Activists march through Harriet Island Regional Park on Sunday afternoon

The sounds of chants and the smell of cannabis filled the air Sunday afternoon as legalization supporters throughout the state gathered at the Harriet Island Park in St. Paul. The purpose was an annual boat ride, dubbed “Loud on the River”, and a march to raise awareness for cannabis legalization in the state. While origins of the nautical protest date back to a group of activists in Minnesota some 20 or 30 years ago, the current incarnation is in its fifth year. This year was the first to include a march.

Before setting sail, activists paraded across the Wabasha Street Bridge led by a group of Lime scooters donning legalization flags. The route itself was 4.20 kilometers in total, a “Stoner 4K”, as described by one of the organizers of the event. Activists chanted “What do we want?” “Legal Weed” “When do we want it?” “Now!” One person screened “Yesterday!” When asked was they was smoking, one person responded “just some CBD grown in Minnesota.”

One of many Lime scooters with a cannabis-related flag attached with zip ties

Each year that this event takes place, the numbers grow and Michael Ford, Executive Director of Minnesota NORML, says that it’s indicative of a growth in the numbers of supporters for drug policy reform in the state. “The legalization movement has been building,” explained Ford, “it’s just been getting bigger and bigger every single year.”

Due in part to the work from “kickass” (per Ford’s description) volunteers, Minnesota looks to be on the verge of legalization after legislation was introduced at the tail end of last session. A Star Tribune/MPR News Poll found that 51% of Minnesotans in February were in support of legalization, and the voters of Minnesota bestowed major party status on not one, but two cannabis political parties in 2018. “We’re trying to build as much support as we can,” said Ford, who was one of the cannabis candidates to run for office during the historical 2018 election.

As most things these days, this year’s event was impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Last year’s attendance exceeded 400 while the ride on Sunday was capped at 250, less than 50% capacity. Despite the virus, tickets sold out before the day of the event. Activists were required to wear a mask while boarding the boat, and participants were encouraged to maintain social distance while navigating the Mississippi River. Participants who partook in the “loud” portion of the event were also asked to not pass on the left hand side, a break from normal etiquette.

A video of march, shared by the Minnesota Campaign for Full Legalization, can be viewed here: