Review Of 2011. Part Two
From April until September
Early in April the Sentencing Council announced its public consultation on drug offences guidelines. It posed the question as to whether medicinal use was a legitimate mitigation for a drug offence saying that there was “mixed evidence” about cannabis as medicine. I made immediate contact with the council and they were quite clearly amazed when I provided them with a video of Les Iversen’s lecture on medicinal cannabis. This shows the depths of ignorance of those responsible for so-called justice in our country. To them the fact that the government’s chief drugs advisor is an enthusiastic advocate for medicinal cannabis was, to say the least, surprising.
CLEAR submitted a very detailed response to the consultation. I have high hopes that when the guidelines are published in January 2012, the cultivation of two or three plants will be effectively decriminalised and that medicinal use will be recognised as a important factor in mitigation. At least it should end the terrible injustice of some people getting major jail time for a handful of plants and others walking free for what was clearly a commercial operation. This could be one of the most important developments in many years.
On 12th April, Justin Gover of GW Pharmaceuticals, finally revealed the truth about its Sativex strategy. When interviewed in the New Scientist and asked about herbal cannabis he said “If anything it makes it less respectable, because we have an alternative that is a standardised, specific and well-determined medicine. Medical marijuana is an approach of the past.”. From this moment on my view of GW has changed. Up until that time I supported it wholeheartedly but Gover’s words reveal the dishonest and malicious intent behind GW’s plan to sustain its unlawful monopoly on medicinal cannabis. It has become as much part of the evil of prohibition as the government and the Daily Mail. They are all engaged in a conspiracy to misinform and deceive the public. There can be no doubt that GW Pharmaceuticals and the Home Office are engaged in a corrupt and dishonest relationship to the disadvantage of the British people.
It was also in April that Charles Walker, MP for Broxbourne, began to ask “reefer madness” inspired questions in parliament. I made contact with him but he rejected my overtures immediately. I didn’t know at that time that he was under a spell by the wicked witch Mary Brett.
As April drew to a close we were on the countdown to the first ever official CLEAR event, the Million Marijuana march in Cardiff on 7th May. The crucial factor was the publication of the CLEAR medicinal cannabis leaflet and we managed to get it done just in time. The march, which was organised with great skill and much hard work by Des Humphrey and Rhys Morgan was a huge success. Personally, I had to fight back tears as we walked through the busy streets of Cardiff which I remember so well from my childhood. It was intensely moving to see so many people supporting us and to see people reading the new leaflet with interest. At the end there were speeches from Rhys, Clark French, Levent Akbulut and me. Our star guest was Leanne Wood from Plaid Cymru, who spoke passionately calling for an end to the war on drugs. As I write this, Leanne is favourite to be elected as the new leader of Plaid.
Around this time the CLEAR website first went online. This, alongside the Westminster press conference in September, was the most important event of the year. Everyone involved in the website deserves great praise. In those early days the key players were Chris Bovey, Fulvio and Jake Ish.
Also in mid May, the Electoral Commission confirmed that CLEAR was an officially registered political party.
Looking back now I can see that this was when the momentum around CLEAR began to build up more quickly than ever before. From an embarrassing and ludicrous membership of just 68 at the beginning of the year, suddenly we had many hundreds more. We were signing up dozens of new members every day and we continue to do so.
On 18th May we held the first CLEAR executive committee meeting. The first item of business was to appoint Des Humphrey to the committee and never has such recognition been more richly deserved. Des is now leader of CLEAR in Wales and director of the Cannabis Truth roadshow. There are a million things I could say about Des and his hard work and courage. I’ll keep it to just two.
Such a position of respect has Des achieved in Wales that I know he has recently been counselling parents who are concerned that their teenagers have started using cannabis. Des is recognised as a responsible, intelligent and wise individual who can be trusted at all levels. He truly is an inspiration.
