02 Aug Andrew Cox. House of Lords Cannabis Conference, July 2014

Cannabis conference header

Andrew Cox

House of Lords, Committee Room G

House of Lords, Committee Room G

Andrew Cox is a CLEAR member. He ran a growshop for 10 years but more recently enjoyed a spell at Her Majesty’s pleasure for the production of cannabis. One day soon he hopes to put his green fingers to their proper use in a regulated legal environment. He attended the cannabis conference held in the House of Lords on 23rd July 2014 and this is the way he saw it.

I made my way through one of the side entrances to the House of Lords, basically a white marquee attached to the side of the building, this was inhabited by some very surly police and security officers. Quite what they all had to be so funky about I do not know but hey, I was in so made my way until I reached a rather splendid and plush waiting hall where I sat with three other of the delegates, one of whom took a photo of the hall and was informed that there was a no photos policy. I noticed two large groups of visitors and a gift shop about 40 metres away, some had cameras around their necks. Anyway, we were taken on an interesting path through the halls of the House until we finally reached the room designated for us.

As is customary for myself, I made a bee line for a seat at the back and in the corner. I had been chatting to a fellow delegate on our walk so he came and sat with me, we had some coffee and biscuits and waited for the rest of the delegates to arrive so it could all begin. The man I had befriended was Noel Rashleigh, a counsellor at Wayland prison. I have been inside so we exchanged stories about our experiences of prison, his as a counsellor, mine as an inmate.

Finally it was time to start, a quick word from Baroness Meacher, the only word of note I can remember is that she suggested the reform in the US has been a game changer and that it is not a case of when reform will happen but how, an encouraging start.

Professor Robin Murray was first to speak, now I know he is obviously very intelligent and an expert in his field but I found his presentation skills to be rather bumbling. I have watched other conferences of his and it always seems to me that he is fighting with his memory throughout. His presentation focused on some general data on cannabis psychosis that he admitted affected a tiny fraction of the number of actual users. He also admitted it is a complicated and some/all is unproven and needs far more research. His brief talk was general and involved a overview of his work.

Professor Murray encouraged others to intervene during his talk, something he quickly regretted. In the room were some very passionate individuals who came armed with all the counter arguments/research that we are all familiar with I expect. It seemed that Professor Murray was not used to being continually challenged. As much as I respect the knowledge and passion of these individuals, I felt there was a lack of listening and digesting and a pre planned agenda that led to individuals talking over each other as responses to responses were being spoken before the other had finished their response.

However we feel listening and respecting any opinions/views/research is always the most important aspect of any debate and I was relieved when an elderly gentlemen, who I believe was a kind of custodian of the House of Lords who attends these meetings to make sure they run smoothly and effectively, rose from his seat and said it would be beneficial if questions and discussions were kept for the time set aside for discussion. Admittedly these time slots were not frequent enough or long enough, so perhaps there was a sense of frustration on the the part of some delegates that their voice would not be heard.

Professor Murray had two colleagues with him and they both spoke briefly, one of which spoke in more detail of the tests and research they carry out, again their knowledge of cannabis was scrutinised and they also seemed slightly uncomfortable at times. I caught Professor Murray rolling his eyes a couple of times during the day. Peter Reynolds said to me later in the day that he did not like the negative tone around the subject that some speakers focused on. I understood his sentiments but Professor Murray and his colleagues are concerned with the negative impact of cannabis on individuals, they admit the number is very small but it is real.

Even if one person in the country had negative affects after using cannabis there would be a whole research team devoted to this one individual. That is what the scientific community do, there are some very rare diseases that affect a tiny fraction of the population but the researchers of these diseases don’t start presentations stating only a few are affected so let’s be positive, they are interested in one thing, the disease and how it affects those afflicted.

So I came away thinking differently of Professor Murray, they are scientists doing their job, that of researching the problems a tiny fraction of individuals who consume cannabis experience. They are for reform, they are in fact with us in that general sense, although I noticed Professor Murray and his colleagues seemed the least enthusiastic when the question was asked at the end about who thought reform is needed. One interesting point that one of Professor Murray’s colleagues mentioned was that she believed using using the comparison of alcohol and tobacco (even coffee) and cannabis is the wrong argument to use. I have to agree, although I can’t intellectually explain my reasoning, nor did she to be fair to myself. For some reason I feel that because of A and B that there should not always be C. I know that probably makes no sense but it was the first time I had heard someone agree with something I have thought for a while so I felt less alone with that for a moment.

Mr Peter Moyes was next up, a director of Nottingham Crime and Drugs Partnership. Again, as Mr Reynolds stated, his presentation focused on the negative. Examples would be when Mr Moyes spoke about the consequences of fires in cannabis grows and the use of slaves to tend to grows. Mr Moyes cited the negative aspects of this without mentioning that reform should eliminate these instances to nearly none, so as I said, Mr Reynolds is right, but again his job is to look at the negative side of things. If I’m honest, nearly every point he made could have been challenged with reform would solve that problem. Even so, Mr Moyes gave a very good presentation with anecdotal and general information that is real to his occupation and that of anyone negatively affected by the consequences. Again, frustratingly, Mr Moyes was in favour of reform, he admitted he is essentially doing an impossible, unwinnable, pointless job. As he stated though, it is his job to implement the law as it stands and to minimise the negative consequences with the tools he has at hand.

