MARCH 28 1998

Melissa Dawson: The day of the Sindy's Decriminalise Cannabis march started for me at about 7.15 am, when I was standing outside the Theatre Royal in Norwich, with a small cluster of tired-looking people clutching rolled up banners. Slowly more people began to arrive, from Norwich, great Yarmouth, Bungay and Lowestoft, and our coach was filled and ready to leave just half an hour late. The CLCIA coach was on its way to London.


Alun Buffry: I arrived at Hyde Park at about 10.15, with our small group from the Campaign to Legalise Cannabis International Association, from Norwich. We had come down for the well attended meeting of various anti-prohibition groups organised by TRANSFORM. Our job now was to get to the Park to meet up with Jack and Tina and greet the coach from Norwich which was bringing 50 campaigners and our banner and flags.


When I arrived at Hyde Park the only people who were noticeably there was the group of orange-jacketed stewards standing around Debbie Ellis. These were handing out 'Independent' stickers and green helium-filled 'Independent' balloons. I wondered whether my worst fears of too many people over-sleeping and a poor turn-out, were about to be fulfilled. Then it started raining!

 So we took a cup of tea at the small shack, and slowly people started to arrive. Slowly the area around the café began to fill with all sorts of brightly dressed people. The rain stopped and the crowd gathered, and suddenly the coach had arrived, unnoticed by us, and the Norfolk campaigners brought the flags into the park.


MD : The coach journey consisted of folding leaflets, getting other people to fold leaflets, and eating sandwiches and smoking. The driver was really laid back and said he didn't mind us smoking as long as we used the ashtrays. We arrived at Hyde Park some time after 11 am. After the minor crisis of learning that the driver had changed the pick up point after half of us had got off, we unloaded the flyers and banners and carried them into the park. Alun, Jack and Tina and others were already there.

 My first impression of the gathering was good. I was given an Independent sticker for my sleeve. I bumped into a few people I had met at the Independent on Sunday's decriminalise cannabis conference in London last year.

 Then I started to give out some of our leaflets. As I moved between the many people, I tried to keep my eye on the CLCIA banner my friends were carrying. I didn't want to get lost just yet. The crowd began to seem enormous.


AB: Once we got the flags and flyers I started wandering about handing them out. It seemed everybody wanted one. People who missed out came back to ask for one. Most unusual in my experience of leafletting. And most people were smiling. The crowd of people had now grown considerably, many people had started blowing the whistles on sale, and the sound of drums vibrated the air. Drums, flags and smoke - was this war or peace? I was certainly enjoying seeing the huge variety of people and the ways in which many had expressed their feelings against the law. I spotted the banners of the Antiprohibitionists, Free The Weed Bungay, Release, and LC SCOTLAND and stated meeting friends from the various campaigning groups. Buster Nolan, who stands for cannabis ecology, was there with his marvellous wooden staff. Then we all moved over towards Reformers tree and lined up directly behind those in wheelchairs, exactly where Debbie had asked us to, and waited and the excitement grew.


MD: It was misty and damp before the march started moving, and the sound of drums was really atmospheric. It gave, the park, for me, a feel of expectation and rebellion. There was a significant police presence. There were also lots of people skinning up and smoking pipes. Obviously, there was some sort of public relations strategy being employed.


AB: We stood and waited for the march to get going, for over an hour. Joints were smoked and pipes were puffed, and sweet aromas filled the air. I had my lunch, strolled around giving out clcia quiz sheets, and went back to hold one side of the CLCIA banner. Tina held the other.


But by the time I got back we seemed to be about 50 yards away from the front of the march. Somehow the front had moved forward but our banner had stood still. The area in between had filled with about 1000 people. Never mind, the sun was starting to shine, we were all high and we could catch up later. The place was packed. The police that were there seemed to stay out of the crowd, but the two that wandered through us ignored the blow.


MD : It took a while for the march to get going and I was lucky enough to get near to the front, behind the Radical party's huge 'Legalize it!' banner. We began to walk. It was very sporadic at first, taking one step then waiting a minute before taking the next. Once we got out of the Park we reached a steady pace. I was very stoned. There was a real buzz from just being a part of a crowd that big. Every now and then you could hear a faint cheer from the front, which had now distanced itself from us as people poured in from the park in front of us, slowing us down. Like a wave the cheers and whistles passed down the street and over our heads to the rear

 A couple of amusing parts of the march were the huge paper-mashie spliff I got stuck behind; it was giving out thoroughly noxious red fumes which was certainly not cannabis smoke, and the way it seemed that some people had been convinced to come all the way to London to buy a 1 whistle.