The second point is simply to state that Des is a man beyond compare. If I had to go “over the top” than there is no one I would want alongside me more than Des, no one who I could trust and rely on more. I would trust him with my life. We are extremely fortunate to have such a man on our side.
At the meeting, following the success of the march in Cardiff we decided to organise a further event for August bank holiday. The idea was to have a outdoors march and rally followed by an evening event at which there woud be bands, stand-up comics annd other entertainment. We also agreed to commission the tax and regulate study from Matthew Atha at the Independent Drug Monitoring Unit (IDMU). He had completed a similar project for the BBC some years earlier which had looked the possibility of a tax and regulate system for all drugs. We prepared a brief which focused on cannabis only and which would require indepth research to establish baseline statistics. At the time we hoped to be able to publish before the summer break.
Every day, the important regular business is the comment warriors campaign. We have had a huge impact with this. Look at any story, published anywhere in the country about cannabis and you will see that CLEAR is there putting across the facts, challenging prejudice and scaremongering. This, combined with the PCC campaign, has made us a force to be reckoned with in the media and we are making a difference. It is repetitive, time consuming work but I believe it is having an effect. We are changing opinions. There is not an editor in the land who does not know that any inaccuracies on cannabis will be challenged, that any story that is published we will have our say. This so different from the last 10 years when the media have been able to get away with just about anything they like. Nobody has been bothered or even capable of calling them to account before but now we are doing it every day. Instead of being a joke, not to be taken seriously, the cannabis lobby is now a force to be reckoned with.
PCC complaints mainly take place behind closed doors. Those are the rules. We publish the initial complaint and the decision or resolution but usually, inbetween, there will have been emails back and forth with new evidence, negotiations, draft corrections, etc, etc. Some complaints are still continuing six months after they were first lodged. More recently though, it is becoming harder and harder to find articles to complain about! This is a measure of our success.
There was a change at the Home Office in May with Baroness Browning taking over responsibility for drugs policy. We didn’t lose James “Broken Britain” Brokenshire entirely though. He continued to be the spokesman on drugs policy in the Commons and still is today even though the Baroness recently retired on health grounds and Lord Henley has now taken over.
I had what appeared to be a very promising exchange of correspondence with Earl Howe, who is the minster at the Department of Health responsible for medicines. He impressed me with his openess and candour. He promised me a “considered response” to some detailed proposals on medicinal cannabis. Then the shutters came down. It was obvious that the enforcer had been in touch and suddenly his language changed and he started reciting civil service doublespeak. I know this man was silenced and I regret that it is a black mark on his integrity as well as bad news for our cause that he was lent on and submitted.
As the summer arrived there were a couple of court reports where judges had sounded off about cannabis in the most inaccurate and prejudiced way. Whatever the state of the law, it cannot be right that a judge can promote false science and speak in Daily Mail headlines. The ignorance and propaganda practised by some on the bench is an affront to justice. So I decided to start complaining about judges!
The Office of Judicial Complaints (OJC) is a relatively new organisation. In the old days if you wanted to complain about a judge you had to go to the Lord Chancellor. Having now experienced the OJC’s response to two complaints I’m afraid I’m not impressed. Evidently it’s one of these bodies set up to divert and appease complaints rather than actually deal with them. In a consumer friendly disguise it actually shuts down your options. It provides no method of appeal against its decisions and enables the judiciary to pretend that it is being responsible and responsive. It is a waste of time and a sham. It operates in the interests of the judiciary, not the public.
I’m thinking that perhaps a better way of addressing this problem with judges is to set up a page on the CLEAR website which records their statements. When a judge spouts false science about cannabis it is a form of corruption. Details of a judge’s “previous” available online would be a useful resource for defendants’ legal teams. It might even allow for applications that a judge is unfit to sit in particular trials. After all, how can a judge preside with any degree of justice if he or she preaches the Daily Mail story about cannabis?
