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Peter Reynolds

The life and times of Peter Reynolds

Posts Tagged ‘Baroness Meacher

CLEAR Medicinal Users Panel. Fourth Delegation To Parliament.

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Freeman meet 1There is real momentum building in Parliament on the issue of medicinal cannabis. The first thing George Freeman said this week when he welcomed us to the Department of Health was: “There is a lot of discussion going on in government about this subject”.

This is extraordinary progress, unimaginable as recently as 2012. Undoubtedly, developments in the US have raised cannabis up the political agenda. Through 2014, CLEAR has been well received by the Home Affairs Select Committee, the Home Office, the Department of Health, the Health Select Committee and just before Christmas I met with Baroness Meacher and Lord Howarth in the House of Lords.  They are chair and treasurer, respectively, of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy Reform. They are determined to push reform through to make medicinal cannabis available and have briefed one of the UK’s leading psychopharmacologists to prepare a review of existing evidence on the subject.  Armed with this they have a plan to meet with key individuals in both Houses of Parliament and I have no doubt that they will succeed in changing minds.

Also this week, I met with advisors to Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, in the very heart of government at the Cabinet Office.  The Liberal Democrats are planning towards another coalition after the General Election and determined to see drugs policy form part of a new coalition agreement.  Right at the front of their priorities is medicinal cannabis for which there is strong support from existing ministers, Lynne Featherstone at the Home Office and Norman Lamb at the Department of Health.  Expect announcements in the run up to the election.

George Freeman is the Life Sciences Minister, responsible for medicines, NHS innovation, research, development, the MHRA and NICE.  His role is as important as any other minister in achieving the reform we seek.  He is another ally and has asked me to submit a paper setting out our proposals.  Of particular importance is how medicinal cannabis could be regulated, either with a full Marketing Authorisation from the MHRA or possibly registration as a Tradional Herbal Medicine.  The very fact that we are now discussing such detail is a measure of how far we have come.

So there is great cause for optimism at the start of 2015.  We are closer than we have ever been before and this has been achieved by moving away from the old ‘protests’ and outdated campaigning ideas.  I am confident that early in the new parliament we will see substantial progress.

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“War On Drugs Has Failed, Say Former Heads Of MI5, CPS And BBC”, The Daily Telegraph, 21st March 2011

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The “war on drugs” has failed and should be abandoned in favour of evidence-based policies that treat addiction as a health problem, according to prominent public figures including former heads of MI5 and the Crown Prosecution Service.

Drug availability and use has increased with up to 250 million people worldwide using narcotics such as cannabis, cocaine and heroin

Leading peers – including prominent Tories – say that despite governments worldwide drawing up tough laws against dealers and users over the past 50 years, illegal drugs have become more accessible.

Vast amounts of money have been wasted on unsuccessful crackdowns, while criminals have made fortunes importing drugs into this country.

The increasing use of the most harmful drugs such as heroin has also led to “enormous health problems”, according to the group.

The MPs and members of the House of Lords, who have formed a new All-Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy Reform, are calling for new policies to be drawn up on the basis of scientific evidence.

It could lead to calls for the British government to decriminalise drugs, or at least for the police and Crown Prosecution Service not to jail people for possession of small amounts of banned substances.

Their intervention could receive a sympathetic audience in Whitehall, where ministers and civil servants are trying to cut the numbers and cost of the prison population. The Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke, has already announced plans to help offenders kick drug habits rather than keeping them behind bars.

The former Labour government changed its mind repeatedly on the risks posed by cannabis use and was criticised for sacking its chief drug adviser, Prof David Nutt, when he claimed that ecstasy and LSD were less dangerous than alcohol.

The chairman of the new group, Baroness Meacher – who is also chairman of an NHS trust – told The Daily Telegraph: “Criminalising drug users has been an expensive catastrophe for individuals and communities.

