Police warning over cannabis smoking event in Belfast park
Police have issued a warning to hundreds of people who are expected to participate in a public cannabis smoking event being staged in Belfast.
The event is taking place next Saturday (April 20).
Pro-cannabis supporters will gather at City Hall for a rally before the group makes its way to Botanic Gardens, where a '20/4' event will be staged.
The term '20/4' refers to the consumption of cannabis, especially around the time of 4.20pm.
It also refers to the date, April 20, which marks cannabis supporters gathering for similar events worldwide.
Cannabis is a class B drug, meaning it is illegal to possess.
Canna Community NI, which describes itself as an umbrella group for cannabis decriminalisation lobbyists, is behind the Belfast Cannabis Walk and the '20/4' event.
It is the second consecutive year the event has been hosted in Botanic Gardens, where last year a total of four people came to the attention of the police.
According to the PSNI, three of them received community resolution notices for the offence of possession of a class B controlled drug.
The notices are issued in cases where it is deemed appropriate for offenders with little or no previous relevant offending history.
The fourth, a male, was reported to the Public Prosecution Service for the alleged possession of class A and B controlled substances.
A similar public smoking event held in Londonderry's Guildhall Square on April 20, 2017, also attracted a heavy police presence and resulted in a single arrest.
The PSNI warned those planning on participating that there will be a police presence next Saturday afternoon.
"We would advise those attending that local and specialist police officers on duty at the events will take appropriate action if they detect anyone breaking the law," it said.
"Our message is very clear - do not take illegal drugs and do not take prescription drugs that have not been prescribed to you."
The Parades Commission has been notified of the event, which on its website states that Canna Community NI expects an attendance of around 200.
The group said the purpose behind both events is to raise awareness of the benefits of cannabis, dispel "inaccurate stigmas attached to both medical and recreational consumers" of the drug, and establish a "dialogue" between law enforcement agencies and politicians to lobby for decriminalisation.
"Many of the cannabis consumers we have spoken to view our current laws and legislation as very discriminatory towards those who use cannabis for its plethora of medicinal properties," it said.
The group added: "We are here to show that the large demographic of cannabis users come from all walks of society and that we are otherwise law abiding citizens forced into criminality by the unjust legal system and our inactive politicians."