A: By the time we got to the park gates we discovered that we were about half a mile and at least 5000 people away from the front of the march. Looking back we could see an equal number of people behind us, but looking right we could see even more people crossing the park diagonally and joining the march ahead of us. Queue jumping, who cared? Carrying our banners through the streets, joining in the cheers thrown to open-topped London tourist buses full of waving people, passed the side streets each with its police riot truck and water canon, waving at the police helicopter which was no doubt using high-powered telescopic devices to see which brand of weed we were smoking today, occasionally dodging to avoid walking the banner into the back of someone's head, and smiling for the cameras - it was a terrific march. We sang, we shouted, and the drums beat on. Our only problem was what to do when we arrived at Trafalgar Square at the back of the huge crowd, when we were supposed to be at the front.


MD : I dumped my make-shift banner as we arrived at Piccadilly Circus, as it was now quite hot and I thought I had lugged it far enough. It had served its purpose and had also served as a sign my friends could use to locate me. I'd also be easy to spot in any photos in the newspapers of on the TV. I spent the rest of the afternoon picnicking in Trafalgar Square, half listening to the speeches and absorbing the sheer number present.


AB: When we reached Trafalgar Square the place was packed. Decision time. Head left or head right, somehow we were determined to get as close to the front with our banner, as possible. Tina, being short, led the way. I followed. Eventually we rounded the Square and squeezed through to within about 10 feet of the speakers, just near the lion with the big spliff. Paul Flynn had said his bit about how cannabis was dangerous but would be less dangerous if people with MS were allowed to use cannabinoids. Marco Panella had spoken in Italian, being translated, explaining that Italian had once been the language of fascism but was now the language of freedom, and Caroline Coon had reminded us of the march 30 years ago, and brought back the spirit of Allan Ginsberg with an "mnnn"., and Howard Marks was just warming up.

 Sock it to them Howard! He was saying all the things I would have wanted him to say. This Government is blind, deaf and has no heart... This Government has become offensive.... Jack Straw can't even stop his own son from smoking cannabis, so how the hell can he stop us.... Far too many kids are spending their money on crappy cannabis.... It's easy to smuggle and easy to grow... It's the safest drug known to man!.... Don't accept a caution.... Take it to court, you have nothing to lose. ...Then the justice system will choke up and the Government will have no option but to legalise.... Thank you thank you, thank you for being who, what and where you are.

And thank YOU Howard Marks.

 Howard's speech was followed by Rosie Boycott's, the Editor of the Independent on Sunday. "When we started this campaign less than 6 months ago I though it would be small", she said. "Six months ago", I thought, "it started at least 30 years ago". Rosie went on to say that she knew about addiction because she had been an alcoholic, and that cannabis was not addictive. The Government, she said, had tried to show that cannabis killed, but it didn't. One of the deaths had been a customs officer who fell between two boats. (What were the others?). Now our kids were being busted for doing what we did. But thank you to everybody for coming. This is the largest party I've ever held and my friends know I have lots of parties. Thanks for coming.

 A short while later a kid from the school of William Straw spoke telling us how all the sixth formers had signed a legalise cannabis petition. Free Rob Cannabis had to use a microphone to announce his plans for turning himself in. I could not understand how the kid got heard but Free Rob did not.

 And that was the end of that, apart from about 2 hours more smoking, meeting friends from Holland, Scotland, Wales, Italy and France (and one or two from the USA). The CLCIA group re-gathered on the ground near the lion. I think we all felt good, very good, and even the police were smiling. Let's hope that we get heard. Let's hope that the next march will be even bigger. But let's hope they legalise before it gets too big.


MD: Looking back, it hardly seems plausible that we could walk and sit in the middle of London, surrounded by police, and smoke cannabis openly. But that is what happened. As far as we were concerned, cannabis was legal that day.

 If the Government doesn't listen, we should make this a regular event.

 Smoke everywhere! Don't be afraid! Don't accept a caution. Plead not guilty! The arguments for legalising cannabis are overwhelmingly clear.

 PS Everybody got back to the coach with no problems.


AB: Who said that a massive crowd (I reckon it was over 25,000) of disorganised stoners can't walk two miles in London!

Back to th Index