“In the UK the time has come for a review of our 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act. I call on our Government to heed the advice of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime that drug addiction should be recognised as a health problem and not punished.

“We have the example of other countries to follow. The best is Portugal which has decriminalised drug use for 10 years. Portugal still has one of the lowest drug addiction rates in Europe, the trend of young people’s drug addiction is falling in Portugal against an upward trend in the surrounding countries, and the Portuguese prison population has fallen over time.”

Lord Lawson, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer between 1983 and 1989, said: “I have no doubt that the present policy is a disaster.

“This is an important issue, which I have thought about for many years. But I still don’t know what the right answer is – I have joined the APPG in the hope that it may help us to find the right answer.”

Other high-profile figures in the group include Baroness Manningham-Buller, who served as Director General of MI5, the security service, between 2002 and 2007; Lord Birt, the former Director-General of the BBC who went on to become a “blue-sky thinker” for Tony Blair; Lord Macdonald of River Glaven, until recently the Director of Public Prosecutions; and Lord Walton of Detchant, a former president of the British Medical Association and the General Medical Council.

Current MPs on the group include Peter Bottomley, who served as a junior minister under Margaret Thatcher; Mike Weatherley, the newly elected Tory MP for Hove and Portslade; and Julian Huppert, the Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge.

The group’s formation coincides with the 50th anniversary of the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which paved the way for a war on drugs by describing addiction as a “serious evil”, attempting to limit production for medicinal and scientific uses only, and coordinating international action against traffickers.

The peers and MPs say that despite governments “pouring vast resources” into the attempt to control drug markets, availability and use has increased, with up to 250 million people worldwide using narcotics such as cannabis, cocaine and heroin in 2008.

By Martin Beckford, Health Correspondent

They believe the trade in illegal drugs makes more than £200 billion a year for criminals and terrorists, as well as destabilising entire nations such as Afghanistan and Mexico.

As a result, the all-party group is working with the Beckley Foundation, a charitable trust, to review current policies and scientific evidence in order to draw up proposed new ways to deal with the problem.

House Of Lords Condemns Government Drug Policy

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This evening, at the behest of Lord Norton of Louth, the House of Lords ripped apart our disgraceful and incompetent government drug policy.  Without exception, every speaker highlighted the human and financial cost of the disastrous course that the British government is on.  You can watch the  debate here from 19:48 onwards.

“Evidence! Evidence! Evidence!”

Again and again, highly intelligent speakers demolished the government’s strategy and contrasted it with the approach in other countries: Holland, Spain, Portugal, the Czech Republic and the USA.

“Why doesn’t the government recognise reality?”

Baroness Molly Meacher was particularly magnificent; stirring and powerful: “We have the evidence and lots of it”.

Cameron and his poodle, Theresa May and most of all Brokenshire must be grovelling in dismay at their humiliation.  Lord Stevenson of Balmacara said “…there is a good case for drugs policy being transferred to health and taken away from the Home Office…Judging from the evidence that we have heard tonight, something clearly has to happen soon!”.    Brokenshire’s job is on the way out!

The government response was stumbling and barely competent.  “A review is not warranted…what we want to do is give our strategy a good try”. There was a particularly embarrassing deception about the effect of banning mephodrone.  I am certain that Lady Neville-Jones herself was uncomfortable delivering it.

All in all this was a victory for truth, an inspiration and an absolute defeat for government drug policy.

European Parliament – Public Hearing On Cannabis Regulation

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The European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies (ENCOD) has organised a public hearing on cannabis regulation at the European Parliament on 8th December 2010.  See here for full details.

In March 2009, the European Commission published the “Report on Global Illicit Drug Markets 1998 – 2007” .  This concludes that current policies of prohibition are failing in their main objective to reduce the demand and supply of illicit drugs.  Current policies may also be a crucial factor in generating and increasing harm to individual drug users, their direct surroundings and society at large.

