05 Jan The CLEAR Cannabis Law Reform Campaign In 2014

PJR on Jamies sofa

A very happy New Year to everyone who supports CLEAR. I take this opportunity to remind you why we are here – our aims and objectives:

1. To end the prohibition of cannabis.

2. To promote as a matter of urgency and compassion the prescription of medicinal cannabis by doctors.

3. To introduce a system of regulation for the production and supply of cannabis based on facts and evidence.

4. To encourage the production and use of industrial hemp.

5. To educate and inform about the uses and benefits of cannabis.

More detailed information here.

These words have been adopted by other UK cannabis campaigning organisations, in particular many of the new cannabis social clubs. They are our gift to the campaign and define what needs to be done to overturn the absurd and damaging policy of prohibition.

I think it is worth highlighting what differentiates CLEAR from other UK cannabis groups. It was our 2011 re-launch and change of name from the Legalise Cannabis Alliance that revived the UK campaign and we are gratified to see how so many new groups have since formed but CLEAR is for cannabis law reform, not cannabis in itself. We are not a ‘user group’. We are not here to promote the use of cannabis except in the context of therapeutic or medicinal use.

There are now many groups that celebrate cannabis and we welcome that but it is not our focus. Many of our supporters and members are non-users and we regard it as a matter of individual choice whether to use cannabis or not. What is CLEAR is the urgent necessity for cannabis law reform. Our unique tax and regulation proposals put forward the most realistic way that cannabis can be legalised in the UK. The only viable path to a legally regulated market is through commercialisation and taxation.

We have good reason to be hopeful for more progress across the world this year. These last few days have seen a fabulous celebration of reform in Colorado and soon we will see the same from Washington and Uruguay. Later in the year, Alaska, Arizona, California and Oregon are planning votes on legal regulation and there will be more in 2015 and in the US general election in 2016. Argentina, Mexico and Peru are also said to be considering reform.

It’s very different in Britain though. We now come second only to countries like Singapore and Malaysia in the brutality of our cannabis laws and our failure to base policy on evidence. Particularly for medicinal users, the UK government’s policy and process on cannabis can now only be described as corrupt. It is dishonest, cruel and shames our nation which once was a beacon of democracy. The politicians who have got us into this mess have operated out of prejudice, cowardice and in fear of the tabloid press. That Britain is also the home of the greatest centre of cannabinoid expertise in the world, GW Pharmaceuticals, is beyond irony. It is a disgrace. History will condemn the home secretaries, health ministers and medicines regulators who have allowed this situation to develop. The pain, suffering and disability of hundreds of thousands is their responsibility and they have allowed this for their personal political advantage, career safety and by an absence of personal integrity and moral courage.

Certainly on this issue, our politicians can no longer claim any adherence to democratic principles let alone scientific and medical evidence. I now have in writing from the last three drugs ministers (Norman Baker has yet to respond in these terms) that they will not, as a matter of policy, meet with any campaigners to discuss any aspect of cannabis policy. Again, it is beyond irony that our justice minster, Chris Grayling , recently met with the ‘celebrity’ ex-Friends star Matthew Perry to discuss drug courts. This is the truth about so many UK government ministers: self-serving, venal parasites on the media with no interest at all in the concerns of British people, only in their public profile and their personal career advantage.

So, apart from medicinal access, I see no hope for reform in Britain on our own initiative. UK politicians are too weak, constrained by the party whip system and there is simply no longer any proper accountability in Britain. Our MPs do as their parties direct, as suits their careers and their constituents come a lowly third. On the cannabis issue, 95% are incapable of anything more than repeating the Home Office’s tired and dishonest mantra and there is nothing in what has become our joke of a democratic system that will change this.

There are some honourable exceptions: Paul Flynn, Dr Julian Huppert, Andrew Turner, Peter Lilley, Tim Yeo, Mark Reckless, David Winnick, Bob Ainsworth. Please remind me of any that I have missed out.

I do not believe that general legalisation of cannabis will become a realistic prospect in the UK until after the 2016 US presidential election. If that produces an overwhelming tide across many more states then Britain may follow shortly afterwards. At present our politicians don’t have the courage or moral fibre to do the right thing. The libertarian argument goes nowhere in an increasingly authoritarian society. Even the economic argument, the promise of a £9 billion boost to the economy and tens of thousands of new jobs, is not enough to overcome the abject fear of what the Daily Mail will say and the corrupt and malevolent lobbying from Big Booze. Sadly, also, the UK cannabis campaign has failed to rise above the ‘smoke ups’ and demos – failed and self-defeating tactics that provide the ideal excuse for politicians to avoid doing anything.

