|Going To Pot - or Not?|
Posted by CN Staff on May 09, 2005 at 06:29:23 PT|
By Sheera Clair Frenkel, The Jerusalem Post
Source: Jerusalem Post
Israel -- The signs are painted, reggae CDs burnt, and Rastafarian gear bought. Although the eighth annual marijuana festival is not until Saturday, May 7, supporters of cannabis legalization couldn't be more excited.
Perhaps they are fueled by the fact that this year, Israel's Marijuana Day will coincide with those of more than 160 cities' worldwide. The event, to be held in Tel Aviv's Yarkon Park, is part of an international day of protest organized by the New York group Cures, Not Wars in support of the legalization and decriminalization of marijuana.
In their dormitory room at Jerusalem's Hebrew University, Sara and Lital have already made their signs for the big day - a bright pink poster with sparkly letters declaring: "Ain't nothing wrong with hitting the bong," while a poster next to it asks, "Why drink and drive when you can smoke and fly?"
The girls, both in their final year of anthropology studies, are frustrated that they could not divulge their last names to the press.
"This is exactly what this festival is about," says Lital. "Why shouldn't I give my last name and show, publicly, that I support cannabis legalization? Why should I have to be afraid that it will jeopardize my academic career? We need to eliminate the stigma surrounding weed."
Meanwhile, her roommate Sara explains that for her, the festival is more about reducing the sentencing laws against the consumption and sale of marijuana.
"I don't want to give my last name because I'm afraid that people will see it, think that I'm a pot smoker, and the next thing I know, someone is searching me for drugs," she says. "Part of the festival is to fight for reduced sentencing for people caught with marijuana - that's why I'm going."
The reasons for attending the festival are as varied as those who tend to show up. The mostly young crowd has, in past years, represented a broad spectrum of Israeli alternative youth, from hippies and punks to high school teens and college students who have formed academic groups around the topic. While some have broad knowledge of the issue of legalization, others seem like they can barely see past the haze of smoke in front of their faces.
"While we get all sorts of people at this event, the most important thing is what we see as a result," says Boaz Wachtel, one of the leaders of Israel's Green Leaf campaign to legalize marijuana. "It is a statement for the political establishment that the issue of cannabis legalization is important for a large number of people."
Wachtel points out that in recent years, the Shinui political party has put the legalization of cannabis on its agenda, and MK Roman Bronfman of Meretz, who was scheduled to speak at last year's event, intends to address the crowd this year.
"Bronfman is very excited to appear at the festival, as this issue has always been an important one for him," says a spokesperson for Bronfman. "We only hope that this year he will actually be allowed to speak."
Bronfman said last week that he does not think that the current policy regarding drug use is beneficial because "It does not get to the root of the problem: hard drugs and dealers. Current policy stresses chasing and incriminating users. In my opinion, a policy directed at containing damages should be adopted, one that focuses on fighting the dealers and social and medical healing of hard drug users."
However, Deputy Tel Aviv Mayor Arnon Gilad announced, "I plan to ask the minister of internal security to forbid the event. I will also ask the management of Yarkon Park not to permit it to be held on the property within its jurisdiction. An event like this causes irreparable damage to Israel's young people because it is fighting the law and wants to encourage the use of marijuana. We cannot allow an event like this to become a tradition, certainly not in Tel Aviv."
Only a few hundred people attended the inaugural event in 1998, but participation has grown; an estimated 7,000 people attended last year's picnic.
Organizers say the number would have been higher if the police had not intervened. They are expecting 10,000 this year, if all goes well.
Last year, Tel Aviv police shut down the festival moments prior to Bronfman's speech due to concerns over illegal activity. Nine people were arrested, four of them organizers, although many participants claimed that most people had refrained from smoking cannabis at the event before the police turned up.
"People were acting really well, following all the rules, until the police shut it down," says Sara, who attended last year's event. "Then all the organizers left and it was a free-for-all. That's when people really started smoking."
The Tel Aviv police department said they did not expect any disturbances at this year's event but that details about police presence have yet to be worked out.
The event is organized by a nonpolitical group of citizens who openly support changing Israel's current drug laws but claim they are not encouraging people to break the law. Their Web site states, "This is a legitimate protest event in favor of changing the law, not encouragement for breaking the law. Please do not bring anything that is still defined as illegal. As appropriate for a picnic, do bring food, drink, blankets, and musical instruments."
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