According to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) in its 2010 annual report, Europe faces new challenges posed by changes in drug supply and use.  The report also highlights the increased usage of cocaine, heroin and of a record number of new synthetic drugs.

ENCOD says that prohibitionist policies have failed to tackle the issues of drugs and drug use effectively and it is time to investigate alternative approaches.  European authorities must produce a thorough impact assessment of the costs of the current policy of prohibition and the economic benefits of decriminalisation and, as a start, the regulation of the cannabis market.

Victor Hamilton

It has been calculated that cannabis regulation would save billions in law enforcement costs, foster harm reduction, weaken the illegal cartels, and provide the opportunity to generate considerable income from taxes. The examples of California, Spain, The Netherlands and Portugal lead the way.

Victor Hamilton, the well known cannabis campaigner and former Legalise Cannabis Alliance (LCA) parliamentary candidate, liaises as a UK representative with ENCOD.   He has submitted the following letter to ENCOD in advance of the public hearing on the current state of cannabis in Britain.

Dear Joep,
Thank you for the invitation to attend the hearing on 8th December 2010.  I am afraid that both my health and the expense involved prevent me from attending.

However, as you know, ending the prohibition of cannabis and encouraging more and better use of the plant in all its forms is my main concern.  Cannabis offers many benefits medicinally, recreationally, spiritually and, as hemp, in ecologically sound fuel, construction materials, paper and plastics alternatives.  Prohibition of cannabis is a far greater crime than any perpetrated by those who use it.  It is a scandal and a sad litany of wasted opportunity and resources.

In the UK, based on research I have done and confirmed by the Independent Drug Monitoring Unit (IDMU), a legalise, regulate and tax regime could produce between £4 – 6 billion pa in new tax revenue.

For the benefit of the hearing, please allow me to update you on the present situation in Britain.

Calls For Decriminalisation

There have been calls for a relaxation of cannabis laws from a number of sources:  The Bar Council, the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Physicians, The Lancet, Professor Roger Pertwee, Professor David Nutt and the Association of Chief Police Officers.  The new coalition government’s “Your Freedom” website was swamped with calls for legalisation.

Reaction To Propositon 19

The cannabis community was eager with anticipation for the Proposition 19 vote in California, despite a dearth of media attention.  Even the BBC, obliged under its charter to provide balanced coverage, found very little time for an issue that affects at least six million Britons.  Strangely, the best of the lot was The Daily Telegraph, formerly known as the most conservative paper, it told us more about what was happening than any of the others.

The result was a disappointment and reminded us how our own campaigning has suffered from internal divisions and a lack of focus.  Nevertheless. legalisation seems inevitable in the US, even if only at state level, within the next few years.

Formation of British Medicinal Cannabis Register

This exciting initiative to create a database of medicinal users in Britain was announced only in November.  I was honoured to be invited to sit on the BMCR council as a medicinal user representative.  Other members of the council include very eminent individuals such as Baroness Meacher, the MP Paul Flynn, Matthew Atha of IDMU and Dr Malcolm Vandenburg, the pre-eminent expert witness on drugs.

The real coup though was the announcement of Professor Leslie Iversen as a council member.  Professor Iversen is the government’s chief scientific advisor on drugs.  Yes that’s the British government which continues to state that cannabis has “no medicinal benefits”.

Subversion of Schengen Agreement

Several British medicinal users travelled to Holland for prescriptions from a doctor believing that their medicine was then protected by the Schengen Agreement.  At first the Home Office agreed but then changed its position to say that British residents are not covered.  The ridiculous situation now is that any non-UK resident can bring prescribed medicinal cannabis into Britain and use it without restriction. A UK resident cannot.

Increasing Evidence Of Medicinal Benefits

There is a never ending flow of information from all around the world on the extraordinary power of cannabis as a medicine.  Facebook groups, blogs and organisations such as the LCA and UKCIA keep spreading the news.  Particularly strong evidence has been revealed for cannabinoids as a treatment for Alzheimer’s, head, neck, breast and prostate cancer, fibromyalgia, ADHD and migraine.  The mainstream media seem only interested in scandal and scare stories. They publish news about vastly expensive new pharmaceutical products but not about cannabis cures.

