Alec Zammitt and Will Stolk are easily two of the most visible cannabis legalisation activists in the country. Their approach to activism can only be described as part protest, part prank, and part publicity stunt. The duo are proponents of the “Who Are We Hurting?” campaign, which aims to reform cannabis laws in NSW, particularly in regards to medicinal patients and drug driving. Over the years, they have participated in many colourful demonstrations, and their most visible protest so far has managed to land them in legal trouble.
Protesting current cannabis laws draws significant police attention at the best of times, but their 4/20 protest as part of “Who Are We Hurting?” back in 2022 put them immediately in the crosshairs of the NSW Police. In the early hours of April 20th, Zammitt and Stolk projected multiple images of cannabis and pro-legalisation messages onto the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge using a high-powered laser projector.
Police raided the hotel suite where they were located and charged the pair under Section 9 (g) of the Sydney Opera House Trust By-Law 2021 (NSW), which prohibits the display of advertisements on the Sydney Opera house. Breaching the law is a criminal offence that carries a maximum fine of $1100.
The pair plead not guilty to the charges and have spent the past 16 months on bail. They fronted court for the fourth time over the offence on August 29th at Sydney’s Downing Centre Local Court and managed to secure some promising progress in their fight.
Police alleged that the projections constituted a display of advertising, which the Zammitt and Stolk have vehemently denied. Magistrate Daniel Reiss reviewed the evidence collected by the prosecution for the charges during the hearing and ruled that it was inadmissible.
The prosecution requested a two week extension to gather more evidence, which was granted by the magistrate. While Zammitt and Stolk have remaining court dates to attend, they noted that it was dubious that the prosecution would find more evidence in the next fortnight.
“The prosecution has requested an extension of another two weeks in order to try and gather new evidence, which obviously they haven’t already done in the past 16 months,” said Zamitt when speaking to Paul Gregoire from Sydney Criminal Lawyers.
“Based on the case yesterday, I feel it went really well. I consider it a win. But obviously, the war is not over, and we still have future dates to attend,” he added.
The magistrate’s findings are quite significant considering it was high-ranking NSW police officer, chief inspector Gary Coffey, who brought the charges against Zammitt and Stolk. Sydney Criminal Lawyers, who represented the pair, questioned the reasoning behind the Coffey’s involvement.
Senior associate James Clements required that Coffey appear in court during the proceedings and the NSW Police responded by threatening to bill the firm with an application of costs for his presence. Sydney Criminal Lawyers responded that if Coffey was not willing to appear in court, then the police force should not have used him to bring charges against Zammit and Stolk.
The ongoing court case has not slowed the duo’s dedication to the cause of legalisation. This year, they participated in two further demonstrations alongside recently elected Legalise Cannabis Party MP Jeremy Buckingham.
Their first demonstration in 2023 involved driving around on 4/20 in a fleet of repurposed military vehicles to protest current drug driving laws that prohibit medical marijuana patients from driving. Their second demonstration this year involved taking a fake cannabis plant into NSW Parliament House to place on Buckingham’s office balcony.
When asked about their continued use of highly elaborate displays and props in their demonstrations as opposed to traditional protest methods, Stolk was emphatic that their approach works.
“Protest marches don’t have the same epic impact. The whole reason that we do what we do is that we want to get people talking about change.
“If you look at what has changed over the last eight years that we have been doing these stunts, you can see that the general kind of take on what cannabis is has evolved in Australia. It is a lot more mainstream and accepted.
“We do it for the thrill and the impact that it makes. We like to make people laugh. We like to make people think, and this is a really good and effective way of causing social change.
“Word of mouth is underrated,” he said.
Here at FAB, we are all hoping that the court case has a satisfactory resolution for our friends soon so that they can get back what they do best.