Police will clamp down on people smoking cannabis at tomorrow's Smokey
Bears Picnic, senior officers have said.

The annual pro-cannabis rally at Southsea Common is expected to attract
hundreds of protesters despite Home Secretary David Blunkett pledging to
reclassify the class B drug.

Marijuana is expected to become a class C drug the same as steroids and
anti-depressants by July 2003.

And while government critics say that effectively means decriminalising the
drug, police in Hampshire insist cannabis is still illegal and have
promised to act accordingly.

Chief Inspector John Happel said: 'We will have police officers on duty.
Our view is still that public breaking of the law will be dealt with,
smoking and dealing in cannabis is still a criminal offence and until such
time as that position changes then we will continue to enforce the law.'

Southsea town councillor Peter Montague, who runs an ice cream shop by the
common, said he was against the protest. He added: 'I don't agree with it
at all.'

The Smokey Bears Picnic started in 1994 in protest against the Criminal
Justice Bill.

But organisers say it is still relevant because the government is only
planning to reclassify the drug not make it legal.

A spokesman for the group accused the government of 'fudging' the issue by
failing to either bring in stricter controls on the drug or legalise it.

Controversy has dogged the event throughout its nine-year history. Three
years ago scuffles broke out when some 50 police officers squared up to 150
demonstrators. There were 10 arrests at last year's picnic.

Just two years ago taxpayers funded a UKP 2,700 court case in which Andrew
Slater was accused of smoking a UKP 2 joint he was cleared. Protester Jon
Neil was also arrested two years ago after he made fun of an officer who
was wearing a ginger wig.

Mr Neil went on to win UKP 1,200 compensation from police, who libelled him
by saying he had been arrested for possessing drugs.

The Southsea resident spent around UKP 100 of the compensation on buying
ice creams and food for the demonstrators at last year's event.



Pubdate: Sat, 10 Aug 2002
Source: Portsmouth News (UK)
Copyright: 2002 Portsmouth News.
Contact: http://www.portsmouthtoday.co.uk/ContactUs.asp
Website: http://www.portsmouthtoday.co.uk
Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/2411
Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/find?207 (Cannabis - United Kingdom)
Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/decrim.htm (Decrim/Legalization)