So what is the law on smoking cannabis?
In recent years, a new smell has become part of the fragrance of towns and cities across the land. Added to cut grass, diesel, and the occasional waft of rubbish in summer, it's not uncommon to smell the faint, sickly-sweet herbal tang of cannabis being smoked, especially on warm evenings when windows are left open.
To one school of thinking, there’s nothing wrong with this. Advocates will point to its relaxing nature, its ‘natural’ origin, and the fact that brawls on a Friday night are rarely caused by weed smokers. They will tell you about the right to personal freedom, and also direct you to the medicinal benefits claimed for the drug.
However, the other side of the fence in this well-worn road of argument will insist on the danger of cannabis being a gateway to other drugs, and of the risk of serious psychotic episodes that can entail from the stronger, ‘skunk’ varieties.
Both sides make some valid points – and both make some flawed ones – but now is not the time to debate the rights and wrongs of legalisation. Instead, we should consider the strange position in which this country has found itself on drugs policy, highlighted by a story today. Tomorrow Hampshire Cannabis Community holds its fourth public awareness meeting – or ‘pot picnic’ – on Southsea Common.
Users will gather, and will, if previous years’ precedent is followed, light up, sit around and have a chat.
Now, the maximum penalty for cannabis possession is five years in prison, and for supply and production is 14 years inside. We regularly report in our court round-up of people prosecuted for the offence – one recent offender was fined £50 with a £30 victim surcharge, another £185 with a £30 surcharge and £85 costs.
And yet about this weekend’s event, Hampshire police have merely said that officers will pay ‘passing attention’ to the pot picnic. Regardless of one’s views on legalisation, the only sensible reaction is one of confusion. You wouldn’t expect attackers to be paid only ‘passing attention’. Their actions are either illegal or not. So what’s the case here?