Join our march through the capital on 28 March: it's set to be the biggest pro-cannabis demonstration for 30 years
IT IS TIME to stand up and be counted. For the past six months the Independent on Sunday has led the debate on decriminalising cannabis. Now it is time to turn words into people power. We want the thousands who have already signed our petition to join countless others who believe the Government's war against cannabis is harming our society, to join us in London.

We are planning a mass march through the heart of the capital on Saturday 28 March and it should prove to be the biggest pro-cannabis demonstration for 30 years.

Caroline Coon, the artist and original founder of the drug charity Release, who helped organise the last "pot rally" in London in 1968, is to support our march.

"People should never believe that demonstrations are useless. People power on the streets does change things," said Ms Coon who continues to campaign actively for drug law reform.

"The drug issue is more important today than it was 30 years ago because authoritarian governments are now using the war against drugs, which is really a war against people, to undermine democracy and civil liberties.

"Thousands of people speaking with one voice could force the Government to change the law. We know that prohibition is the worst way to reduce any harm drugs may do. Prohibition wastes millions of pounds in tax revenue which could be better spent on reducing poverty."

The deputy director of Release, Greg Poulter, is equally resolute in his support for the march. "It is necessary to show the politicians the strength of feeling in the country for reform of the cannabis laws. Demonstrations of this sort can send a message to the Government that they need to respond to public opinion and not remain entrenched in the discredited doctrine of prohibition," he said.

Supporters wishing to take part in the march should assemble in Hyde Park for a mid-day departure for Trafalgar Square where speakers including IoS editor Rosie Boycott, Howard Marks and Paul Flynn MP will address the rally.

Groups from as far afield as Scotland, Wales and the North- west have already indicated that they will be attending. And a delegation from the European parliament is also expected.

"We shall be urging all our supporters to attend, " said Alun Buffry, spokesman for the Campaign to Legalise Cannabis International Association (CLCIA). "The time is right to support the IoS march. We have noticed a distinct change in attitudes since the campaign began in the newspaper. The fact that a lot of professional people were prepared to put their name to the petition that has been running each week seems to have encouraged a lot of people to announce in public what they may have previously only whispered in private."

As yet no one can guess how many campaigners will support our march, but we are urging individuals to start organising groups and let us know how many to expect.

A 1996 survey revealed that 8.3 million adults between the ages of 16 and 59 had admitted to using cannabis, and it only requires a fraction of that total to make a point on the streets.

But how the point is made is almost as important as the point itself. Rosie Boycott has urged supporters to be streetwise. "It is important that everyone remembers that we are out to change the law, not break it," said Ms Boycott. "It would be naive not to recognise that we will be scrutinised by hostile eyes. We must not provoke police reaction. We want to change the law on cannabis by legal and democratic means," she said.

Danny Kushlick, of the drug law reform group Transform, says he is impressed by the way the IoS has taken the argument forward. "Up until now there has been no attempt to get people on the ground involved," he said.

And the campaign is having an effect, he thinks. "I've noticed a major shift in the last three months, with the House of Lords committee and the Police Foundation investigation. People are coming out of the woodwork and everything seems to be happening with a rush. It is quite astonishing."

HOW TO GET THERE

ROLL UP, roll up for the great cannabis march. On Saturday 28 March supporters of the Independent on Sunday's decriminalise cannabis campaign should gather at Reformer's Tree in Hyde Park (see map) for the biggest march in support of cannabis for 30 years. (There is no tree there any more - a lamp-post marks the spot.)

The procession will follow a police-approved route, out of the park and into Park Lane. From here the marchers head down to Hyde Park Corner and turn into Piccadilly. From Piccadilly Circus we will turn right into the Haymarket and from the south end of the Haymarket turn left into Trafalgar Square.

The Royal Parks agency insists that no stalls are erected in Hyde Park and requests that banners be kept furled until marchers are on the road. Collections are banned en route and the authorities request that litter in Trafalgar Square be kept to a minimum.

Notwithstanding the limitations, the organisers are determined that the day should be a celebration rather than a confrontation.

"In 1967 at the time of the first 'pot rally' in London the underground was in its infancy," said Caroline Coon, who founded Release that year. "The scene in San Francisco was far more advanced and Allen Ginsberg came over and addressed the crowd in Trafalgar Square and was almost arrested."

Thirty years later the tables of tolerance are turned. Professor John P Morgan of the City of New York Medical School and co-author of the book Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts, said: "This is marvellous news. I cannot conceive of a demonstration like this in America just now. I wish you success. The eyes of the western democracies are upon you."

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