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Last Updated: Saturday, 3 May, 2003, 17:48 GMT 18:48 UK
Thousands attend cannabis rally
Cannabis protesters
Protesters called for the legalisation of cannabis

Thousands of people have taken part in a march and rally calling for the legalisation of cannabis.

The drug was smoked openly by many people at the event, which was one of 250 protests around the world for the International Cannabis Day of Action.

Organisers claimed that up to 20,000 people attended the rally, in Brixton, south London.

But the police estimate was a much more conservative 3,000 for the rally and 1,500 for the march.

Scotland Yard had warned that anybody seen using cannabis would be asked to stop, while anybody caught dealing would be arrested.

Cannabis college

Former drugs smuggler and author, Howard Marks, and Dr Russell Newcombe, a lecturer and drugs researcher at Liverpool John Moores University, were among guest speakers at the rally.

Organised by the Brixton Cannabis Coalition, it also boasted live music, a "grow tent", a cannabis college, and more than 120 stalls.

One drug dealer at the event said he was not worried about the prospect of arrest.

"Mark", a "businessman" from the Brixton area, said: "They (police) are not worried about a little bit of gear today.

"They've seen us smoking and they hear people offering but they're cool."

'Appropriate action'

But police at the rally, held in the area which saw a controversial "softly, softly" approach to cannabis use tried out, said they were not turning a blind-eye.

Marchers in London

A spokesman said: "If a police officer comes across someone who is smoking cannabis they will be asked to stop.

"If they don't stop the police officer will take appropriate action that could include confiscating the drug.

"If someone is suspected of dealing and found with a quantity that the police officer believes to be a large enough amount, it's highly likely they will be arrested."

Chief Inspector Graham Morris said two people had been arrested on suspicion of dealing and that several others were being questioned for theft related offences.

Re-think

Other countries hosting similar events included the US, New Zealand, Germany, France, Switzerland and Denmark.

Roger Howard, chief executive of drugs information charity, DrugScope, said world leaders were already re-thinking their stance on cannabis.

He said: "They're beginning to recognise that blanket prohibition of cannabis doesn't adequately tackle the issue of cannabis use.

"Our own government recognises that cannabis isn't as harmful as other class A drugs and therefore DrugScope supports the current political stance of reclassifying it as a class C," he said.

It is estimated that 3.2 million people in Britain smoke cannabis and that number is rising.

Mental illnesses

The festival comes after researchers said that although smoking cannabis can be a major public health hazard, there was no clear message about the risks.

An article in the British Medical Journal pointed out that regular use of cannabis was associated with a higher risk of mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and depression.

The researchers, led by Professor John Henry of Imperial College School of Medicine in London, said a clear public health message on cannabis was needed.

Smoking the drug also causes chronic bronchitis, emphysema and there were reports of lung, tongue, and other cancers in cannabis users.

The researchers also calculated that if there are 120,000 deaths among 13 million tobacco smokers each year, then among 3.2 million cannabis smokers there could be as many as 30,000 deaths.




SEE ALSO:
Cannabis 'could kill thousands'
02 May 03  |  Health
Cannabis 'damages mental health'
07 Apr 03  |  Health
Drugs laws 'send wrong signal'
26 Feb 03  |  Europe


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