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9 arrests at pot protest

Undercover officers move swiftly to arrest people who police said were smoking marijuana publicly.


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 7, 2000

TAMPA -- A pro-marijuana rally erupted into a confrontation between police and demonstrators Saturday afternoon in front of the federal courthouse in downtown Tampa. Nine people were arrested, one after a scuffle in which Tampa police officers restrained a suspect on the ground, enraging the crowd of protesters.

About 60 demonstrators marched several blocks from Lykes Gaslight Park to the courthouse, in an event billed as "Cannabis 2000: The Millennium Marijuana March." Similar rallies were held Saturday in 100 cities worldwide, including St. Petersburg.

For two hours the Tampa protesters had been listening to live music and browsing among vendors of hemp goods and tie-dyed clothing at the park, which is next to the Tampa Police Department. Then they marched down Franklin Street, carrying banners and chanting slogans in favor of legalizing marijuana.

At the courthouse, they stood on the steps and listened to more speeches.

Four Tampa undercover officers were in the crowd. As they moved to arrest people who allegedly were smoking marijuana, squad cars pulled to the curb. The crowd began jeering and moving toward the street.

Those arrested included four juveniles and five adults. Most of them were handcuffed without incident. One protester tried to break free and was subdued after a struggle with four officers, during which the protesters shouted angrily.

"It's never okay to smoke marijuana. That's the law and we're going to enforce it," Tampa Police Sgt. Tom Wolf said later Saturday.

As the police cars drove away with the suspects, one of the demonstrators grabbed a megaphone.

"Anybody know why this happened? And how to keep it from happening?"

The crowd bellowed the answer: "Change the law!"

-- Staff writer Linda Gibson contributed to this report

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