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Pot enthusiasts ditch cops after police make them pay

Published On: Oct 07 2012 11:31:40 PM CDT
Updated On: Oct 07 2012 11:37:43 PM CDT

Pro-marijuana marchers, without extra security after declining to pay the cost, walked through downtown Madison with no major incidents Sunday.

The Great Midwest Marijuana Festival is in its 42nd year, although this was the first time Madison Police made leaders pay $200 to $400 for requested special-duty officers and squad cars during the rally.

The group declined and chose to police their own ranks instead, although organizers said they were concerned what the police cost would do to other groups looking to exercise their right to free speech.

"The financial resources of any organization or group of individuals should not determine whether they're able to exercise their rights," said Dan Goldman, the head of the pro-marijuana, pro-gay rights group LeGAYlize It.

No group has to pay for extra security if they don't want it. Five organizations, other than the marijuana marchers, have declined special-duty officers since the police policy went into effect in April.

Four groups, including the March of Dimes, We Are Wisconsin, Madison Area Technical College, and the Catholic Diocese, have paid between $127.16 and $657.96 for extra security. Another group, the Literacy Network, has asked for officers and squad cars for an event next weekend, according to police records.

"This is really the first time that people have sort of challenged the recommendation to have these special duty officers, and we'll see how it goes," Madison Police spokesman Joel DeSpain said.

The police department's policy may give the impression that groups have to pay to march, Mayor Paul Soglin said.

"As long as I'm mayor, the right of free speech is free," he said. Soglin said that he would talk with police and the city's attorney about the practice.

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