21 Dec Review Of 2011. Part One
From Christmas 2010 until April 2011
Reverberating into the first days of 2011 were two key events. There was Bob Ainsworth’s brave foray into the drugs debate in Westminster Hall. As an ex-drugs minister he joined the long line of individuals who have only felt able to speak the truth about the futile and disastrous “war on drugs” after they have left office. Nonetheless, his contribuition was welcome. James Brokenshire responded to the Westminster Hall debate with his usual doublespeak and made a dreadful gaffe about adulterated cocaine being a measure of success. Most shameful of all was the Labour party’s one word dismissal of his initiative. I will return to the flyers of the red flag later but it has to be said that they have the worst, most cowardly and insincere record on drugs policy of any UK political party.
The other key event in December was the government’s chief drugs advisor, Professor Les Iversen, presenting a lecture at the British Pharmacological Society entitled “Bringing Cannabis back into the Medicine Cabinet”. That’s the government you will remember that says there is “no medicinal value” in cannabis while at the same time granting an unlawful monopoly to GW Pharmaceuticals to grow 20 tonnes per year for medicine. The very latest news is that they have refused an FOI request for details of GW Pharmaceuticals’ licence.
Over the Christmas 2010 period I began to take on responsibility as Speaker for the Legalise Cannabis Alliance (LCA). The membership was balloted on the question of re-registering as a political party and appointing a leader. The result was overwhelmingly in favour. At the end of January there was an LCA admin meeting held in Witham, Essex. Stuart Warwick and I were proposed as candidates for the leadership and we were both both appointed to the admin team. The leadership election was underway.
In mid January the “Henry’s Demons” story was launched in the media on a wave of reefer madness hysteria. Patrick Cockburn, a veteran Fleet Street journalist had written a book with his son Henry in which he blamed Henry’s mental illness on his use of cannabis. Cockburn shamelessly exploited his media contacts in order to promote his book and it was everywhere. Peter Hitchens was in the front line both in newspapers and doing the TV interview circuit. Looking back, this was what kickstarted our Press Complaints Commission campaign. Still to this day, there are complaints in progress at the PCC on related stories. There is no doubt that the Cockburn family had experienced a dreadful tragedy but the book and the articles about it plumbed the very worst depths of inaccuracy, scaremongering and blatant untruths.
Also in January the pre-release trailer of “When We Grow” was released, a documentary made on a shoestring by a very talented group of A level students and featuring Professor David Nutt, Sarah Martin and myself. It was to prove one of the major successes of the year. The full movie has now been watched over 300,000 times on YouTube.
January also saw the BBC broadcast a series entitled “How Drugs Work” which attracted a lot of anger for some of its sensationalist language, notably “cannabis hijacks the nervous system like a herbal terrorist” but overall it was actually quite balanced and much more accurate than most similar programmes. Astonishingly we also then had another two part BBC documentary, “Cannabis: What’s the Harm?” which featured our very own Jason Reed’s story.
It was around this time that I first began to experience the reality of being a cannabis politician. Emanating from the UK420 website came a stream of hostility, abuse and quite ludicrous paranoia about what I was up to. Let’s be clear, most of the people on UK420 are good guys, just like you and me but there’s a small group of real troublemakers who are intent on causing trouble. They seem to think they’re fighting a war against the system and anyone who tries to work with the system is an enemy. I was accused of being an undercover cop, trying to get medicinal users to reveal their names and addresses so they could be busted. I was also accused of doing it all “to make money” which as anyone who has any common sense at all will tell you is exactly the opposite of what being involved in cannabis politics achieves!
At the time I laughed off the undercover cop story but extraordinary events also in January were to make me reconsider my judgement. It was revealed that a policeman, Mark Kennedy, had been undercover in the climate change movement for years. Gradually I began to revise my opinion. I mean there’s nothing contrary to law about the climate change movement whereas there most certainly is about the cannabis movement. So if the police choose to go undercover for climate change, surely it’s virtually certain that they would do so for cannabis? I started to question myself. Why has the cannabis campaign achieved so little progress despite the strength of its arguments? Why had the efforts of the last few year been so badly managed and presented with the most dreadful image of cannabis users? Why has there always been so much bickering and infighting in the movement?
January also saw the launch of the Global Commission on Drug Policy with heavyweights like Sir Richard Branson and Kofi Annan calling for radical change.