Through the summer we enjoyed a massive surge in membership. Coping with all this was Jan Wells. She’s a working mother, wife and dog owner but is at the foundation of CLEAR’s administration. Without Jan nothing that we do would be possible. From what were a few index cards, Jan has progressed our membership system online. We are beginning to develop systems to integrate communication with members, newsletters, fundraising, etc. These are the product of success but require an enormous commitment of time. Jan is the unsung hero of CLEAR’s success.
Then we had a direct endorsement from Professor Lester Grinspoon. There is no more eminent doctor than the emeritus professor of psychiatry of Harvard medical school. He provided us with one of the first contributions to be published on our new website. This is an honour of the highest order. CLEAR is also a member of the International Assocation for Cannabinoid Medicine (IACM) and of the European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies (ENCOD).
Early in June the Global Commission on Drug Policy called for an end to the war on drugs and, specifically, for the legal regulation of cannabis. In a reprise of the famous letter to the Times of 1968, Release organised the same thing again, a letter signed by many eminent people published as a full page advertisement. For just a few days our issue was back in the headlines. Most informed editorial supported the call except for The Independent which recycled the Patrick Cockburn “Henry’s Demons” story and published a spectacularly inaccurate editorial by John Rentoul. As I write, the resulting PCC complaints are still in progress after many emails back and forth.
John Rentoul wrote on his blog how surprised he was at the amount of comments disagreeing with his editorial. He then went on to make what must be one of the most stupid statements ever published in a national newspaper. He said: “It is a bad thing that the drugs business is in the hands of criminals. My view is that it would be a worse thing if it were legalised, and regulated or administered by the government.”
This must surely go down in history as one of the most idiotic moments of 2011. How John Rentoul still has a job at the Independent on Sunday is a mystery.
Cannabis even made it onto Any Questions and the bizarre Tory MP Nadine Dorries made herself look ridiculous by saying that the cannabis available today is “50 times stronger” than it used to be and that “just one spliff will prevent a child from reaching its full educational potential”. I managed to get onto Any Answers the following day and was given the last 10 second of the programme. I was able to get across two or three key facts but best of all, I had the last word!
Around this time I finally managed to gett a dialogue going with two key scientists: Professor Glyn Lewis and Dr Stanley Zammit who both work between the Universities of Cardiff and Bristol. They are world renowned authorrities on the links between cannabis and psychosis. While their work has frequently been distorted by the Daily Mail, it actually provides strong evidence of how tenuous these links are and that there is no proof of causation at all. They were suspicious of me at first because for so long the cannabis campaign has had such a bad reputation but once we started talking they became much more friendly. It is vital that we cultivate this sort of relationship and turn away from the tribal opposition to authority and the establishment.
I travelled to both Birmingham and Wrexham to deliver a lecture entitled “The Truth About Cannabis” to branches of the group Truthjuice. Inbetween, I had disastrous car breakdown for which Des drove from Port Talbot at the crack of dawn to rescue me, and then he and I visted the Welsh Assembly member Peter Black in Cardiff. He is a solid supporter of our cause and if devolution ever allowed Wales to implement its own drug policy, I think we’d have at least medicinal use very quickly indeed.
There was a horrifying sentence passed by a Judge Christopher Plunkett in Worcester Crown Court. He sent a mother and a daughter to jail for 20 months each for just five plants and a few cuttings. Such brutality and disproportionate sentencing is a massive indictment of British justice. I wrote to the judge personally and had letters published in various newspapers. Paedophilia and violence is commonly treated much more leniently and in my view Judge Plunkett is unfit to sit on the bench. He is the one guilty of a far more serious crime, not to say an appalling waste of taxpayer’s money.
More reefer madness came from the utterly bonkers Charles Walker on 12th June when he led an adjournment debate on cannabis and psychosis in young people. I drove back from Wrexham that moning and met Jan Wells and Dan Ford in Parliament Square. We spent the afternoon handing out leaflets all round parliament and then Dan and I went into the public gallery for the debate. It is well reported elsewhere but the most astoinishing moment came when he said that it is safer for children to use cocaine than cannabis. As I say, he is under a spell by the wicked witch Mary Brett but the stupidity and irresponsibility of the man is unforgiveable. That single speech though has surely destroyed his career. He has no more credibility left, even with those who support prohibition.
