State Withdraws Cannabis Event Permit after 300 Facebook RSVPs
(APN) ATLANTA — The State’s Georgia Building Authority (GBA) cancelled a permit for three groups to hold a pro-cannabis, or pro-marijuana, rally, earlier this month, after more than three hundred people “RSVP’d” on Facebook.
The problem with this–as most people who have organized an event using Facebook are likely well aware–is that, typically, few of the people who RSVP for a Facebook event, if any, actually show up for said event.
The Facebook event page appears to be no longer operational, according to a search by Atlanta Progressive News, and according to Tom McCain, Executive Director of Peachtree NORML (National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws).
A coalition of three groups–Peachtree NORML; Georgia Campaign for Access, Reform, and Education (Georgia CARE); and One Plant–organized an all-day cannabis lobbying event at the State Capitol, with lobby training, plans to lobby elected officials, a march around the Capitol, and a rally at Liberty Plaza to take place on February 01, 2018.
Peachtree NORML put in for a permit for approximately fifty people – the number they expected, and the number of those who actually, in fact, showed up.
However, two days before the event, the GBA notified them that their permit was cancelled because their Facebook event page had showed about over three hundred people who had clicked to attend the event.
An approximate additional three thousand people from all over the U.S. marked themselves as “Interested” in the event, according to McCain, although “Interested” is even less committal than a social media RSVP.
Dean Sines, Deputy Director of Peachtree NORML, said the GBA told him the permit was suspended after they received a call from the Atlanta Police Department (APD), who asked the Capitol police if they wanted help with crowd control because there was supposed to be a rally of six hundred people.
It is not immediately clear from where the figure of six hundred came.
“Normally in these events we have forty to sixty people to show up. They looked at our Facebook and saw about 357 people who clicked on our Facebook that said they were going; and decided they could not provide security for that many people,” Mr. McCain told APN.
APN inquired of the GBA whether it was standard procedure for them to cancel a permit based on a number of social media RSVP’s.
“We don’t take those numbers (Facebook) as written in stone. It’s standard procedure of GBA to investigate if they have any information from any source that is not in accord with the application that has been submitted, then it our procedure to question the application,” Cinday Presto, Director of Legal Services at GBA, told APN.
Presto told APN that based upon information GBA received from APD, that there would be a greater number of people in attendance, and that raised security concerns for the Department of Public Security, and sanitation concerns for GBA.
As expected by the organizers, only about fifty people showed up for the lobbying and rally day–despite the lack of permit issued–and not the hoards of six hundred people that APD had mysteriously estimated. The participants were able to conduct their lobbying activities; however, were not able to hold the rally with speakers at Liberty Plaza.
Generally, organizations expect–in the best case scenario–that only ten to twenty percent of people who say they will attend an event on Facebook, will actually show up.
“A lot of people spent a lot of time and effort to pull this together and it was unfair to them and the people that want to support this event,” State Sen. Michael Williams (R-Cummings), one of the planned speakers that day and a candidate for Governor, told APN.
Some of the other prominent speakers who would have spoken at the rally, if it had not been cancelled two days prior to the event, included Juan Parks, candidate for U.S. House for Georgia’s 4th District; State Sen. Curt Thomson (D-Tucker), sponsor of SB 105 to decriminalize simple possession of cannabis; gubernatorial candidate Mark Alan Urbach; attorney Gerald Griggs of the NAACP of Georgia; Sebastian Cotte, Plaintiff in a federal lawsuit; “Homegrown Outlaw” Bobby Thornton; Stanley Atkins, a CannaMedic; and numerous medical cannabis patients.
FACEBOOK COMMENTS ON GOVERNMENT PAGES PROTECTED BY FIRST AMENDMENT
This is not the first issue in recent months between law enforcement and cannabis advocates in Georgia involving Facebook.
Last year, in 2017, McCain, a retired Peace Officer and veteran, was monitoring the various law enforcement Facebook pages from across Georgia, where they often post about “marijuana” busts and brag about how many pounds they got and how many people they arrested.
McCain posted dissenting comments on their Facebook pages, but government officials deleted the comments.
McCain contacted the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Georgia, because these were official government pages, such that the comments are protected by the First Amendment right to petition one’s government for a redress of grievances.
The ACLU of Georgia sent letters to two county sheriff’s offices and chastised them that they cannot delete citizens’ comments without violating First Amendment rights.
“An alert went out to all the Georgia Sheriffs and all those sheriffs know about it and I think that upset some folks. I’m not saying the reason they snatched the permit,” McCall said.
(END / Copyright Atlanta Progressive News / 2018)