By mid February I had been elected leader of the LCA, winning two-thirds of all votes cast. I set out to implement the manifesto on which I’d been elected. We moved into the “New LCA” era. This meant a new constitution and we decided to address the thorny issue of the name at the same time. Did we want to continue to be called the Legalise Cannabis Alliance? Many people were opposed to the use of the word legalise which was widely interpreted to mean a free for all. We called for suggestions for a new name.
Other than that, the most immediate need was for an up to date and professional website. Looking back now I can see that I wasn’t strong enough about this to begin with. The old LCA site was dreadful. It actually caused more harm than good to the cause and promoted a dreadful, scruffy and unprofessional image. I was too concerned about upsetting those who had been involved in it in the past and I agreed to keep it up while we undertook the mammoth task of creating a replacement.
I was very surprised that Alun Buffry chose to resign from the LCA admin team following the leadership election. I and other members of the committee went to great lengths to get him to stay on. I asked him to become party chairman but he could have chosen his job title and designed his role as he wanted to. However, he was determined to return to independent campaigning. He said he didn’t want to be led and he didn’t want to be a leader. At that time, I think we were all saddened by his decision and we hoped that he would change his mind. He certainly stayed involved, even though he wasn’t even a member anymore, he continued to offer his advice to everyone on the admin team.
The first hints of trouble came when I started to receive a stream of emails from people who had worked with the LCA in the past but had left because they couldn’t get on with Alun. He also started to get increasingly aggressive and disruptive about all the changes that were in progress – even though he wasn’t even a member anymore. He didn’t seem to be able to let go of the reins and I felt some sympathy for him about this, as did everyone on the admin team. Again, in retrospect, I should probably have been stronger with him at the time and made clear to him that if he wasn’t even a member he should stop interfering.
At the end of February, David Cameron made some astonishingly inaccurate and false remarks about cannabis on a YouTube Al Jazeera interview. There is no doubt at all that he was speaking untruths. I have been writing to him asking for a correction ever since. The latest is that Paul Flynn MP is writing to him on my behalf asking why my letters have been ignored and why Cameron will not issue a correction.
In early March I had to draw a line with Alun Buffry as he was misusing his access to the existing LCA website and using the LCA’s mailing lists for his own purposes. The relationship was becoming increasingly difficult. He couldn’t let go and was interfering in everything and stirring up trouble, posting criticism wherever he could.
On 11th March we held the first committee meeting since my election. It was an extremely difficult meeting. Don Barnard said straight out that he was going to veto any changes at all, despite what the members had voted for in my leadership manifesto. We went round and round in circles for hours. Eventually there was no other option, by unanimous vote, except for Don, he was voted off the committee.
In the end it was all done in reasonably good humour. We agreed to recommend the new constitution to the membership along with a name change to Cannabis Law Reform. At that point, Jason Reed (aka Homegrown Outlaw) also joined the committee.
A few days later we agreed to offer Don the first ever fellowship of the party in recognition of his long service as its press officer. To this day he remains the only holder of this honour.
Also in March we held a meeting with the Royal Parks management and police about the possibility of holding an official event there to coincide with the worldwide Million Marijuana march. This was to have a very sad outcome. The people we met with, including the police, were friendly, encouraging and positive. We agreed to pay a cash bond, take out insurance, hire hundreds of stewards and clean the site afterwards. A few days later we were told that yes we could hold the event but we couldn’t have a stage or a PA. We did our best to change this decision but the faceless bureaucrat that made it was intransigent. It was clear that in fact this was a way of saying “yes” but meaning “no”.
A few weeks later on 20th April (420) an unoffical event took place in Hyde Park. We had no part in organising it but I was invited to speak. Tragically it ended in violence with a gang war amongst dealers and several people were badly hurt. The park was utterly trashed with litter everywhere. That idiotic, faceless bureaucrat should have this disaster on his conscience. By contrast, we approached Cardiff city council. It and the Cardiff police welcomed us and we ran a very successful event there on 7th May.
It was towards the end of March that the situation with Alun Buffry came to a head. He had set up the original hosting account for the website and was refusing to hand over the passwords or allow access to the LCA data. He was arguing about some of the data being his, even though LCA had paid for all the hosting and even trying to retain the LCA website address as his own..
It then emerged that Alun was running and promoting a “no” campaign on the vote to adopt the new constitution and name. This, remember, even though he was no longer on the committee nor even a member.