I had held out an olive branch to Alun Buffry by asking him to write an article for the website. However, he again started to misuse the name Legalise Cannabis Alliance, setting up a YouTube channel in that name. He and Winston Matthews continue up to this day to use the name and logo without authority and it is a regular chore to have to keep complaining to Facebook and other media owners about their misuse of CLEAR’s intellectual property.
BBC South East ran an investigative report into cannabis towards the end of June. Remarkably they had purchased cannabis from street dealers throughpout their region and then sent it away for analysis. The angle was about high THC levels and an almost complete absence of CBD. I was involved in various radio interviews and once again it provided an oportunity to explain how a reulated system would be safer for everyone.
Also towards the end of June, Mark Palmer represented CLEAR at the ENCOD General Assembly in Prague. On his return his analysis, which is accepted by the executive committee, is that there is little to be gained from anything more than liasion with ENCOD or other international political groups, only a geat deal of expense which is best avoided. We will continue to liaise online.
At the end of June, as a result of many conversations behind the scenes, Derek Williams of UKCIA agreed to come on board and undertake the role of editor of the CLEAR website. This was a crucially important step in building unity. No one has a more erudite and intellectually rigorous approach to our subject. Derek is now a crucial member of the team.
In July the PCC made a major blunder and sent me a letter that was supposed to go to the editor of the Burton Mail advising him of a complaint I had made. Included in the letter was a photocopy of a research study with a paragraph marked obviously as a suggested defence to my complaint!
Even now, nearly six months on, neither the PCC itself, nor the Independent Reviewer have addressed this issue. Of course, it goes right to the heart of the integrity of the commission which seems to have little chance of surviving the outcome of the Leveson Inquiry. However, we will continue to us it as a means of calling the media to account. So far it has refused to uphold a single complaint although quite a number have been resolved by negotiation. The complaints officers do a good job but the commission itself is a cozy, editors club. Essentially it is corrupt and serves the interests of the press, not the public.
In July we launched the Tokepure campaign. This was a relaunch really of an effort that Derek Williams had originated on UKCIA. It is a simple truth that the most dangerous thing about cannabis is smoking it with tobacco so we have set out to provide harm reduction information to encourage those who are going to smoke cannabis to smoke it pure. Derek is still in correspondence with Anne Milton, the minister for public health, who really can’t come up with a rational response at all!
Des was beginning to firm up on plans for the Cardiff event on August Bank Holiday which we had christened the Cymru Cannabis Bash. As he put together a budget it became clear that we couldn’t afford it. At least, if we did, we would be gambling just about every penny we had. It was an extremely difficult decision to make but we decided to cancel and put our resouces into a roadshow – what was eventually to become the Cannabis Truth roadshow and prove to be a very wise decision.
In August the government’s new e-petitions website was launched. Five months later the legalise cannabis petition has only 15,000 signatures against a target of 100,000. While CLEAR supports the petition, it does not even guarantee a parliamentary debate. There is much more potential for progress through the Home Affairs select committee inquiry into drugs policy. We will continue to support both these opportunities.
Through August plans were finalised for a debate between Peter Hitchens and me to take place at the University of Salford. Also, we decided to purchase a gazebo or kiosk for the roadshow decked out in CLEAR livery. At last, right at the end of August, IDMU delivered the “Taxing the UK Cannabis Market” report. We had a press conference to organise!
This was to be the biggest opportunity ever. It had taken years for the LCA to get a meeting with a minster. We decided to take it to them. I contacted the MP Paul Flynn who has been fighting our cause for 25 years and he agreed to sponsor a meeting room right in the Houses of Parliament!