We don’t yet have the essential ingredients of smart, well funded activism, planning and running intelligent campaigns as in the US. I was staggered to learn earlier this year that the Drug Policy Alliance has a $10 million war chest for campaigning. Where are the UK donors who can afford to fund some advertising and PR activities? Even those famous and wealthy British individuals who support our cause will not put their money where their mouth is. They prefer to pontificate in New York rather than London, to perform on the global stage rather than to start at home.

However, by the middle of 2014 there will be evidence from Uruguay, Colorado and Washington on what a legally regulated cannabis market means in practice. Of course, it may not all be good news. There could be an upsurge in use to begin with but at least we are now on the path to having valuable evidence on which to base intelligent policies.

On medicinal use I think we can make some real progress within this current parliament. CLEAR is driving forward the campaign for access to cannabis as medicine. Five people have now successfully obtained a prescription for Bedrocan, travelled to collect their medicine from a Dutch pharmacy and returned home safely, openly declaring their medicine at customs. Early in November, Dr Sanjay Gupta of CNN flew into London to interview Jamie Watling (formerly known as Clarence Clear), George Hutchings and myself. It’s very sad that we managed to get the attention of a US TV station but the UK media is just not interested. There was a brief news story on CNN that weekend which you can see by clicking here. A full length documentary is planned for March 2014.

Sadly, the sixth person to try, George Hutchings, had his medicine seized at the end of November but this is a cloud with a silver lining. It opens the way for us to bring legal proceedings against the government. Just before Christmas, Bindmans, the ‘top tier’ firm of London solicitors, agreed to act on behalf of George in seeking judicial review of the Home Secretary’s refusal to issue a personal import licence. Within a few months, Theresa May will be facing a rigorous examination of her policies and actions.

This is the first serious legal challenge to the UK government’s policy on medicinal cannabis since the criminal appeals on ‘medical necessity’ were dismissed back in 2005. As well as testing the ability of ministers and civil servants to override a doctor’s prescribed therapy, our claim will challenge the false distinction between Sativex and other forms of cannabis created by the dishonest re-scheduling of Sativex to schedule 4 of the Misuse of Drugs Regulations.

So it is on medicinal use that our efforts will continue to be focused. Forty years of protestors wanting to get high in public has achieved exactly the opposite of what was intended. Individual work with CLEAR members, their MPs and doctors is what we see making real progress. We will ramp up our efforts towards MPs. Too many are content to dismiss their constituents’ concerns without proper consideration. We must show them the consequences of such behaviour.

In the last month, I have been interviewed for three new documentaries on cannabis and more are in the pipeline. There is incredible momentum in the campaign now. Hopefully we will get more results soon.

Turning to the party itself, I was nominated unopposed in the leadership election and my new three year term commences on 1st March 2014. I am flattered and grateful for the loyalty that members have shown but I do need to identify a successor. I hope that within the next year I can pass on the baton to someone new. He or she will need to be strong, energetic and with the financial resources to devote the majority of their time to the party.

There is a dearth of leadership in the UK campaign. Other groups cannot find anyone to take on the role of leader or executive director and as one who has felt the wrath of the stoner hate campaign more than most, I understand why. It has always been so. We have bitter and resentful campaigners of old and we have young, cocksure types who think they know it all. There are few prepared to put their head above the parapet but many prepared to criticise and pursue the most negative, destructive arguments. The cannabis evangelists with their irresponsible snake oil claims and those who pursue a ‘wake ‘n’ bake’, stoner lifestyle are the enemies of reform. The next leader of CLEAR must be a formidable individual with the judgment to know how best to achieve real progress in the face of many difficulties. Who are you? Where are you? When will you step forward?

There have been some recent changes in the CLEAR executive committee.

Mark Palmer, formerly treasurer and membership secretary, retains his role as deputy leader but this is now a non-executive position.

Derek Williams, formerly website editor, is now to focus on our TOKEpure and Ex-SCRA campaigns.

Roland Gyallay-Pap continues as director of the Media Team but we are seeking a successor. Roland also takes on the roles of treasurer and membership secretary.

Alan Thorburn, Daily News editor, also becomes website editor. Vicky Hodgson takes charge of the medicinal users panel. We expect Alan and Vicky to be formally appointed to the committee at the next meeting in February.

So thank you to all who have supported CLEAR over the past year. Never before have we been so close to our goal but there is still much work to be done. I appeal to all who have a genuine interest in ending the prohibition of cannabis to step forward and become a member. Contribute what you can financially towards our expenses and campaign budget. There is no serious alternative group that is focused on realistic political change achieved through professional and evidence-based campaigning. If you want to see an effective law reform campaign then the place to put your money and your support is CLEAR.