When Westboro Baptist Church, the unaffiliated religious organization often described as a hate group, announced plans to picket the “pot-smoking, filthy Colorado pervs,” counter-protesters began mobilizing efforts and preparing for the big day.
In freezing temperatures and falling snow, Westboro Baptist met it’s match with this peaceful bunch in Pueblo, Colorado, as the pro-cannabis advocates easily out-protested the extremist group known for such taglines as #godhates420 (among others that are too disgusting to write here).
Marisol Therapeutics in Pueblo West was the first dispensary on the list to be picketed in the afternoon. When asked if they were prepared to be picketed, Krista, a Marisol employee said over the phone,
“Oh yes, there will probably be more of us than there are of them.”
Marisol was definitely prepared, as the dispensary went to great lengths to ensure the safety of their customers and community supporters alike. A team of contracted security guards were present in the dispensary parking lot, and nearly ten Pueblo police officers were also surrounding the area outside of the parking lot.
Minutes leading up to the arrival of the unwanted guests, Mike, Marisol’s owner, checked in with the independent security team before heading inside, saying, “We are expecting quite a turnout of counter protesters today.” Mike was most concerned with business being able to operate as usual, however, and did not want a single customer to have to feel uncomfortable or unsafe coming to the store.
Once the six members of the Westboro Baptist Church unloaded on one side of the street, the group of nearly five times that amount of counter-protesters lined up on the other side. Pueblo police officers stood in the middle to keep people out of the street, and probably to keep a safe distance between groups.
The counter-protesters were not all locals in the small town community of Pueblo. Many traveled distances to be there for a chance to ask members of Westboro why they have so much hate, and to point out that there are just as many biblical scriptures that may be interpreted as support for marijuana use.
At least one marijuana advocate in the group, Mimi Friedman, is a cannabis refugee from Ohio. She was being treated, unsuccessfully, for multiple debilitating medical conditions at the Cleveland Clinic before she moved to Colorado for safe access to cannabis therapy. Friedman did not experience any symptom relief until she began using medicinal marijuana, and is offended by Westboro Baptist’s attack on her medicine. In the photograph below, Friedman is holding a sign that says, “cannabis survivor,” while chanting “cannabis saves lives” with fellow supporters.
Some counter-protesters exercised the right to use humor by passing out giant ‘joints’ crafted out of paper and marker, and ‘bags of weed’ constructed out of plastic baggies and construction paper. There were also some shouting things like, “Can you smell my sack [of marijuana]?!”
Several marijuana supporters also wore costumes to draw attention. One such counter-protester, Heather Petersen (below, left), when asked what message she wanted to send today, explained,
“I am tired of Westboro spreading so much hate. They give organized religion a bad name.”
Heather’s friend (below, right), was inspired to make her first ever legal marijuana purchase to spite the Westboro Baptist. The sign she is holding reads,
“Came to hang with Westboro folks and made my first ever weed purchase from a dispensary. Thanks WBC, you just promoted legal drug use!”
Two different dispensaries were supposed to be protested in Pueblo, Colorado, according to the picket schedule. The second dispensary stop on the picketing tour was to be Pueblo West Organics, but Westboro Baptist never showed. During a morning phone conversation with Deanna at Pueblo West Organics, when asked how they planned to handle the attention, she stated,
“We are not preparing anything for the day because we heard may have been taken off the schedule.”
The second stop possibly being removed from the schedule did not stop most of the pro-marijuana protesters from driving less than 2 miles to Pueblo West Organics, just in case. The group gathered outside of the dispensary like an offensive-line protecting the quarterback.
While the messages were being shared were different, the American right to freedom of speech was exercised just the same. The marijuana policy reform movement is a new one for the history books, and it is exciting to see so many people willing to step out from the shadows to stand up for something in which they believe.
The photos below were all taken during the Westboro Baptist picketing event.
Above is Amber Dawn and Traemon McCabe of “Its a Trade Thing.”
Above is Jon Brown.