By VANESSA GERA, Associated Press
WARSAW, Poland (AP) — A prominent Polish politician and several activists smoked what they said was marijuana in front of parliament Friday as part of a campaign to liberalize the country's drug laws.
With police looking on, Janusz Palikot, the head of the left-wing party Palikot's Movement, and several other people took puffs from joints as snow fell.
Dozens more gathered around a platform where they smoked and chanted "Grow it, Smoke it, Legalize it."
Police officer Maciej Karczynski said that three people had been arrested for possession of a herb before the demonstration started, and the substance was being tested to see if it was a narcotic.
Karczynski said police were not convinced that what the activists smoked was really marijuana. But one of the demonstration's leaders, Mateusz Klinowski, insisted it was.
Klinowski said the three arrested were actually carrying a cooking herb, marjoram, but that during the rally pot was actually smoked.
What smelled like burning marijuana also wafted through the chilly air during the demonstration, which took place across the street from the Sejm, the lower house of parliament.
Activists said they want the country's laws changed to decriminalize the possession and consumption of marijuana. They said they consider it hypocrisy that Poland is a major vodka producer but punishes casual users of soft drugs with prison terms of up to three years.
Steps were taken last year to liberalize the law and allow small amounts for "personal use" but the campaigners say this is imprecise and insufficient.
"Vodka is more dangerous than marijuana," said Klinowski, a law professor and head of the Polish Drug Policy Network, a group campaigning to decriminalize soft drug use.
He called Poland's current laws "outdated and wrongheaded."
Stelios Alewras, a 26-year-old at the rally, called Friday's demonstration part of a "coming out of smokers of weed."
"We want to show that we are normal people," Alewras said. "I am a lawyer and we want to show that smoking pot is a normal thing like drinking beer."
Marijuana use was largely tolerated during the communist era, though it wasn't spoken of openly in public. With Solidarity's victory over the communists, the Catholic church took on a strong role in guiding public policy and the country got a raft of conservative policies, including restrictive abortion laws and the criminalization of drug use.
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