travel around the world and do photo shoots and film for movies and TV shows and compete in freeride competitions.
This indirectly led me down a path into the media space, where I started a magazine called Apollo with two friends, which ended up being Australia’s largest independent men’s magazine. After that, I did an online site called Ballin’ on a Budget and then my Facebook fan page with over 1 million likes got deleted because of cannabis content.
I pivoted and an opportunity arose for us, and we took the plunge; fast forward three and a half years, and we are now about to do our first money raise and expand the business worldwide. It
has been an interesting journey as I have not been able to travel, first because of COVID-19 for over two years, and now I have been on bail for the opera house stunt, which prevents me from traveling. All of our cannabis investments and businesses currently are North American-based. I am very much looking forward to getting on a plane and going to see my friends and family overseas, and to go ski in some real mountains again. I have been stuck on this island in Australia for just over three years now, and even though it is a beautiful place, I am very much looking forward to going back on some overseas trips. We have many things to accomplish this year and the majority, at least for me, is European and North American based.
Zammitt: In my youth, I was a graffiti artist. As I grew, I started working as a publicist and coordinator of guerrilla marketing activations. I currently direct a company that specializes in this for any beneficiary that fits with our vision. My team and I were victimized by poor cannabis legislation in Australia, so we took what we knew and applied it. Things have organically grown from there and we have seen great success.
My company is not cannabis specific although we have become quite well-known service providers in the cannabis industry worldwide.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.