Cannabis Activists Face Charges For lluminating Sydney Opera House
Two cannabis activists projected cannabis art onto Australia's Sydney Opera House on 4/20 last year, and next week they will go to court to face charges. But isn't this protest constitutionally protected as political expression?
On April 20th, 2022, two activists in Australia, Alec Zammitt and Will Stolk, gained criminal charges for projecting pro-cannabis messages onto the Sydney Opera House. The activists timed their protest to coincide with the cannabis community's 4/20 high holiday, a day which advocates for the legalisation of cannabis use.
A month before the demonstration, Zammitt had conducted a trial run of the protest by projecting images onto the Sydney Opera House from the Park Hyatt Hotel. The images, which left no permanent mark on the structure, included cannabis leaves and the numeral 420, among others, and the phrase “Who are we hurting?” a primary theme of the activists’ protest.
Zammitt was contacted by police detectives who visited his home the following day to conduct an interview. Before concluding the interview, the detectives told him that they were not sure if what he had done was an offense and said they would seek internal legal advice and contact him after a day’s time. When that didn’t happen, the activists believed they were in the clear and planned their next demonstration for 4/20.
On April 20th, the activists again used laser projectors to project pro-cannabis imagery onto the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbor Bridge. However, the protest was shut down by the authorities. Zammitt and Stolk were issued with offences relating to "Distribution of advertisement etc. on Opera House Premises."
Stolk and Zammitt are fighting the charges against them, arguing that their actions did not constitute a commercial advertisement but were instead a constitutionally protected protest of Australia’s prohibition of cannabis and a message of support for reform legislation being debated in the New South Wales (NSW) Parliament.
On January 31st, Stolk and Zammitt face a hearing in the case, where the NSW attorney general’s office will indicate if it will oppose the activists’ defense based on political expression or communication. If the attorney general oppose the defense, the matter will be set for a constitutional hearing.
If the case goes to trial and the activists are convicted of the charges against them, Stolk faces a fine of up to $1,100, while Zammitt’s penalty could be twice that due to the second charge for the trial run. The activists hope the court proceedings bring attention to the continued prohibition of cannabis in Australia and amplify their “Who are we hurting?” message. They also hope that prosecutors will drop the charges before the case goes to the Australian High Court.