Confusion At The Home Office

Understandably, the British government’s position looks increasingly absurd.  The Home Office veers between describing cannabis as very harmful, harmful, dangerous, extremely dangerous and changes its story every time it is challenged.

Approval of Sativex

Sativex won welcome approval from the medicines regulator as a treatment for spasticity in MS. Despite the fact that Sativex is nothing more than a tincture of herbal cannabis, the government now maintains that “cannabis has no medicinal benefits in herbal form”.  Sativex is approximately eight times the cost of herbal medicinal cannabis and many health authorities are refusing to fund it.

New UK Drug Strategy

The government is to announce a new drugs strategy in December.  There is expected to be a shift in emphasis towards healthcare interventions rather than criminal sanctions but no move away from prohibition.  The more liberal views expressed by both David Cameron and Nick Clegg over the last 10 years seem to have changed now they have come to power.

Joep, I hope this is helpful and informative for the hearing and for you and your colleagues.

Victor Hamilton

British Medicinal Cannabis Register

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In California there are more than 500,000 medical marijuana card holders.  How many people use cannabis as medicine in Britain?

The British Medicinal Cannabis Register aims to find out and provide a database of facts and evidence for doctors, scientists, researchers, campaigners, government and anyone with a bona fide interest.   Users register via the BMCR website, providing details of their method of use and the conditions treated.  While patient confidentiality is guaranteed and records held on the database will have the same legal status as any other medical record, users do not have to provide their full address.   They can register with the first part of their postcode and a verifiable email address.

Of course, according to the British government, “cannabis is dangerous and has no medicinal benefits”.  However, Sativex, a cannabis tincture, has been approved by the MHRA as a treatment for MS spasticity.  Sativex is pharmacologically identical to cannabis.  It is cannabis – with the addition of ethanol and a little peppermint oil. (A tincture is an alcoholic extract.)

There is no more common sense in US federal law where cannabis is a schedule 1 drug with “no medicinal uses”, yet the US government has held a patent  (no. 6630507) since 2003 for “cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants, for example, in limiting neurological damage following ischemic insults, such as stroke and trauma, or in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and HIV dementia.”

If you can make any sense of either the British or US governments’ position then please educate me?   I think they are irrational and cruel.  They actively deny people in pain and suffering the relief they need which is comprehensively proven both by science and experience.  On both sides of the Atlantic this amounts to nothing less than an evil injustice and oppression of vulnerable people.

Thank God and the US constitution that in America 14 states have introduced a regulated system of medical marijuana.  Two-thirds of Europe permits medicinal cannabis and Israel has just introduced a major programme including new growing facilities and dispensaries.  In Britain there is no such compassion and the Home Office ducks and dives and manipulates and dissembles to evade EU law that would permit cannabis as medicine.  In the UK there is appalling wickedness and cruelty perpetrated on the back of political cowardice.

Baroness Meacher

The BMCR was launched this week and received an immediate boost with the announcement of Baroness Molly Meacher, Paul Flynn MP,  Matthew Atha and Dr Michael Vandenburg as members of its governing council.  Baroness Meacher has a distinguished career in health and social care.  Paul Flynn has long campaigned for drug law reform.  Matthew Atha is the director of the Independent Drug Monitoring Unit and Dr Michael Vandenburg is the pre-eminent expert witness in the courts on pharmaceuticals and drugs.

Whether the BMCR succeeds in its aims depends entirely on whether those who use cannabis as medicine have the courage to register.  Only then will sufficent evidence be available to embarrass the government into essential and overdue reform.  The danger is that those who find relief  will prefer to keep quiet and say nothing.  No one could blame them if they do.

