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UK: Cannabis users gather at London '420 picnic
Wednesday 20 Apr 2016
More than 1,000 cannabis users have gathered in Hyde Park to smoke weed and eat dope-infused picnics in a mass act of civil disobedience in protest at criminalisation of the drug.
The 420 picnic, held each year on or around 20 April, defied expectations by attracting relatively large numbers by the early afternoon, hours before its climax at 4.20pm.
Self-confined to a corner of grass bordered by public paths, picnickers – most of them young – were watched by police liaison officers, while regular officers with sniffer dogs congregated near the Marble Arch entrance to the park stopping some would-be protesters on their way in.
Stuart Harper, of Norml UK, the British branch of the National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, who had been involved in negotiations with police, said: “Obviously police officers have what’s called judicial discretion, which means when they carry out their duties they have a certain amount of discretion.
“Because of the number of people infracting the law and the nature of the infractions being minor, it’s not in the public interest for them to prosecute.”
By 5.30pm the Metropolitan police reported there had been 11 arrests, “for a variety of drug offences.”
Organisers told attendees beforehand that they had arranged with police what they called a “safe-conduct zone”, where smoking weed discreetly would be more or less tolerated.
“We always meet with the gold and silver commanders who are going to be present on the day and we have spirited discussions about what we think will be appropriate,” Harper said.
“They let us know where they are going to be, where their search tents are going to be, then we tell everyone else. It’s all quite friendly.”
Police liaison officers denied any arrangement, although they conceded there would be what they labelled a “proportionate response” to the protest.
“We will be leaning more towards cannabis warnings,” said one, “but obviously if we see a high level of criminality – people dealing, smoking bongs – then we will act. There are still children around in the park.”
Harper was upbeat about the prospects for cannabis smokers. “There’s millions [of pounds] flooding in at the moment,” he said, referring to efforts to promote decriminalisation. “There’s rich Mexicans and rich Americans over here with millions in investment capital. In the next 18 months there’s going to be a big shift.”
He pointed to the liberalisation of medical cannabis in Germany and Italy as effects of the new big-dope money flooding into campaigns around the world. But he was sceptical about whether this was the right way for the UK, saying: “All evidence shows that if you do that first, it delays the legalisation of recreational use.”
By the early afternoon, picnickers had arranged themselves in informal circles around the patch set aside for their event. Most smoked spliffs, sending up clouds of pungent smoke into the air.
Next to a bright green flag bearing the legend of the Brighton Cannabis Club, the man behind the Get High With Teenage Pie podcast took issue with the media representation of high-strength cannabis.
“First of all, the thing about skunk is skunk is a strain of cannabis,” said the podcaster, who did not wish to be named. “When they are talking about skunk they mean strong cannabis. Strong cannabis has always been around. We live in a paradigm where it’s illegal and you buy it from the dealer – the analogy I would use is you are ordering a pint of beer and it tastes the same, but you are getting a pint of whisky.”
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