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Police allow dope-smoking Melbourne picnics, dubbing them ‘freedom of expression’

A man smokes a bong at the 420 picnic. The Herald Sun photographed drug kits in full view and revellers blatantly smoking the drug in blunts and bongs at the ‘420 picnic’, with dope-laced brownies also on offer. Police for years have turned a blind eye to the hundreds and sometimes thousands of drug users breaking the law at the events, run by pro-legalisation campaigners Free Cannabis Community. Victoria Police confirmed they were aware of the gatherings but no arrests were made at the last picnic. Spokeswoman Leonie Johnson said it was illegal to smoke cannabis, but police used discretion. “Police were not required to attend Flagstaff Gardens, however monitored the event as they do for demonstrations every day across Melbourne,” she said. She said it was believed “the actions of those taking part in the demonstration were to convey a freedom of expression” and police were in close contact with event organisers.

The well-equipped picnickers with their drugs paraphernalia.

Equipment on display at the event.

Even a goat made an appearance at the event. But event host Matt Riley said last week’s picnic was more a “community gathering” with an element of protesting”. He said the first event was held in 2010 to protest cannabis prohibition as part of an international celebration of ‘stoner culture’, with about 20 picnics held in Melbourne in the past three years. He said they had a good relationship with police and the purpose was to “overcome the negative effect of prohibition and the isolation when there is nowhere for stoners to go”. He said the fact that there had been no arrests over the years was “in itself is a pretty impressive political statement”. But Turning Point clinical director Dr Matthew Frei said no matter a person’s views on the legalities, a small group of people had problems with cannabis use. “It impairs their normal functioning, their job, they can’t parent, it affects their mental state, makes them unhappy and they find it difficult to discontinue,” he said. Opposition police spokesman Edward O’Donohue said regardless of how people felt about the “rights and wrongs” of the law, it was illegal activity. “And (Premier) Daniel Andrews needs to say whether he condones this sort of action or what he is going to do about it,” he said. Police Minister Lisa Neville said she supported the police approach as no issues were reported, but it did not mean police “condoned illegal drug use”. “I back their judgment when it comes to how best to use their powers and when they need to intervene,” she said.

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