It is time for all those concerned to grasp this nettle and make a stand. Are we seriously going to continue to imprison sick and disabled people for using a medicine that is proven to be effective and far less costly, dangerous and harmful than pharmaceutical alternatives?

I urge all those concerned to register at the BMCR website: www.bmcr.org.uk.

My MP, Richard Drax, To Write To David Cameron On Drugs Policy

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The Honourable Member For Dorset South

Today I met with my MP, Richard Drax.  He was just as sickeningly handsome and charming as I expected him to be!   So I showed him no mercy and bombarded him with my opinions for a good half an hour.

I realised afterwards that my favourite maxim “less is more” would have been a better strategy.  Nevertheless,  he did offer to write to David Cameron on my behalf on drugs policy and seemed genuinely sympathetic to some of the points I made.

I have just sent him a lengthy email in confirmation which I reproduce below.  If anyone wishes to use this as a template for a letter or email to their own MP, please feel free to do so.

******

Dear Richard,

Thank you so much for your time today.  I very much enjoyed meeting you.  As I said, I came with opinions not problems.  I am grateful to you for listening to me.

I realise that I made the classic mistake of bombarding you with far too much information and not giving you time to absorb any.  I hope I may correct that error by summarising here what we talked about.

1. Gary McKinnon. Thank heavens that progress seems to have been made on this. The idea of an “extradition” treaty that provides for someone to be sent to the USA for trial on an alleged crime committed here is iniquitous.  It’s particularly unfair in McKinnon’s case as he suffers from Asperger’s syndrome.  You pointed out to me that similar dangers exist with the new European arrest warrant.

I would urge you to do everything possible to ensure that if Gary McKinnon is to be tried, it should take place in the UK.

2. Ian Tomlinson. In my view the failure to prosecute the policeman who assaulted him is an outrage and Keir Starmer’s reasons entirely inadequate.  Now that the credibility of the pathologist in the case has been destroyed by a GMC panel, Starmer should at least reconsider and hopefully reverse his decision.

References here:


http://pjroldblog.wordpress.com/2010/08/31/killer-cop-harwood-must-be-charged/

http://pjroldblog.wordpress.com/2010/07/24/keir-starmer-the-next-lord-widgery/

I would urge you to press for a re-consideration of the decision not to bring charges.  If no criminal charges are brought, at the very least the disciplinary hearing should be held in public as the rules allow.  The Tomlinson family are entitled to justice.

3. Drugs policy. You very kindly agreed to write to David Cameron on my behalf.  I am very concerned at the conduct of the Home Office at present and particularly James Brokenshire, the Minister for Crime Prevention who is causing great damage to both the coalition governemnt and the Tory party by promoting ideas and policies that contradict virtually all expert opinion, including the government’s own scientific advisers.  He also seems to be completely at odds with the calls for drug law reform which both David Cameron and Nick Clegg have made consistently over the last 10 years.

This is not a peripheral or secondary issue.  According to Baroness Meacher in the House of Lords on 15th June 2010, “There is no more obvious waste than the £19 billion annual cost of the UK’s war on drugs”.

There is a huge amount of reference material on this subject on my blog:

http://pjroldblog.wordpress.com/?s=drugs

I would also refer you to the Transform Drug Policy Foundation which has highly detailed and almost universally acclaimed proposals for drug regulation:

http://www.tdpf.org.uk

Virtually all experts agree that the “war on drugs” has failed. In exactly the same way as alcohol prohibition in the US led to a massive increase in crime and violence, so drug prohibition has created an illegal market said to be worth £350 billion per year. It has also financed civil war in Latin America for 25 years and is the principal source of finance for Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Our soldiers are dying every day because of the illegal trade in opiates.  Why don’t we just buy up the whole crop for the next 10 years?  It would be much cheaper in both cash and lives than the Afghan war.

