19 May Which Way Forward For The British Cannabis Campaign?

Drugs policy in the UK is run by the Daily Mail, capo di tutti capi of the Fleet Street mafia.

Given the accelerating pace of change in the USA, imminent radical change in Latin America and the fact that Britain now has one of the most backward drugs policies in the world, what can we do to advance the cause of cannabis law reform?

Peter Reynolds Peter Reynolds

Cannabis is, of course, the big drugs policy issue although it is generally lumped in with discussion about addictive, dangerous drugs and consequently little rational debate takes place. It is self-evident that our 300,000 problematic users of opiates and crack would be better dealt with as patients rather than criminals. It would stop them perpetrating 70% of all acquisitive crime.

It is equally self-evident that a tax and regulate policy on cannabis, MDMA and other relatively harmless substances would reduce harm, protect children and make a huge contribution to our economy. This, however, wouldn’t suit the alcohol industry which as it spends £800 million on advertising each year brings us back round in a self-reinforcing circle to the Fleet Street mafia, the real enemies of reform and progress in Britain on all political issues.

Then there’s the unlawful monopoly of medicinal cannabis granted to GW Pharmaceuticals which has been growing cannabis for commercial gain under an unlawful licence for 10 years (The Home Secretary retrospectively legalised it last month). The Home Office is engaged in a calculated deception falsely to distinguish Sativex from cannabis.

Propping up all this corruption up are weak, cowardly and dishonest politicians of all parties.

Successive British governments have caused more harm than good with their useless and incompetent drug policies for years. Even today they claim it’s all going so wonderfully well. Last week we had the appalling spectacle of the Liberal Democrat drugs minister, Jeremy Browne, saying he is “proud” of British drugs policy. This despite the fact that he is presiding over a Tory drugs policy which is diametrically opposed to his own party’s. Surely this is self-interest and career ambition trumping integrity yet again? This seems to be standard practice for today’s career politicians.

The HASC drugs inquiry whimpered its way to supporting the momentum towards reform but it did so under the manipulation of arch-schemer Keith Vaz, who preferred the company of celebrities and extremist prohibitionist opinion to evidence and addressing real public concerns. In the written submissions to the inquiry, one question dominated all others – the need for regulated access to medicinal cannabis. The committee completely ignored this issue. Only after the inquiry was over did Vaz pass the buck to the Department of Health which, in time honoured tradition, promptly passed it back to the Home Office.

The committee’s report, ‘Breaking The Cycle’, is to be debated on 6th June in parliament and I plan to be there, though I am not optimistic about any substantive result.

The cannabis campaign in Britain has made considerable progress in the last two or three years. The relaunch of the LCA as CLEAR started it all and support has become more widespread and organised ever since. Many cannabis social clubs have been formed and there are new organisations, all working in a professional way to a far higher standard than before. This is all excellent news and although we don’t all see eye to eye, the fact is there is far more good work going on now than there was pre-2011.

No one can disagree with the high minded principle that ending cannabis prohibition is a human rights issue but blind and stubborn adherence to this idea obstructs reform. Civil disobedience is counterproductive and sets cannabis users outside the mainstream which is where we need to be. Colorado and Washington have not achieved reform because of protests and rallies but despite them. What has achieved change has been the patient, detailed drafting of bills, an organised campaign and lobbying of voters. The people on the marches were always going to vote for reform. Such events are merely preaching to the choir.

Pragmatism is what is needed. Small steps in reducing penalties, minimising enforcement and educating public opinion must be the way forward.

Whatever we do in Britain will be as nothing compared to the effect of more states legalising in the US. For that reason I believe we need to be very focused on how we use our time and resources. General demands or appeals for change just fall on deaf ears. Marches and rallies achieve nothing. We need to engage with government and policy makers. That is how we can promote change.

I believe the Sativex issue has the potential to gain most traction here. That the government has now re-scheduled it to schedule 4 while continuing to claim that cannabis has ‘no medicinal value‘ is revealing its present policy to be completely absurd. As you may have read, we have secured an opportunity to take a delegation of 12 medicinal cannabis users to parliament to meet some senior figures in home affairs and health. This is really good progress and could make a big difference. The idea is to try and enable access to Bedrocan for medicinal users either by obtaining personal import licences or by enabling pharmacists to obtain licences to import and dispense.

As highlighted in the Sunday Times last week, CLEAR is by far the largest and most visible player in the British cannabis campaign. We will make progress through initiatives such as the parliamentary delegation, judicial reviews of Home Office decisions, educating public opinion and working with a number of police and crime commissioners who are interested in reform. We are also assembling a consortium of donors to fund a billboard advertising campaign.

The way forward is responsible engagement with those who can make change happen. We must leave behind the association with badly behaved young people protesting by smoking joints in front of police officers, the videos that glorify intoxication, the mindless belief that we can ‘overgrow the government’ or if enough of us smoke a joint in public somehow we will prevail.

Last month we decided to restrict access to our website and Facebook page to adults only. Although we recognise that under 18s do use cannabis, it definitely works against the campaign for responsible law reform. The recent media coverage of Hyde Park 420 has produced something of a backlash and although, as usual, it was inaccurate and exaggerated, we must be clear that we advocate a system of regulation where only adults can have access to cannabis unless prescribed by a doctor.

Of course, the worry is that we are cutting off teenagers from access to reliable and trustworthy information about cannabis. We intend to set up a young people’s advice service and we’re planning how to do that within our resources.

Next weekend, the CLEAR executive committee meets to finalise a review of our policy and strategy and in September we will hold a conference for members. My term of office as leader expires in February 2014 so before the end of this year there will be a leadership election.

Please become a member of CLEAR. It only costs £10.00 per annum or £5.00 if you’re a student, a pensioner or on benefits. It gives you the opportunity to influence policy and provides the funding we need to run the campaign. It is the CLEAR way forward for those who wish to make a difference in cannabis law reform in Britain.