These were the two titles of the pre and post event articles written in the GetSurrey pages online by Andre Langlois, who must be credited in appreciation for posting much of the original telephone conversation I had with him about the Surrey Cannabis Club protest in Guildford on the local newspaper’s website before the event. I should also thank Rich Lee for being the first to interview me and post the story online also in a positive light with much reference to our telephone interview.
The initial Police response to the planned protest was the usual hard line ‘zero tolerance’ that seems to come from the top-down when enforcing government legislation regarding drugs. This was communicated by the Surrey Police via the GetSurrey article stating that they would ‘deal robustly and appropriately with anyone caught breaking the law’. The Guildford Borough Council had more of an interest in the proceedings as they made initial contact with the club, having mysteriously taken receipt of one of our ‘posters advertising the event’, in order to officially book our event with and gain consent from their Parks and Leisure Service. An email dialogue ensued regarding the nature of the event/protest and suffice to say that the final verdict was concluded whereby we were invited to hold our peaceful protest and to put up our ‘literature table, but not a gazebo’ and to restrict the noise, presumably from Mr. Mook and his magic Mookbox, whilst not blocking any pathways or disturbing any other park users. Simple enough…
The event began with Doug and I arriving promptly at 1pm joined by dark ominous clouds overhead and bouts of rainfall. Within a few minutes a handful of others arrived and soon there were enough of us to get into double figures and really get the proceedings underway. Within the first hour we had our first visit from the authorities, introductions were made and very little conversation followed. It was pretty clear the officers were unimpressed with the turnout, they seemed to have been expecting a fair few more, as to be honest had I. The Officers were soon on their way and the protest gathered more momentum as more people joined the group and Mr. Mook arrived with his portable music station to delight the masses.
Every opportunity was taken to engage with any passing members of the public and most were receptive to our protest and even to our cause. In fact we were able to discuss in detail the issues with some members of the public on the day and the night before, whilst Doug and I flyered Guildford town centre, we had the opportunity to be invited into several pubs by their managers after explaining our plight and distribute flyers. During one of these pub visits we came across a group of psychiatric nurses and social workers, tough cookies to crack, but the discussions were extremely useful and gave us both some valuable insights into the views held by these groups of professionals, also seemingly held by the authorities. It seems that these collections of individuals all share the same negative experiences of cannabis and therefore all hold similar views. This is something that seems obvious to me; social workers, psychiatric nurses, Police Officers and even the press only see and have to deal with the serious negative effects that only too often irresponsible drug use and drug abuse can cause in society. They are not exposed in any way to any of the positive effects of cannabis. Even when discussing the medical side there seems to be resistance in the acceptance that cannabis has a huge medicinal potential and properties which are still to be fully understood. Not to mention hemp as a multifunctional and incredibly versatile plant and crop with literally thousands of commercial uses and a potential market value worth billions, in anyone’s currency.
With the second round of officers we certainly engaged much more and they seemed to be happy to chat and mingle with all of the protestors. The PCSO accompanying the officer had ‘Talk to Frank’ stickers and pamphlets on Alcohol, Drugs and Litter on offer and we promptly swapped literature and began discussing the topics. Although friendly the officers didn’t really get their teeth into a serious discussion with us even when discussing medical relevance, again not wanting to put across their own personal views it seems.
By now the group had swelled to around 30 to 40 individuals and despite the cold, wet and miserable weather the protest was firing on all cylinders with music and even some free caps donated by Hazed clothing. Discussions were freely flowing among the participants covering all of the relevant material; the leaflets given to us by the Police (this will be something to disseminate in a future blog), the state of the cannabis currently available, past incidents with police, the benefits of medicinal cannabis, the potential commercial uses of hemp, current developments in the US and Spain and of course we spoke about the UKCSC and NORML-UK and how we are all connected in our mutual aim of cannabis legalisation.
The Park Ranger made a brief visit and we engaged in some meaningful discourse albeit a bit brief but even he was personally in support of what we were doing. Soon after the second officers returned from their proposed walk around the park just after 4pm and although I wanted to discuss the issues in much greater detail I had to bring the conversation to an end in order to celebrate 4.20 in the manner to which we have been accustomed! Much to everyone’s relief they left almost exactly at 4.20, as if by fate, giving us an extra special reason to celebrate. The ranger made a return visit and began to bring up the music and needing an entertainment licence, the email confirming our arrangement with the Council swiftly appeared from my hand and the ranger was soon off attending some other important duty, no doubt.
Finally as the day drew to a close the Guildford Borough Commander, Inspector Amy Buffoni, made an appearance, with a colleague, to experience the event in person. Although engaging, her views were identical to those constantly repeated throughout the UK Police Force. Even after discussing abuse and irresponsible use of any substance even hamburgers, comparing cannabis to alcohol and prescription drugs, discussing the medicinal benefits, the issue of personal freedoms and even the fact that she would never have the opportunity within her job role to experience a case where cannabis has had any kind of positive effect, she was adamant that the harms of drugs are far too great and that prohibition won’t end. Sadly this seems to be the general attitude held by the Police, who are ultimately nothing more than gatekeepers for the government, the Police are effectively ‘hired goons’ for the enforcement of the corrupt, inane and draconian rules and regulations imposed by our government. Not one officer gave me their own personal opinion, even the Sergeant in Reading the previous week said the same thing to me, he wasn’t there in any personal capacity, when in uniform they seem like robots, all programmed in exactly the same way with exactly the same responses.
Approximately 50 to 60 people turned up throughout the day with 30 to 40 at any one point. Not a single person complained or gave us any negative feedback on the day and even those who were not interested were polite, respectful and understanding of our aims. Andre interviewed me a second time on the day for GetSurrey and The Surrey Advertiser which comes out on Friday 20th September and over the last couple of days there has been a buzz about this recent event among the cannabis community in Guildford. The Eagle radio also covered the story on air on the day at 1 o’clock and online.
We were able to achieve all of the aims originally set out for this protest and proved a successful endeavour with plenty of media attention and good engagement with the local community as well as raising awareness of these issues in Surrey.
By Alan Pavia