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Last Updated: Sunday, 19 June, 2005, 21:18 GMT 22:18 UK
'End the prohibition'
crowd at pro-cannabis rally, London, May 2005

On 15 May 2005 the Panorama team filmed at a rally organised by the newly formed "Cannabis Trust" (Cannabis Education & Research Trust), backed by a "united front" of cannabis campaigners, educators, doctors, lawyers and politicians.

The event in London's Trafalgar Square came in the wake of the cancellation of this year's cannabis festival in Brixton and was part of a 'global cannabis action' event in May, which has happened annually since 1999. This year there were cannabis related actions happening in over 200 cities. The event sought to present information about cannabis use and prohibition, from many points of view and expertise.

Organisers called for a "new deal for cannabis" and claimed that cannabis prohibition is putting public health at risk, as well as costing a fortune, estimated at nearly £1 billion a year. An organiser said

"Cannabis prohibition is the most expensive mistake in British legal history. We have to ask 'How safe is cannabis?' but we also have to ask "How dangerous is cannabis prohibition?"

Those attending offered many reasons why they use cannabis and why they are part of the lobby for a wider debate on the subject of its legalisation.

Some see it as no worse than alcohol in its effects and nature. As one woman said

Most people compare it to drinking - a way for some people to relax - its just a vice isn't it - just a recreational drug.

One group of users described why they enjoy using it as a recreational substance, again using the comparison with alcohol:

"You get really close to your mates - you chill out - its good relaxing have laugh - its easier to have a laugh - all have a good time - if you're having a drink you just throw up get disorientated - We just sit down and watch films and crack up!"

There are also those who argue in its favour based on its usefulness and medicinal properties:

Without cannabis we wouldn't be here... Our Royal Navy wouldn't have set sail... All the ropes, all the rigging, the sailors' clothing, hemp...
"It's about the whole thing. It's got 25,000 known uses and the government is hiding behind something from the (19)20s, 30s, in US and calling it a drug. It's one of the most useful drugs on the planet... Without cannabis we wouldn't be here... Our Royal Navy wouldn't have set sail... All the ropes, all the rigging, the sailors' clothing, hemp..."

"Cannabis is one of the only things that helps MS suffferers and that's from doctors, not just me. I have friends who wet themselves. If they take cannabis they don't - they can go and lead a normal life. They don't shake and people don't stare at them - it's disgusting that this prohibition is carrying on."

However this is not to say that they are entirely ignoring the potential harm more, it seems, they think that the current situation makes it more difficult to assess the issue properly:

There is cause for concern perhaps - but that's why prohibition is so bad because with prohibition we can't look at the issue - we're just putting it under the table

"Wouldn't you say it's the same with alcohol right now - tobacco - they're much more on the table right now - completely legal and acceptable but equally as strong and potent drugs."

Others are more cautious in their thinking.

"I don't agree that it should be completely legalised and I don't think that kids should smoke it at 16/17 but when you're older make your own choices..."

Perhaps the best summation of the spectrum of cannabis use and experience came from a grandmother who only discovered the drug in later life:

"I first tried cannabis when I was 66 - I didn't like it because I was given it in cigarette - but when I cooked with it¿"

Some of them want it legalised to smoke - some of them to use medicinally - some of them want to have it legalised so they can go into business and make hemp clothing and hemp food.


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