Virtually all experts agree that regulation would be a better solution.  I have distilled the following five point plan from everything that I have read and learned over more than 30 years:

1. An end to oppression of drug users (at least 10 million UK citizens)
2. Removal from the criminal law of any offence for possession and/or social supply
3. Fact and evidence-based policy, information and regulation
4. Re-direction of law enforcement resources against real criminals
5. Treat problematic drug use as a health issue

Five years ago, while campaigning for the Tory party leadership, David Cameron called for “fresh thinking and a new approach” towards drugs policy and said that it would be “disappointing if radical options on the law on cannabis were not looked at”. Nick Clegg has promised to repeal “illiberal, intrusive and unnecessary” laws and to stop “making ordinary people criminals”. There can be no better example of this than the laws against personal use and cultivation of cannabis, particularly for medicinal reasons. The coalition government’s new Your Freedom website has been inundated with proposals to legalise cannabis and to end the futile war on drugs.   In July a poll carried out for the LibDems showed 70% of people in favour of legalising cannabis.

The Home Office and James Brokenshire are completely out of touch with expert and public opinion as well as the declared views of both the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister.

In my view, regulation means tighter control on the most dangerous drugs such as heroin, cocaine and alcohol and lighter regulation on relatively harmless substances like cannabis and ecstasy.

There is also the very important question of medicinal cannabis.  The discovery of the endocannabinoid system in 1998 has led to an ever-escalating volume of evidence of the medicinal value of cannabis.  In June the MHRA approved Sativex as an MS medicine in the UK.  It is a whole plant extract yet presently, the Home Office refuses to consider a regulated system of the plant itself for medicinal purposes.  This is completely irrational and absurd.  The House Of Lords scientific committee recommended such a system should be introduced 12 years ago.  Medicinal cannabis is available and regulated throughout almost all of Europe, Israel and 14 states in the USA (with 12 more in the planning stage).  The UK stands almost alone in its obstinate refusal even to consider such a system.

Already this is leading to quite obscene injustices where patients have been prescribed Sativex by their doctor but their health authority has refused to fund it and patients are then facing criminal prosecution for cultivating their own plants.  There is a case of exactly this going on in the Dorchester Crown Court at present and the CPS insists it is in the public interest to prosecute!

Thank you once again for listening to me Richard. I hope these notes are useful in composing your letter to David Cameron and I look forward to hearing from you in due course.

Kind regards,

Peter Reynolds

“The Only Thing Drug Gangs Fear Is Legalisation”. The Independent 26th August 2010

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Superb piece in The Independent today

Superbly argued!  Thank you to Johann Hari.  Thank you to The Independent for giving the space for this to be heard.

Violence Breeds Violence.  The Only Thing Drug Gangs Fear Is Legalisation.

28,000 deaths in Mexico in four years because of drug laws!

It could be the same in the UK.   Our new drug strategy is in preparation but the only people applauding the disgraceful sham that is our drug strategy consultation are drug dealers and criminals.  James Brokenshire of the Home Office, the man intent on breaking British society,  is so backward in his thinking that he makes Alan Johnson look progressive.   He is blind to the evidence and the facts, to what is happening in Mexico and elsewhere

There is blood on the hands of cowardly politicians in the UK too.  They have shirked this issue, avoided grasping this nettle for too long.  Brokenshire can only have been offered as a lamb for sacrifice here – surely?  His arguments are too ridiculous, his distortion of science too crass. He is bound to fail if he persists but he will cause death, misery and degradation for thousands.  He personally will be responsible for a massive increase in street crime – inevitable if he tightens prohibition.  He will not have committed the crimes himself but he will have negligently and recklessly ignored proven current best practice.  His attitudes fly in the face of all logic, research and science.

The government is riding roughshod over the massive outcry for drug law reform on the Your Freedom website.  Surely, even if public opinion, morality, logic, science, history or common sense won’t convince them, Baroness Meacher’s claim of £19 billion per annum of waste will stir them to action!

Surely, if nothing else, the cash will make the government see sense!