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Police decide to patrol ‘cannabis picnic’ in Flagstaff Gardens this month

An unidentified man smokes a bong at the 420 picnic at Flagstaff Gardens. POLICE now plan to sniff out any drug offences at a “pot-smoking picnic” planned for later this month. In November, the Herald Sun revealed that cannabis crusaders were regularly lighting up without facing any legal consequences. No police attended a similar picnic on November 20. Though it kept in contact with organisers Victoria Police said it saw the picnics as examples of “freedom of expression”. But Victoria Police has now confirmed officers would attend the next Free Cannabis Community picnic in Flagstaff Gardens on January 15, and provide an “appropriate” response to offences. “Police will provide an appropriate presence and response to deal with people committing offences,” spokesman Sara-Jane Delaney said. But she would not confirm whether officers would crack down on illegal use or possession of drugs. Organisers vowed to hold the picnic under police noses. Free Cannabis Community founder Matt Riley said he was not aware that police planned to attend the picnic, and was “not really bothered”. The event would go ahead regardless, he said. “The police have been wonderful and I have no reason to expect that would change.” Mr Riley said the picnics, which usually attracted about 500 people, were peaceful and offered the opportunity to “get together with friends”. He said he believed political pressure had brought the change in police approach. “We certainly haven’t done anything to prompt any change in the way they go about it. It’s a political change.” Late last year the Police Minister backed the softer police stance, but the Opposition called on the government to get “off the grass” and enforce the law. There was also a public backlash. “I always thought our police enforced the laws of our state ... since when have they started to decide what to enforce and what to ignore?” wrote one Herald Sun reader online. “Isn’t that the supposed job of the courts?” Another wrote that breaking the law “is not freedom of expression”, and a third said: “Just don’t drive past the gardens 3kmh over the speed limit!” On the other side of the debate, one reader said it was time to decriminalise cannabis. The first such event to protest against the prohibition of cannabis was staged in 2010, as part of an international celebration of “stoner culture”. About 20 such picnics have been held in Melbourne in the past three years.

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