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Peter Reynolds

The life and times of Peter Reynolds

Posts Tagged ‘Lynne Featherstone

I Have Had The Most Terrible Post-Election Nightmare.

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Libdem leaders

Julian Huppert, Norman Baker, Lynne Featherstone

Our principal allies on the Liberal Democrat benches have all lost their seats.

Quickly now, the government will be formed.  No surprise that Theresa May has already been reappointed Home Secretary but who will the junior Home Office ministers be?

Brokenshire may leave for another department.  He’s probably due for a promotion.  It would be very good to see the back of him.  Who will the Crime Prevention Minister be?  Within that portfolio rests responsibility for drugs.

This is when the nightmare struck.  Key candidates for Home Office ministers will be backbenchers who have sat on the Home Affairs Select Committee.  I hardly dare write his name in case it puts ideas in Cameron’s mind – Michael Ellis.

Michael Ellis

Michael Ellis

Ellis is a hard line prohibitionist, anti-drugs, anti-liberty, anti-science, criminal barrister with a particular record of boorish behaviour during PMQs.  He’s a junior barrister working out of chambers in Northampton and he thinks that his experience with a few scumbag dealers qualifies him to know all about drugs policy.

The idea is a nightmare.  Cameron will see his increased number of seats as vindication of all past policies so he may well go further to the right.  I hope I’m wrong. Perhaps we will get some young MP with a brain in his head and an eye for the free market economy that is blossoming in Colorado and elsewhere.  Let’s hope so.

There’s also the new members of the Home Affairs Select Committee.  Who will they be?  We need to get to know them and present our case.

We must re-design, re-target, re-focus and refine our campaign for our new audience – Tory ministers are our most important targets.

Our messages must be developed for Tory eyes. More focus on the free market, profit opportunities, public expenditure savings.  And our tactics must work with Tories as well.  There is even less room now for the self-defeating tactics of protest, civil disobedience and flaunting alternative lifestyles in a way that distracts from our very powerful arguments.  Such tactics might cause a right-wing backlash now.

Instead of being self-obsessed, as so much of the cannabis campaign is, if we want to be effective we must see things through the eyes of our target audiences, look outward not in, recognise that preaching to the choir achieves little.  It is people who don’t agree with our cause that we must talk to and it is to their standards that we must dress and behave if we want to influence them.

Now, more than ever before, we need to be smart about the way we campaign for cannabis law reform.  We do have allies in the Tory party and the worldwide momentum continues to build.

A few adjustments on the tiller are necessary but we remain on course.  Let’s just be sure we adjust our sails and our technique for the new weather.

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Why I Have Joined the Liberal Democrats.

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Coalition first 100 days

In my view the only rational choice for the next UK government is another Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition.

The Labour Party is simply a joke.  Miliband is an out-of-touch, Hampstead-socialist buffoon who was part of the team whose reckless borrowing meant that the banking crisis destroyed this country’s economy.  It is ludicrous that we should even consider giving the same people another chance.

Cameron is an oily, two-faced oaf who has transformed the Conservative Party into the Bullingdon Club Party, dominated by out-of-touch posh boys with quasi-fascists like Theresa May, Iain Duncan Smith and Chris Grayling as their attack dogs.

The only redeeming factor about the Tories is a basic competence in managing the economy. Osborne knows what he is doing but left unrestrained he would devastate our society: trashing the benefits system, care for the disabled and access to justice.

We must have the decent, fair, rational and conscientious Liberal Democrats in government with the Tories. Crucially they must hold out for a much tougher coalition agreement which will see the disgusting policies of Duncan Smith and Grayling reversed.  I think it’s too much to hope that we will see the back of Theresa May but definitely, in my area of special interest, the Liberal Democrats will insist on drugs policy reform.  The evidence-free, prejudice-based, self-defeating and cruel drugs policies of the past must be overturned. They have caused too much harm, suffering and promoted the interests of organised crime and the alcohol industry over common sense and the national interest.

So, in February I joined the Liberal Democrats. I was free to do so because that month the CLEAR Executive Committee resolved that we would no longer be a political party. An explanation of that decision is here.

My decision had a lot to do with drugs policy but, as I have explained above, was considered across the wider issues.  I think it reflects the fact that the LibDems are less ideologically-driven, more rational, evidence-based and fair in their policies.  All my life I have been a Tory voter for the crucial values of individual liberty, regulated free markets and opposed to the cloying, repressive ideas of socialism and the overbearing state – but the Tories have lost their way, their moral compass and their integrity.  I will never, ever vote Tory again.

