18 Oct “The Settled View Of Ministers Is That The Medicinal Campaign Is Just An Excuse To Take Cannabis”
These are the words of Sir Oliver Letwin, my MP, during a meeting with him just a few days ago.
To some this may be an astonishing revelation, to others it will be depressing confirmation that this bigoted and out-of-date view still persists. Anyone with even a modicum of knowledge will agree that it is deeply ignorant and in defiance of a vast quantity of scientific evidence.
This is the end point of my two and half years of discussion with Sir Oliver. He’s not currently a cabinet minster but through his 20 year parliamentary career he’s always been at the top of the Conservative Party: Shadow Home Secretary, Shadow Chancellor and then in government in 2010 elevated to the status of right hand man to David Cameron. As Minister for Government Policy and then Chancellor of The Duchy of Lancaster, he was been described as ‘the intellectual powerhouse of the Tory Party’ and as ‘number three in the government after Cameron and Osborne’.
So what goes through Oliver’s mind is a pretty good indication of how the Tory Party establishment thinks. I’m absolutely certain that what he has told me is exactly the present mindset of ministers from Theresa May down.
Back in 2015 Oliver wrote to George Freeman MP on my behalf, then the minister with responsibility for medicines. He’s also written to Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary and Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary. None of this correspondence has resulted in anything but the usual, anodyne words that are nothing but a brush off. I did think I was getting somewhere though when he told me he would establish with the Department of Health what its position was on the scientific evidence. Back came the answer that all the evidence had been considered, expert advice had been taken and the conclusion was that the risks of legalising for medicinal use would outweigh the benefits.
Now this didn’t make sense to me. I wanted to know what evidence and what experts. After half a dozen requests for this information and no response I submitted a Freedom of Information Request to the Department of Health. Eventually it was returned stating quite clearly that it had neither requested, received nor considered any evidence on medicinal cannabis. Coincidentally, just a few days later, Paul Flynn MP asked almost exactly the same question in Parliament and received the same answer. So I wrote to Oliver and said that either he had been misled or he was misleading me, which was it? It was at this point that he stopped replying to my emails.
After several months of repeated requests and no response I went direct to his parliamentary secretary and booked a surgery appointment to see him as a constituent. I was quite prepared to confront him face to face. I was amused to receive an email from Oliver the very same day in which he said that would reluctantly agree to see me on the subject “one last time”. So at the meeting his explanation was that it had all been a huge misunderstanding, he didn’t mean to suggest that any evidence had been examined, it was simply “the settled view of ministers is that the medicinal campaign is just an excuse to take cannabis”.
Such is the state of our so-called democracy and so-called evidence-based policy.