The 2016 Olympics In Rio de Janeiro doesn't officially start until August, but an Olympic-inspired event is already underway in the eastern United States. On April 14, members of the East Coast Cannabis Coalition (ECCC) began passing the "Unity Torch" (an Olympic-style firebrand shaped like a joint) around the eastern U.S. as part of the Unity Cypher March. The event to raise awareness about 2016's slate of initiatives to legalize recreational marijuana use in states like Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont and elsewhere.
Here's the torch:
After being lit for the first time in Portland, Maine, the torch will be passed along at advocacy events in different states as it slowly heads toward its final destination in Miami, Florida. Key events include the blessing of the torch at The Healing Church - a cannabis church in Providence, Rhode Island on April 17, and an appearance at the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Narcotic Drugs (UNGASS) on April 19.
A secondary goal of the campaign is to bring activists together. Kevin Cranford - the Deputy Director of Maryland NORML and creator of Unity Cypher - told Civilized that there is a lack of unity among groups.
"In Maryland alone there can be a lot of infighting, frustration and burnout because a lot of us do this for free out of passion to legalize this substance."
So he hopes that passing the torch will also give some an opportunity to bury the hatchet.
"This is an opportunity to remind us that the issue is bigger than ourselves," he added. Cranford also hopes that the event will help activists network.
"It's one thing not to like each other, but it's another not to know about each other," he said. "Some states don't know who the other groups are or what they're doing. The policy is better served by coming together."
Activists need to work together in order to make progress. So far, no eastern states have legalized recreational marijuana use. When asked why legalization is more of a western American movement, Cranford said there it's because ballot initiatives are more of an accepted practice.
"The wild west has different ways to make laws. We can't do ballot initiatives in every state, so that's been holding us up," he said. "It takes people coming together out here. It's not as simple as putting together a ballot initiative. If it were it'd be legal everywhere."
If you're in the area, you can check the ECC's Facebook page to find out when the torch will be near you.