CLEAR has worked closely with the LibDems since I first led a delegation of medicinal cannabis users to meet Norman Baker, then drugs minister, in July 2014.  Just a few weeks later he publicly called for a change in policy on medicinal cannabis, the most significant breakthrough in the UK cannabis campaign for nearly 50 years.  This year we have worked closely with Nick Clegg’s team and the LibDem manifesto incorporated CLEAR’s policy on medicinal cannabis word for word.  I had the privilege of personally briefing him on medicinal cannabis just a few weeks ago.  Julian Huppert, Norman Lamb and Lynne Featherstone, also LibDems, have been of great help to the CLEAR campaign and demonstrated outstanding sincerity, honesty and commitment, uncommon qualities amongst politicians.  Personally, I also greatly admire the courage of LibDem David Ward in standing against Israeli war crimes and in support of Palestine.

On the narrow issue of drugs policy, once again, Labour is a joke.  It doesn’t have one.  With a few honourable exceptions, such as Paul Flynn, David Winnick and Bob Ainsworth, the party is stuck in reefer madness, terrorised by tabloid editors and prefers prejudice and scare stories to science and evidence.  The Tories have more individuals who support reform but the party as a whole is in a corrupt relationship with the alcohol industry and also terrorised by the tabloid press.

As far as the Greens are concerned, yes they have a sensible drugs policy (originally drafted, in fact, by Derek Williams, my colleague on the CLEAR Executive Committee) but they have no chance of any influence in the new government.  Caroline Lucas did a good job on getting the drugs debate in Parliament last year but I cannot support her party’s bizarre behaviour in the illiberal ‘No More Page 3’ censorship and fracking campaigns.  The Green’s attitude to fracking is as evidence-free and based on prejudice as is Labour’s attitude to cannabis.  Also, CLEAR gave the Greens an opportunity to present their drugs policy to our supporters but despite repeated efforts they couldn’t get it together.  By contrast, the LibDems welcomed us enthusiastically and at the highest level.

I am a Eurosceptic LibDem, which is unusual.  In fact, I voted for UKIP in the last European elections and although the party itself is confused on the issue, I have talked with Nigel Farage in person at length on drugs policy and he is progressive, intelligent and pragmatic on the subject.

CISTA, the Cannabis Is Safer Than Alcohol party?  Well, I know a number of the candidates personally and I would recommend voting for them in constituencies where the LibDems stand no chance. Overall though the party is a waste of Paul Birch’s money and I can say that with the experience of CLEAR’s 16 years as a political party.  It’s great that they are bringing some attention to the campaign but it’s a futile strategy and Birch has spurned all efforts at support and assistance from CLEAR.  Had he even returned our calls we would have endorsed and promoted CISTA candidates in some constituencies.

So in conclusion, for drugs policy reform, particularly for access to medicinal cannabis, but also for a fairer society where policy is based on evidence and compassion rather than prejudice and vested interests, vote Liberal Democrat!

A Day In Cambridge On Drugs.

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Homerton College, Cambridge.

Homerton College, Cambridge.

George and Dean were where I expected them to be.  In the car park, ‘medicating’ in order to get them through a long afternoon.

The Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) Drugs Conference took place in the delightful surroundings of Homerton College, Cambridge.  I know there were several others there who were only able to make it because they committed criminal offences in order to maintain their health.  I attended with George Hutchings and Dean Price, leading members of the CLEAR Medicinal Cannabis Users Panel.

Almost everybody who is anybody in UK drugs policy was there and while there were no groundbreaking new revelations or ideas, it was an important occasion.  It marked the current position of the debate on drugs policy in Britain at the end of the first coalition government since 1945. As Keith Vaz, chair of the HASC, said, the conference will influence the drugs policy agenda in the next government.

I know I wasn’t the only person who lobbied in advance for medicinal cannabis to be included in the conference programme.  It wasn’t but what was of enormous significance was that it was probably the single issue mentioned most often, time and time again in fact, throughout the day. I trust that the committee will take this on board and ensure that in any future event, it is given proper attention.

Dr Julian Huppert MP; Lynne Featherstone MP, Minister;Keith Vaz MP, Dr Roberto Dondisch, Danny Kushlick

Dr Julian Huppert MP, Lynne Featherstone MP, Keith Vaz MP, Dr Roberto Dondisch, Baroness Molly Meacher, Danny Kushlick

It’s no good saying it’s a health issue because until the Home Office releases its stranglehold on the throats of the thousands who need medicinal cannabis, it’s the HASC that needs to hold the government to account. CLEAR estimates that around one million people already use cannabis for medicinal reasons in the UK.  This equates closely to the proportion of medicinal users in jurisdictions where there is some degree of legal access.

