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Australian Activists Face Charges for 4/20 Sydney Opera House Projection Protest

Australia’s two most prominent landmark, the Sydney Opera House is facing criminal prosecution for displaying pro-cannabis messages. The activists, Alec Zammitt and Will Stolk, projected a dancing pot leaf and other images on the famed venue on April 20, 2022, timing their protest against the continued prohibition of marijuana in Australia to coincide with the cannabis community’s 4/20 high holiday.

Zammitt, who had done a trial of the protest a month earlier than the actual 4/20 demonstration, projected images onto the Sydney Opera House using the Park Hyatt Hotel. The location affords stunning views of Sydney Harbour Bridge and iconic landmark Sydney Opera House. 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.

Police detectives contacted Zammitt and visited him at his house the next day for 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. 

4/20 Demonstration Stopped by the Police

Zammitt, Stolk and others returned to the Park Hyatt Hotel in the early hours of April 20. They freely admitted to their actions and used laser projectors again to project pro-cannabis images onto Sydney Opera House, Sydney Harbor Bridge. However, authorities shut down the protest soon thereafter.

“The police ended up raiding the hotel suite where the projectors were set up. They issued me with an offense relating to the month prior as well as a new offense for the 4/20 projections,” Zammitt wrote in an email to Chronic News. “They also charged Will with the same offense under section 9 G of the Opera House Trust By-Laws.”

Zammitt went on to explain that the offense relates to “Distribution of advertisement etc. on Opera House Premises,” noting that there is similar legislation relating to the Sydney Harbour Bridge, on which the activists also projected pro-cannabis messages. However, the police are not pursuing charges for that portion of the protest.

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. 

After being informed by the activists’ legal counsel that they would bring constitutional challenges to the charges against them, prosecutors changed their approach and agreed that rather than a commercial advertisement, Zammitt and Stolk’s actions were a political protest. They are continuing proceedings, and they require the pair to defend their Constitutional rights in court.

Next Week: Activists to Appear in Court

On January 31, 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. The matter will go to a constitutional hearing if the attorney general does not support the defense.

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. Zammitt hopes the court proceedings bring attention to the continued prohibition of cannabis in Australia and amplify their “Who are we hurting?” message. The attorney Zammitt retained is an expert in constitutional defenses related political expression.

Stolk said he is tempted to pay the fine and be finished with the matter, but the case’s constitutional implications and his desire to continue spreading a pro-cannabis message keep him in the fight.

“We did this for a reason, and the reason was to firmly express our opinion and political belief that we should legally be allowed to consume and sell recreational cannabis just like we do alcohol and just like our brothers and sisters get to do in numerous legal states in the USA, in countries like Canada, Holland and Thailand, and soon even Germany,” Stolk wrote in an email. “We believe that the current Australian laws are stuck in the 1800s and we believe that it’s our constitutional right to be able to protest and express our political opinions.”

The protest was sparked by the wish of many Australians that they could smoke marijuana without being retaliated against. It is also a matter for personal freedom. His grandfather, who spent five years as a Nazi POW in Nazi concentration camps during World War II, fought for it.

“I personally feel that if we give these corrupt politicians an inch they will take a mile,” Stolk asserts. “So as we are now in the position to take one for the team and stand up for our constitutional rights I think that no matter what the outcome it’s our duty as Australians to defend our freedoms that our ancestors fought so hard to protect.”