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Pro-cannabis protesters gather in Amsterdam

world Updated: May 09, 2009 20:39 IST

About 150 people smoking pot and wearing T-shirts with a cannabis leaf print gathered in Amsterdam on Saturday as part of a world-wide action in favour of the legalisation of marijuana.

The peaceful protesters gathered on a square in the Dutch capital, listening to pro-legalisation speaches from a small podium as a strong smell of marijuana hung in the air and music pumped from several speakers.

Small stands sold T-shirts with pro-cannabis logos, as well as biscuits and other snacks containing marijuana. "Prohibiting something that people will always want causes illegality and the emergence of criminal gangs," Daan Rosenberg Polak, a publisher of pro-legalisation books, told AFP at the gathering.

"In the Netherlands, we've had a good system since the 1970s, but recent governments have been trying to take us back to a more conservative system," he said, arguing that the moderate use of soft drugs held no danger.

Saturday's protesters criticised Dutch law on the topic as hypocritical for allowing the consumption and possession of up to five grammes of cannabis, but prohibiting its cultivation and mass retail.

Some 700 so-called coffee shops country-wide have special licences to sell marijuana but are allowed to keep no more than 500 grammes on site.

Several Dutch municipalities have recently announced plans to close all or part of the coffee shops within their borders, partly to discourage crime and what they describe as the nuisance of drug tourism.

Rowena Huijbregts of the Association for Cannabis Consumers argued that full legalisation was the only option "otherwise, people are forced to buy their soft drugs from dealers who also sell hard drugs."

On Friday, Dutch organisers said protesters in more than 250 cities in the world, including Paris, Berlin and Madrid, would take part in Saturday's global marches, or had already done so last weekend, as part of the 10th annual Global Marijuana March.

The aim was to push for the full legalisation of cannabis, from production right through to final sale. "Prohibiting cannabis has undesirable effects: it promotes trafficking, criminality, a black market economy and a poor quality product," argued Jacqueline Woerlee, a spokeswoman for the Association for the Abolition of Cannabis Prohibition.