Peter Reynolds

The life and times of Peter Reynolds

Posts Tagged ‘Cabinet Office

On The Eve Of The Cannabis Debate, CLEAR Meets Top Government Minister.

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Oliver Letwin MP, Cabinet Office Minister. Peter Reynolds, President of CLEAR

Today, Friday 9th October, in advance of Monday’s cannabis debate in Parliament, I met with Oliver Letwin, the Cabinet Office minister with responsibility for the implementation of government policy.

According to The Independent, Oliver Letwin is “probably the most powerful person in the government after the Prime Minister and Chancellor”.  I first met with him back in July and he agreed to investigate the possibility of cannabis being available on prescription. When the cannabis debate was announced, I asked to see him again before the debate took place and he very generously arranged to see me just in time.

Monday’s debate will be the first time in nearly 50 years that MPs have had an opportunity to consider the subject.  Throughout the world, more and more governments are waking up to the huge damage that cannabis prohibition causes. Nearly all the harms around cannabis are not caused by cannabis itself but the laws against it. Prohibition of anything for which there is huge demand inevitably creates a criminal market. More than three million people in the UK choose to use cannabis regularly. We consume more than three and a half tons every day and spend more than £6 billion every year, all of which goes into the black economy.

Since the early 20th century, acres of newsprint have been devoted to telling us how harmful cannabis can be.  The alcohol industry fiercely guards its monopoly of legal recreational drug use.  It has enormous influence in government and its £800 million annual advertising spend give it great power over the media.

But the truth is becoming clear. Scientific evidence and real world experience show that compared to alcohol and even common painkillers and over-the-counter medicines, cannabis is very, very safe.  Concerns about mental health impacts are proven to be wildly overblown as cannabis use has escalated by many orders of magnitude but mental health diagnoses have remained stable. Increasingly, those responsible for drugs policy realise that abandoning this huge market to criminals only makes things worse. Criminals don’t care who they sell to or what they sell, so children and the vulnerable become their customers and their product becomes low quality, contaminated, often very high strength ‘moonshine’ varieties.

A Win Win Proposal To The UK Government On Cannabis.

Perhaps the most pernicious effect of cannabis prohibition is the denial of access to it a medicine. On this, Mr Letwin has been consulting with other ministers in the Department of Health and the Home Office.  He says he is now convinced that there is a very positive future for cannabinoid medicines. As a result, I hope to be meeting again shortly with George Freeman MP, the Life Sciences Minister. I led a delegation of medicinal cannabis users to meet with him at the beginning of this year. Mr Letwin has indicated to me that it is Mr Freeman’s office that needs to deal with this, so I am hopeful of real progress in the near future.

Mr Letwin warned me that the debate itself will not produce any change in the law and I acknowledge this but it is part of the process that will eventually get us there. I suggested that there is a win win option that could be implemented very easily and quickly. There is huge pressure on the government to act but also great inertia and resistance to change from the old guard. I proposed that if cannabis could be moved out of schedule 1 of the Misuse of Drugs Regulations it would enable doctors to prescribe it and researchers more easily begin the task of developing and testing new products.

The great benefit this would offer to the government is that it would be seen to be responding to the evidence, being progressive and keeping up with the worldwide movement towards reform. However, for the more conservative thinkers, the ‘tough on drugs’ mantra would remain in place. Cannabis would still be a class B drug and all the same penalties would remain in force.  Both sides of the debate could see this move as a success for their argument.

So we all look forward to the debate. As is normal practice, no government ministers will participate but I expect a Home office minister will give some sort of response. We are making progress.  Revolution is not the British way but I do think we can continue with guarded optimism that our message is getting through and the direction of travel is certain.

Written by Peter Reynolds

October 9, 2015 at 1:18 pm

The Minister For Government Policy On The Strange Case Of Medicinal Cannabis.

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Oliver Letwin MP

Oliver Letwin MP

Oliver Letwin MP is, according to The Independent, “probably the most powerful person in the government after the Prime Minister and Chancellor”.

He is the Cabinet Office minister with responsibility for the implementation of government policy.  He holds the ancient title of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.  He is a member of 13 of the 14 Cabinet committees and chair of three of them, more than anyone other than Cameron.  He is now chair of the most powerful of them, the Home Affairs committee, which Theresa May would have expected to chair and he also sits on nine of the 10 new “Implementation Taskforces”. Cameron is said to have told him “I need you with me every day”.

An extraordinarily powerful and influential man.  I met with him last week to put the case for reform of policy on medicinal cannabis. He listened attentively, asked searching questions, evidently has a good understanding of science and medicines regulation.  In the end, he agreed to ask Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Health, to meet with me and a delegation of medicinal cannabis users.  We agreed that the Home Office is no longer the route to reform.  The word is that if the Department of Health calls for a new policy then the Home Office will comply.  Theresa May has been sidelined on this issue.  Her minister of state for drugs policy, Mike Penning, seems to be nothing but a mouthpiece for Home Office civil servants.  Quite properly and at last, medicinal cannabis is being seen as a health issue and not one of law enforcement or criminal justice.

