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Pro-marijuana billboard becoming a selfie hotspot for the NORML crowd

The new Marijuana March billboard that DFW NORML put up, between Lancaster and Rosedale along I-35.
The new Marijuana March billboard that DFW NORML put up, between Lancaster and Rosedale along I-35. Star-Telegram

A new selfie spot went up this week, for people of a certain mindset. It’s real high up there, just off I-35 between Lancaster Ave. and West Rosedale St.

It isn’t the most scenic view in town, to be sure. The background may feature grayish-brown buildings and sidewalks with grass growing in the cracks, but while beauty isn’t necessarily the point for these selfie-takers, framing and scenery certainly still are.

That’s because they’re coming to snap a photo with a billboard that went up in the area Monday, promoting this year’s Marijuana March of North Texas. The event is Fort Worth’s iteration of the Global Marijuana March, which has taken place annually since 1999 and has spread to more than 300 cities worldwide.

Lonnie Gonzales, a tattoo artist who has lived in Fort Worth for 23 years, was one of the first to stop by Tuesday afternoon and get his photo snapped in front of the sign, fingers pinched together next to his lips as if gripping an imaginary joint.

“Last year was the first time I went to the actual march. Had a great time. It was very peaceful,” Gonzales said. “It’s in the hundreds of people who’ve seen [his Facebook post] and have told me they’re going to be there, too.”

For the DFW chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), which has organized the march since its inception here in 2011, that word of mouth is what the billboard is all about.

Last year’s march drew hundreds through downtown, chanting “We smoke weed,” among other refrains, in an effort to put human faces on NORML’s crusade to legalize the drug, both for medicinal and recreational purposes. Traditionally, the Fort Worth march ends at the steps of the Tarrant County Courthouse, and this year is no different.

DFW NORML is encouraging the selfies in front of their sign with Friday giveaways from the group’s Facebook page. Shaun McAlister, executive director of DFW NORML, said he hopes the location of the billboard will create 2.5 million impressions and help generate the largest crowd the group has ever seen for a Marijuana March.

“We’ve had billboards before, but in locations that only generated 60 to 70,000 impressions,” McAlister said. “The billboard is one of the things we hope will push us to having the biggest crowd ever for a marijuana march in Texas. Our largest so far was in 2015. You’re going to get far more engagement from the community on years when the state legislature is in session.”

Like this year.

The sign went up two days before the Dallas City Council approved a cite-and-release program for offenders police encounter who are in possession of less than four ounces (about 113 grams) of marijuana. That program, which only applies within Dallas city limits, goes into effect Oct. 1.

“The surrounding cities pay attention to that,” McAlister said. “We’re already working on Arlington, with a separate group that I’m a part of called Arlington Cite and Release. Showing up to City Council meetings, talking to people who are running for office, essentially trying to convince people that stopping the practice of throwing people in jail for possessing a plant is the right thing to do.”

In another sign of the shift in attitude toward marijuana as a political issue, McAlister praised both the City of Fort Worth and the Fort Worth Police Department for working with DFW NORML to the extent that they do on the logistics of the march. The group moved the march from Dallas to Fort Worth in 2014.

“The City of Fort Worth is far more interested in working with us,” McAlister said. “We’ve always felt like they’ve taken us seriously, which, as activists for something that is currently illegal, that’s not lost on us.”

While McAlister and DFW NORML push for statewide legalization and watch small victories like Dallas’ cite-and-release policy unfold along the way, here’s McAlister’s selfie on-location. The Marijuana March of North Texas is scheduled for May 6, starting at Burk Burnett Park.

Matthew Martinez: 817-390-7667; @MCTinez817

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