That last weekend in March the vote closed with a positive result. The new constitution was approved and from that moment on the LCA became Cannabis Law Reform (CLEAR).
Then the Buffry bombshell hit. Suddenly, we the CLEAR executive committee, were locked out of our own website. Also we started to receive emails and messages that Alun was re-launching the LCA and he already had a new petition up on the web using the old LCA constitution.
That wasn’t all. A new Facebook page had appeared called Legalise Cannabis Alliance UK, using the LCA logo. Disturbingly, I also received some very angry messages from NORML asking who was behind the NORML UK Facebook page.
It wasn’t hard to work it out. Alun Buffry turned out to be the administrator of the NORML UK page which he had set up entirely without authority or permission and for which he was unlawfully using the NORML logo. Winston Matthews was the administrator of the LCA UK page and he had stolen a copy of the LCA logo.
I think we all realised at that point that we had been too polite, too considerate and too gentle with Alun and his small group of friends who were evidently hell bent on causing as much trouble as possible. We agreed to take immediate and severe action. We couldn’t access the website so we contacted the hosting company and had them take the whole site down., We resolved to set up the new site with a new hosting company. Facebook co-operated with us and NORML and the sham pages were taken down. We agreed we had no option but to expel Winston from the party.
Around this time the Peter Reynolds “hate” website came on line. It accused me of being a undercover cop (again) of having lied about everything in my past, of being a Jew hater, a racist, and just about every other ridiculous allegation they could dream up.
Learning to deal with this sort of abuse and with the constant sniping, criticism and blatant lies and distortions has been the biggest learning curve of my life. As you will know, it’s still going on today and Buffry is continually engaged in an anti Peter Reynolds campaign. His latest Facebook page was taken down recently but I expect another will be up soon.
The main reason for covering these events in some detail in this review of the past year is to put the whole sorry tale to bed for good. I’ve answered the same questions literally hundreds of times to members who are genuinely worried and concerned about the lies and distortions they’ve been fed. Now, if it comes up again I can just refer people to this article.
Many people thought Buffry was behind the hate site but I knew it wasn’t him. It was promoted by the idiot who calls himself Hughie Green who many will know from UK420. Eventually he shut up when, bit by bit, I posted evidence to prove that everything I had said about myself is true. He indulged in all sorts of really pathetic games, posting 50 comments at a time on my website full of foul abuse. Still today, I get these long, rambling, barely coherent rants about how I want to take away people’s freedom, I’m only in it for the money and how I eat baby girls for breakfast three days a week and similar nonsense!
I’ve learned to ignore these people (most of the time!) and get on with the campaign. More and more of my time in the spring was spent on PCC complaints. The newspapers, principally the Daily Mail, had never, ever been held to account before and been made to substantiate their claims (Why not I ask?). As we got into swopping scientific evidence it became clear that most of these journalists have no idea at all what they’re writing about and they falsify and distort the evidence with impunity. Quite soon we began to notice a toning down of language and that they were taking a more cautious approach
I attended the Students for Sensible Drug Policy conference in Manchester with Clark French and Greg de Hoedt (aka Cure Ukay). This was one of the highlights of the year for me and on the long journey there and back I experenced what a dramatic and transformational effect cannabis has on these two very brave young mens’ lives. Clark has MS and Greg has Crohn’s disease. They are my inspiration and it is for them and others like them that I continue to fight even in the darkest moments when I am subject to the sort of vile abuse that comes from Buffry and others.
In April there was a debate at Kings College in London where I met Peter Hitchens for the first time and another at the Policy Exchange in Westminster where he was once again opposed by ex police chief Tom Lloyd and Sir Ian Gilmour from the Royal College of Physicians. I was determined that this was the level that I wanted CLEAR to be operating at . We had to elevate ourselves from the dreadful scruffy, mumbling old hippy image of the past and adopt a new scientific, professional, responsible, up to date profile.
Also in April, Stuart Warwick and I visted Tom Raikes of Seedsman at his delightful, rural headquarters in Oxfordshire. We went there with a proposal and it was entirely due to Tom’s generosity that we left with a cheque sufficient to fund our very own expert study into the economics of a tax and regulate policy on cannabis in Britain.
This was it. This was an important moment. I knew then, as Stuart and I walked back to my car, me with a cheque in my pocket, he with a free packet of pineapple kush seeds. From that moment on, CLEAR was moving the campaign onto onto a new, positive and far more credible level.
…to be continued.