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Pot in the park
Buy this photo » From left: Doug Robertson, Alan Pavia and Stuart Harper
THEY travelled from near and further afield to make their views about cannabis known.
And whether or not their passionate beliefs will change the law, the campaigners who gathered at Eastrop Park in Basingstoke last Saturday afternoon certainly offered some interesting opinions.
With the aim of educating the public, perhaps the location of their protest – a family-orientated park – was the wrong choice. Quite simply, there were few people passing by for them to speak to.
But the group managed to peacefully make a stand against the current law, and most of them smoked the illegal substance together.
Police officers maintained a presence at the event throughout the afternoon, but no arrests were made.
Inspector Carl Holmes, of Basingstoke police, told The Gazette that officers were there to “facilitate a peaceful protest.”
He said any action would be “proportionate” and added: “Arrest is the most serious, and hopefully the last, option.”
Although the police did engage with the group, for most of the day they observed from a distance.
At 4.20pm – a code used by cannabis users – the group had planned to all smoke cannabis.
But the police got wind of their aim and stepped-up their patrol, asking protesters to surrender their cannabis.
One man, who was in a wheelchair after losing a leg in a motorbike accident, had his joint confiscated by an officer. But no other action was taken.
The dynamic of the group was not your stereotypical cannabis smoker. Some people may have had visions of lazy, unmotivated layabouts, using the protest as an excuse to get stoned in a park.
Instead, there were educated, professional people, all with different views about why cannabis should be legal.
Emma Wilson, who organised the Hampshire Cannabis Community protest, said her aim was to “educate the public.”
The 21-year-old, from Petersfield, added: “We don’t see ourselves as criminals. We don’t think we should have to feel like that.”
Emma believes that alcohol and tobacco are more harmful than cannabis, and that it should be legalised because of the medical benefits to those using the drug for pain relief.
She added: “Prohibition is such a problem because the only people profiting are gang leaders and criminals.”
Alan Pavia, a 35-year-old self-employed electrician, from Guildford, believes the Government would save money on policing cannabis use, and make money on taxing it if it were legal.
He added: “If individuals are responsible enough, they should be free to use what they want. Making anything illegal doesn’t help the problems that it causes. It doesn’t prevent people taking it.”
Numerous people at the protest used cannabis for medical reasons, including Clark French, regional manager for the south UK Cannabis Social Club.
The 27-year-old, from Reading, suffers from Multiple Sclerosis and believes cannabis eases his pain – something he said is supported by his doctor and neurologist.
He told The Gazette: “I replace 11 different medications with cannabis. In any other country, I would have access to cannabis as a medication.
“It relieves my pain and means I don’t have bladder and bowel problems and spasms. I can sleep and I can eat. Every single medication I take I can replace with cannabis.”
The protest also attracted a group of teenagers, some of whom were from The Clere School, in Burghclere.
The youngsters told The Gazette that cannabis is easier to get hold of than tobacco or alcohol, because dealers are acting illegally anyway, and are therefore not concerned about selling to a child. They were moved on by the police and were asked to separate themselves from the protest.
Few passers-by spoke to the group, but some were unhappy that they had chosen a family park for the protest.
Mandy Teagle, from Cranbourne, had taken her two children to Eastrop to play, but abandoned her plans when she realised what was going on.
The 33-year-old said: “Where are the kids supposed to go? There are not many places in Basingstoke for them to play safely.
“I think the police should be arresting them. At the moment, it’s an illegal drug. Sure, patients have it for pain relief but for recreational use I don’t believe in at all.”
Ms Teagle used to work at Park Prewett hospital in Basingstoke, for mentally-ill patients, and said: “I have seen the effect it has on someone when they are 50 or 60-years-old – serious paranoia and family break-ups.”
l A ballot which ran for two days on The Gazette website revealed that 84 per cent of those who took part (236 people) believe that cannabis should be legalised, while just 16 per cent of respondents (46 people) do not think it should be legalised.
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