Like horseflies nipping at a wounded beast, Transnational Radical Party (http://www.radicalparty.org) leader Marco Pannella and his comrades are tormenting police in Manchester over police raids on the country's first cannabis cafe, operated in suburban Stockport by Colin Davies. Police raided the cafe in December after it began generating publicity and jailed Davies on cannabis distribution charges. Pannella, a member of the European Parliament (MEP), claimed a victory Monday when police refused to arrest him after he presented himself at the Stockport police station in open possession of cannabis. They did seize his stash.
Two other MEPs had committed similar acts of civil disobedience in support of Davies and his "Dutch Experience" cafe in December. On that occasion, police arrested British MEP Chris Davies (no relation) and Italian MEP Marco Cappato (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/216.html#radicalparty). Pannella described his protest Monday as an act of solidarity with Davies and Cappato (also a Radical Party member), who were bound over to Crown Court in hearings that day.
After police refused to arrest him, Pannella told a crowd of reporters and international supporters that his non-arrest was a precedent-setting victory. "What happened today to me will grant other British citizens the same type of rights," he said. "I would like to thank the police who have granted those rights to the citizens, rights that the law does not foresee."
MEP Davies added that: "This is a significant change in policy by officers. They had prior warning and could have arrested him," according to the Oldham Evening Chronicle. "I welcome that, it is a more sensible use of police resources. It does not make sense to arrest people for crimes where there is no victim."
Pannella added that Chris Davies' act of civil disobedience was a key skirmish in "a battle for a fair law to decriminalize the rights and duties of the citizens and to defeat the monopoly of drug traffickers that affects many aspects of society. This action," Pannella explained, "has been undertaken to demonstrate that the application of these laws is no longer supported, neither by the judges nor by police officers. As Socrates in Athens, we are today publicly violating an unfair law, to obtain a new one that comes from the heart of citizens and doesn't create criminals. Prohibition creates crimes," Pannella said, "and against this situation we want to create a new order founded on freedom, rights and duties."
Manchester police have been increasingly unhappy with the protests, directing their ire at what they called "publicity-seeking politicians." In December, Assistant Chief Constable Meredydd Hughes told the BBC News: "Perhaps it would be better if politicians who wish to change the law used their access to political institutions and focused their protests at the government level. The Police Service does not make the laws of this country," he complained. "We are being diverted from our serious work by the antics of publicity seeking politicians."
This time around, a Manchester police spokesperson denied that the refusal to arrest represented a policy change, adding: "The man refused to accept a police caution, and it was decided that rather than waste police time over a premeditated protest, the officer used his discretion and the man was released without charge and the substance was seized. The decision does not alter GMP's commitment to tackling the issues of drug abuse as they currently stand in the eyes of the law," the Chronicle reported. "The interests of the people of Greater Manchester are better served by police resources being deployed to tackle crime and disorder in the community rather than being squandered becoming embroiled in political debates," she said.
But if Manchester police are hoping for a respite, they shouldn't count on one. The Transnational Radical Party has promised more actions at Stockport, as well as legal challenges. "A number of people who have the same charges could appeal to the court, mentioning this precedent," said TRP United Nations representative Marco Perduca. "And after Pannella was non-arrested, some 20 people from England, France, and the Netherlands announced similar future civil disobedience actions for Stockport," he told DRCNet. "In a couple of months, Davies and Cappato will have to appear in Crown Court again. This whole thing will become even more highly politicized."