So we could not have a more important opportunity.  Mr Letwin has now confirmed to me in writing that he will “..investigate the question of prescription cannabis for relief of medical conditions.  I will start the process of talking to people in MHRA, Public Health England and so forth to try to get a sense of the pros and cons.”

Although he has not yet indicated to me that he supports our cause, he seemed particularly perplexed that cannabis is a schedule 1 drug whereas heroin is schedule 2 and may be prescribed by a doctor.  It is clear that he recognises there is medicinal value in cannabis.

To have Oliver Letwin pursuing our cause through government is great progress.  Although the loss of our Liberal Democrat allies has been a setback, it seems that the issue of medicinal cannabis has momentum. We need to keep on keeping on.  Nothing works better than getting in front of government minsters and showing them that most people who use medicinal cannabis are responsible members of society, doing the best they can to contribute, holding down a job where possible, looking after their families and trying to maintain their health.

I sense that the optimism we felt before the election was not misplaced.  Engaging with government, turning away from irresponsible protest and putting our arguments forward with courtesy and evidence is what will achieve our goal.

Written by Peter Reynolds

July 3, 2015 at 3:41 pm

The Drugs Debate

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It won’t go away will it?  It seems like at least once a month now some new high profile figure comes out against prohibition.  The latest, Sir Ian Gilmore, outgoing president of the Royal College of Physicians, is hot on the heels of  Nicholas Green QC, chairman of the Bar Council in July and three eminent co-authors in The Lancet in May.  The National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee have also criticised government for failing to implement an evidence-based drugs policy and instead giving more weight to opinion.

Meanwhile the Humpty Dumpties at the Home Office keep on building their big walls, refusing to listen, refusing to think, refusing to care.  Their response is no, no, no, out of the question, no and no again.  In fact, I don’t think the ministers even think about it at all.   They just replay the same old no, no and no again as written by some civil servant, probably in the days of the golf ball typewriter.  Remember those?

It won’t go away though.  I first submitted a report to the Home Affairs Committee on the cannabis laws in 1978.  It was called “An Unaffordable Prejudice”.  I’ve been giving them the facts and the evidence ever since and so have hundreds of other individuals and organisations.  I’m in direct correspondence with the Home Office at the moment.  I’ve received one three page response and replied with four.  That’s how long it takes to get a dialogue going with our “responsive” government.   I started in May, immediately after my new MP was elected, and it takes a good three months to get anywhere – or perhaps I mean nowhere.  Still, I expect it was worse in the USSR.

It won’t go away.   Aside from the Home Office the only people in favour of our current drugs policy are the drug dealers and the Taliban.  They certainly don’t want things to change.

The Home Office can’t even get its story straight.  Today its latest pearls are: “Drugs such as heroin, cocaine and cannabis are extremely harmful and can cause misery to communities across the country.”  This is nothing short of crass stupidity and irresponsible misinformation.  Lumping in cannabis with heroin and cocaine is simply ridiculous.  Describing cannabis as “extremely harmful” is in direct contradiction to every one of the Home Office’s own scientific experts.  These are the people who are supposed to be protecting our children, the vulnerable and the uneducated.   They should be ashamed of themselves.

When Proposition 19 passes on 2nd November (see here), the world will sit up and take notice.   Even Humpty Dumpty will have to engage his brain then because when 37 million Californians get the right to enjoy God’s herb without interference, well it ain’t gonna stop there.  If for no other reason than that our avaricious politicians will soon put aside their “principles” when they realise the oodles of cash and brownie points they’re missing out on.  California reckons it will create up to 110,000 new jobs, £1.4 billion in new tax revenue and a saving of $200 million in law enforcement costs.  When Humpty Dumpty takes off his blindfold of prejudice, ignorance and propaganda he’ll soon be gagging for the cash.

There are a million quotes from world leaders, politicians, doctors, scientists and “experts” of all sorts stating how ridiculous and self-defeating current drugs policy is.    It never seems to make any difference though.  David Cameron and Nick Clegg have both called for change many times but once they get into power what happens?  However, just to get right up the nose of Humpty Dumpty (that’s right, snort it up there), here’s what one very, very senior civil servant said just two years ago:

“I think what was truly depressing about my time in UKADCU was that the overwhelming majority of professionals I met, including those from the police, the health service, the government and voluntary sectors held the same view: the illegality of drugs causes far more problems for society and the individual than it solves. Yet publicly, all those intelligent, knowledgeable people were forced to repeat the nonsensical mantra that the government would be ‘tough on drugs’, even though they all knew the government’s policy was actually causing harm.”

Julian Critchley, Director, Cabinet Office UK Anti-Drug Coordination Unit. 13-08-08

It won’t go away.  Just Say No has become Just Say Now and the slimy dissembling oiks who insist on running our lives (and ruining many) will soon be in retreat.  It won’t go away.