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A POTTED HISTORY OF THE CANNABIS MARCHES AND FESTIVALS
By Shane Collins, thecannabisfestival.co.uk
when two New Yorkers, Dana Beal of Cures not Wars and Dhoruba bin Whalid of the Black Panthers came to London suggesting the first weekend in May as a date for a co-ordinated set of worldwide cannabis marches, an assembled coalition of cannabis campaigners in the UK agreed.
The first march and festival took place on Mayday 1999 with about 10,000 people marching through south London to arrive at the festival site on Clapham Common.
Having refused us an entertainment license the council subsequently spotted people dancing and prosecuted the festival licensee.
However the courts ruled him not guilty of the memorable charge of permitting dancing and amplified music on a common on mayday in England.
In 2000 the event was granted an entertainment license. It was the first hot day of the millennium and about 30,000 people reveled, rolled and reeled in the sunshine.
Again we negotiated with the Police not to carry out arrests for possession and so cannabis was essentially decriminalised for the day in Lambeth.
In 2001, a soggy park led to a postponement of the event with eight days notice.
When the march did happen in 'sunny' June it rained and rained and rained but thousands carried on dancing regardless and the park was a ocean of bobbing umbrellas. Again, no arrests and helpful police.
Then the intransigent political attitude towards prohibition began to shift when Commander Brian Paddick of Lambeth Police stated that local police would focus their energies on crack and smack, and desist arrests for personal cannabis possession. The 'Lambeth 'experiment' became a pilot scheme and took off.
A Mori poll in Lambeth showed 83 per cent support for the police's new policy. Suddenly the newspapers were full of people in favour of legalisation and then Blunkett announced the Lambeth pilot would fly and be applied nationwide.
In 2002, Cannabis marches happened in 220 cities around the world.
Good weather and the smell of change brought out a huge family crowd. Legal changes towards decriminalization in Belgium, Portugal and Switzerland got the puritans worried. Associated Press (Daily Mail and Evening Standard) paid £100,000 to Brian Paddick's ex-lover to 'spill the beans'.
Paddick was removed, pending investigation, producing the surreal site of 700 people in Lambeth Town Hall cheering a serving police officer. The question was simple: Who polices Lambeth, the Daily Mail or the people of
Paddick was found not guilty but was not reinstated. Community police relations were set back years.
In 2003, there were over 230 cannabis marches worldwide and in the UK a large turnout enjoyed a rain free festival. The fee for the use of the park was unexpectedly raised by over two thousand pounds but we paid it.
Once again the council moved to prosecute the festival for breach of license, claiming a drink had been distributed 20 minutes after the drinks license had finished, and a 85 seconds of a tune had been played after the entertainment license had expired.
Neither charge stood up in court and the prosecution failed. in her summing up the judge said she "didn't know why this prosecution had be brought and that the festival organisers had shown they run 'a tight ship'.
That said, the general feedback from crew and punters was that the day was just too loud. So this year we have cut back the number of sound systems and introduced a Grow Tent.
This year the council have raised the use of parks fee, based on the estimated numbers who attend the event, from 52p per head to a whopping £1.40, possibly expecting such a price-hike to be beyond the means of the organisers.
They also slapped on a £5,000 deposit for the park.
Cllr. Clare Whelan Tory executive member for Lambeth Parks refused to recognise the festival as a nonprofit community event, instead insisting the festival should be charged as if it is a full blown commercial event produced by full blown commercial promoters.
But thanks to some loans, donations and benefits the festival was not kiboshed by these manoeuvres.
The Cannabis March and Festivals are vital to normalise, and make mainstream, the issue of cannabis. Many of us came together against the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 and the restrictions on freedom of assembly.
With about a third of the local population on some sort of benefits in Lambeth we need a free space where there is no obligation to spend money under a corporate umbrella.
But this free festival still costs over £55,000 and relies on huge amounts of voluntary labour to produce and to put on safely so please please put at least £3 in the donation bucket, don't litter and leave by 8.30pm so we can do it again next year.
And lastly please leave your email on the festival website or any of the festie info stalls so we can get in touch directly next year.
'WHAT DOES RECLASSIFICATION MEAN FOR CANNABIS USERS
Well the good news is that re-classification should lead to less arrests each year for possession. Maybe around 40-50,000, although it is still up to the discretion/prejudice of the officer; being lippy, hooded, exhaling in the officer's face or smoking by a school could still result in an arrest.
The Police succeeded in persuading Blunkett to keep the power for arrest for class C drugs, which means that the police can also stop and search people on suspicion of cannabis.
In Lambeth 66% of stops are for drugs, but only 10% of stops are arrested, 5% charged and 95% resentment. Only 7% of arrests are actually for drugs. Fishing? Trawling more like.
The government missed a chance to separate supply of cannabis from heroin. Because cannabis is still sold illegally there is a much greater chance of youth coming into contact
UK has twice the rate of heroin use per head than Holland, (2.6/1000 v 6.7/1000). Also much more crime. The Home Office estimates about 50% of all crime against the person is due to feeding an addictive drug habit.
Re-classification is a Dealers Charter
If you prohibit something for which there is a demand you simply create a criminal market.
This was learnt in the US during prohibition of alcohol and is being painfully re-learnt again now.
The Home Office estimates the cannabis trade is worth £5b a year - the third largest trade in the world after oil and arms. Blunkett is simply saying 'keep it criminal'.
This corrupts us and society. Re-classification has ended up satisfying no one really so the issue of drug law reform should stay high up on the agenda.
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