Next up was Mr Reynolds who was the only person who actually took the question the meeting proposed ‘what is stopping reform’ and answered it specifically. I am certain anyone reading this knows the points he raised so I will not go into detail. I agreed with every word and his passion is evident in person as it is through the internet.

A PHD student from Manchester University, Melissa Bone, was up next. Ms Bone specialises in law and she focused on the human rights angle and court cases that threw up the question the law is not capable of answering and that is of morals and individuals’ right to obtain good health. The case she focused on was one where the defendants used the Human Rights Act that declares all individuals have the right to good health and that using cannabis gave them that good health, so in fact the prosecution was going against the law.

As Ms Bone stated, the court did its usual course of action when challenged and is clueless how to respond. They threw their arms in the air and pass it onto parliament, who of course throw out the case and carry out the law word for word. It was this issue of human rights v law that she is interested in and focuses her attention, it is a fascinating one and made for the best presentation of the day. The information and the philosophical questions it posed she dealt with intelligently and relayed them with concise and easily digestible information. I was glad again for the intervention of the old man who rose once again to ask if Ms Bone thought that if the same case was put through court again would it have a better chance of winning as as time has passed and the evidence has increased the case would be stronger. Unfortunately her response was not too positive, this was backed by Mr Reynolds’ recent meeting with Norman Baker and the current court case being pursued by a member of CLEAR in regards to his imported Bedrocan.

A student from Cambridge, Matt Bradley, was next, giving his own personal experiences of cannabis use that I think we could all relate to.

Lastly was Professor Val Curran who Baroness Meacher seemed overly excited about. Again, as with Professor Murray, I found her presentation wanting. If i never see another picture of Bob Marley or a close up of a ‘big spliff’ or a picture of a skunk smoking cannabis again it will not be long enough. Is that really the best that leading academics can produce?It’s what you see on students’ walls, no?

The information Professor Curran had in her presentation was very similar to Professor Murray and I found it interesting that Moyes, Murray and Curran had some slides that were identical. Do they get all their information from one source?

Professor Curran admitted psychosis affected a tiny amount of users and she was not interested in this aspect, her interest was the addictive qualities. When a delegate attempted to question the addictiveness of cannabis, citing a report that said the addictiveness is close to that of coffee, she batted this away as if the person asking was a bit stupid. It is however a credible research piece that she seemed unaware of and unwilling to examine or show any interest in. This disappointed me but when the results fly against all her research I suppose she would be reluctant to acknowledge. Like I said, disappointing.

Again, Professor Curran received some tough questions and I found it slightly amusing as Baroness Meacher started to become a bit protective of her. These individuals are not used to being questioned and it really showed at times. Professor Curran’s research was focused on the different types of cannabis available and the different affects on addictiveness. There was an excellent piece of research about eye movement and THC and CBD that was ruined, once again, by a slide showing a man with what looked like superman like laser beams coming out of his eyes. I am sure we could all understand this concept without the visual aid. Again, I am in no doubt some people get psychologically addicted to cannabis, as they can to anything pretty much, but she seemed determined to make the case that it was far more intense and prevalent than I believe. Maybe I am wrong but her lack of interest into research that is around her subject area made me a bit suspicious.

That was the end and I rushed off quickly to make it back to work in time, which I did, just!

The most interesting point raised for me was one by Noel, my friend for the day and prison counsellor, whose point was drowned out by someone intervening before he had finished. It was about Spice and its prevalence in prison, something we all know of, although it is massively prevalent in Wayland, he estimated 90% of the inmates are consuming. A huge proportion. However, even worse, is that somehow inmates have found a way of crystallising spice and snorting it. He said three to four inmates a day are having seizures and collapsing because of its use, falling like flies was his obvious analogy. Whilst he was talking he said the prisoners call it crack, when this word came out of his mouth a delegate started saying something along the lines of that’s ridiculous etc, without actually letting him finish off to say that is what they have nicknamed it, so the point was lost and any discussion possible with it.

Now I dont believe in prohibition of any substance but these fake cannabis substitutes (or whatever they are called) make me as angry as I am likely to get about anything. I despise anyone who is involved in the production or trade. I love the cannabis plant. I have been to prison and fucked up my life because of this love and for people to make fake cannabis because cannabis is illegal sickens me.

They say you are more affected by things that are important to you, similar to how you donate to charities that are personal to you, so maybe I am irrational in this respect about fake cannabis but if you are involved in the production or trade of fake cannabis you are a nasty individual and I implore anyone and everyone to never touch the stuff, it’s spitting in the face of the plant I love.