Julian Huppert mentioned medicinal cannabis in his review of the HASC’s work, confirming that the Liberal Democrats have adopted the policy advanced by CLEAR almost word for word.

Baroness Molly Meacher made an impassioned plea for medicinal cannabis access in her address, expressing her anger and outrage that people are denied the medicine they need.

Jonathan Liebling, of United Patients Alliance, and I also raised the issue independently in questions from the floor. I also dealt with Professor Neil McKeganey’s attempt to dismiss the issue.  He claimed that there are perfectly satisfactory procedures for licensing medicines.  I explained how cannabis cannot be regulated like single-molecule pharmaceutical products and gave a brief description of research on the ‘entourage effect’.

The Home Office minister, Lynne Featherstone, gave the keynote speech and I was delighted that she chose to mention her meeting ten days ago with a CLEAR medicinal users delegation.

David Nutt was as wise and authoritative as ever . Then Neil McKeganey launched into an entertaining rant about how the conference programme, the speakers and delegates were massively biased in favour of reform.  He claimed that this was not a proper reflection of the evidence or nationwide opinion.

I like Neil, even though we are on opposite sides of the debate. In fact, at events like this I prefer to engage with the opposition rather than back-slapping and self-affirming chats with those on the side of reform. I also had good informal discusions with David Raynes of the National Drug Prevention Alliance and Sarah Graham, the magnet-wielding addiction therapist.

Tom Lloyd’s speech was inspiring.  He also made a powerful case for medicinal cannabis and as ex-chief constable of Cambridge, it was extraordinary to see him lambast the new drug driving law as “…outrageous…unjust…will criminalise people who are in no way impaired…”

The final speech was given by Mike Trace, chair of the International Drug Policy Consortium, who is deeply involved in preparing for the UN General Assembly Special Session in 2016 on drugs policy.

So, a fascinating and worthwhile day.  All we need to do now is get through the General Election.  In about two months we will know where we are and unless we have the disaster of a Tory or Labour majority government, then drug policy reform should be high on the agenda.

CLEAR Medicinal Users Panel. Fifth Delegation To Parliament.

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Vicky Hodgson, Kate Stenberg, Roland Gyallay-Pap, Lynee Featherstone MP, Peter Reynolds, Penny Fitzlyon, Richard Tong, Jonathan Liebling

Vicky Hodgson, Kate Stenberg, Roland Gyallay-Pap, Lynne Featherstone MP, Peter Reynolds, Penny Fitzlyon, Richard Tong, Jonathan Liebling

Today a further delegation from CLEAR met with Lynne Featherstone, the new Home Office minister with responsibility for drugs policy. She is the Liberal Democrat MP for Hornsey and Wood Green and was appointed to replace Norman Baker after he resigned in November 2014.

We invited Jonathan Liebling, Political Director of the United Patients Alliance (UPA) to accompany us and he gave eloquent testimony about his own use of medicinal cannabis.  UPA has been doing excellent work in running a series of meetings up and down the country bringing medicinal users together.  We hope there will be further co-operation between UPA and CLEAR.

Jonathan spoke about using cannabis to help with anxiety and depression, as did Kate Stenberg who has also used cannabis to deal with a chronic pain condition.  Vicky Hodgson spoke about treating her scoliosis, COPD and cluster headaches. Roland Gyallay-Pap, related how he produced cannabis oil when his mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and the great help it gave her with sleeping and eating in the final months of her life. Penny Fitzlyon talked about treating her MS with cannabis and how she has now been refused Sativex.  It was obvious this had a big impact on the minister.

She listened to each of us very attentively and we all felt that she had taken genuine interest and understood our arguments, particularly about enabling UK patients to import Bedrocan medicinal cannabis.

We also presented Ms Featherstone with a pre-publication copy of the paper ‘Medicinal Cannabis: The Evidence’, which we have produced at the request of George Freeman MP, the Life Sciences minister.  This is a literature review of the existing evidence on medicinal cannabis.  It makes a powerful argument for the transfer of cannabis from schedule I to schedule II so that it may be prescribed by a doctor. Currently the paper is being peer-reviewed and we hope that it may itself be published in a scientific/medical journal shortly.

CLEAR has also recently delivered a briefing on medicinal cannabis to Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats.  We shared this with Ms Featherstone as well.

With the General Election fast approaching, all MPs, including minsters, are about to go into campaign mode. Nick Clegg is to cover drugs policy in a speech a Chatham House later this week. There may yet be further developments, specifically on medicinal cannabis as the election campaign unfolds.  What is certain is that the new Parliament will represent a real opportunity for change and we have high hopes of real progress.

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.