Smoking With The Bears
Despite the punks' disdain for the hippy, dippy connotations of cannabis, the pro-legalisation movement grew strong in the late seventies and became more militant. In Britain, the Legalise Cannabis Campaign was inaugurated with a rally held in Westminster Hall on June 3rd, 1978, and officially launched on September 28th, the 50th anniversary of the day the first anti-cannabis legislation came into effect. Before then, the banner of legalisation had been waved most prominently by Release, the drugs advisory charity set up by Caroline Coon and others in response to the events of 1967.

- Nik Turner's band are throwing daffodils from the stage! Pretty groovy, eh Sarge?
- Not a patch on the old Hawkwind, son. Remember when they did Silver Machine on Top Of The Pops with that spacey chick?
The Summer, 1980, issue of the organisation's magazine, News Release, reported, under the headline 'Growing Grassroots': 'The Legalise Cannabis Campaign held a two-day National Conference at Sheffield Polytechnic on the weekend of 12-13 April. 140 Campaign members from all over the British Isles attended, indicating the Campaign's rapid growth since its inauguration two years ago...'

The magazine's cover(left)pictured police officers patrolling a picnic at Hyde Park that had been organised to support the LCC by the Smokey Bears, a loose association of militant cannabis smokers who openly flouted the law and courted arrest at 'smoke-ins.' Having somehow obtained a music license from the Department of the Environment, the event proved to be a great success:

'The crowd on 10 May was between 5-10,000 and, despite a massive police presence, only about half a dozen people were busted and they were caught well away from the rally'. The boring old DoE insisted that the music be shut off at 6pm, with an unnamed Reggae band and Edgar Broughton still waiting to play, but a good time was had by all: 'As it was Cup Final day, kick-off time was celebrated with several large tissue 'footballs' being kicked around. As the footballs burst, hundreds of ready-rolled joints fell out and, by all accounts, they certainly weren't fakes...'

With growing public acceptance of cannabis, it must have seemed as if fresh legislation was only just around the corner. The Legalise Cannabis Campaign could boast 5,000 members and delegates at the Sheffield conference reportedly spent much of their time cogitating on how cannabis should be marketed in the event of legalisation. Such confidence proved to be unfounded, however, for Margaret Thatcher was in power and the mood of the country was about to swing determinedly away from such liberal notions.

The following year, 1981, no music license was granted and the notorious Police Special Patrol Group waded in to break up the Smokey Bears' annual picnic, precipitating a riot, which received barely a mention in the press. The media could not ignore the string of riots that flared that Summer in the predominantly black inner-city ghettos across the country, several of which were precipitated by heavy-handed Police tactics when they made a concerted effort to clear pot pedlars from the streets of Brixton in London, Handsworth in Birmingham, and St Pauls in Bristol.

Meanwhile, people in general and pop stars in particular carried on being busted, notably Paul McCartney, who was caught carrying nearly eight ounces (219 grams) of premium quality grass through Tokyo International Airport in 1980. Held in jail for nine days before being released and deported, Macca could have faced seven years in prison. In 1984, at the age of 42, the multi-millionaire musician and confirmed family man faced the fourth prosecution for possession of cannabis in an illustrious career that was to lead, eventually, to a knighthood.

During the same period, the number of convictions for possession among the British population rose from just under 15,000 in 1980 to more than 20,000 in 1984.

- No cunts on me, drugstable!
- Don't worry youself, sir. It's not an offense to sell drug paraphenalia such as chillums. Yet.
Eyewitness, Paul Gamester, writes: Errmm... I'd find it hard to pinpoint exactly when I was there, (lost a few years back in my hedonistic youth, I think) but it must have been a couple of almost consecutive years between about '78 and '84. Not quite sure what was special about '80 and '81, but I have a vague memory of hordes of Plod racing across the Park to break up the picnic the last year I was there. We were collapsed in some bushes at the time, so didn't really get involved in the scuffles, but it looked like a pretty heavy scene for those in the middle of it all.
You know how it goes...
"If you can remember it, you weren't there !!"