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Peter Reynolds

The life and times of Peter Reynolds

Posts Tagged ‘multiple sclerosis

CLEAR’s Submission To The Parliamentary Inquiry Into Medicinal Cannabis

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clear-appg-response-fc

This was the response that CLEAR submitted to the APPG in February 2016.  In March 2016, Roland Gyallay-Pap, then managing director of CLEAR and Peter Reynolds, president, were called to give oral evidence to the Inquiry.

A PDF copy of this document may be downloaded here.

A copy of the Powerpoint presentation delivered by CLEAR at the oral evidence hearing can be downloaded here.

 

Introduction

In June 2015 the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy Reform (APPG) published a short report arguing for a rescheduling of cannabis to make it more widely available for medical use. Following the publication of that report there are a number of key questions remaining that it would like to address by means of a Short Inquiry.

CLEAR Cannabis Law Reform has been asked to submit evidence to the Inquiry in answer to these specific questions:

  • Whether switching the medical status of cannabis from schedule 1 to a less restrictive schedule would be beneficial?
  • What do you understand to be the range and extent of unofficial use of cannabis for medical purposes?
  • What has been the impact of the current schedule 1 status on research into the medicinal uses of cannabis?
  • Is there useful evidence emerging from the regulation of cannabis in over 20 US states and elsewhere and what does it tell us about the case for cannabis to be included in the UK pharmacopeia?
  • What would be the implications of licencing cannabis for medicinal use following a change in Schedule?
  • What role could EU regulations play in developing the potential for the medicinal use of cannabis?

We have also added a further response with additional information.

  • Access to prescribed Bedrocan medicinal cannabis is already possible based on careful use of loopholes and errors in existing English law.

 

Whether switching the medical status of cannabis from schedule 1 to a less restrictive schedule would be beneficial?

Yes, we consider that switching cannabis from schedule 1 to a less restrictive schedule would be beneficial, both so that it could be prescribed by doctors as medicine and so that it could more easily be used in research into its use and effects.

Cannabis has been in schedule 1 of the Misuse of Drugs Regulations1 (MoDR) since the Misuse of Drugs Act 19712 (MoDA) came into force.  Drugs in schedule 1 are specified as having no medicinal value.  However, an inquiry by the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee published in 19983 recommended that doctors should be permitted to prescribe cannabis and that it should be moved to schedule 2.  Strangely the government’s response to this recommendation was further to tighten restrictions by the Misuse of Drugs (Designation) Order 20014, which designates cannabis under section 7(4) of MoDA so that it is unlawful for a doctor, dentist, veterinary practitioner or veterinary surgeon, acting in his capacity as such, to prescribe, administer, manufacture, compound or supply” it.

In fact, cannabis has already been re-scheduled into schedule 4 under the international non-proprietary name of nabiximols (Sativex)5.  Although this is specified as being an extract of THC and CBD, it is clear from statements by the manufacturing company, GW Pharmaceuticals, that nabiximols is whole plant cannabis.  Dr Geoffrey Guy, founder and chairman of GW, is on the record:

“Most people in our industry said it was impossible to turn cannabis into a prescription medicine. We had to rewrite the rule book. We have the first approval of a plant extract drug in modern history. It has 420 molecules, whereas every other drug has just one.”6

GW pharmaceuticals has confirmed that this quotation is accurate.7

The MHRA has chosen to issue a marketing authorisation8 for nabiximols (Sativex) by regarding it as only a two molecule medicine.  The marketing authorisation is therefore at best inaccurate, at worst dishonest.

 

What do you understand to be the range and extent of unofficial use of cannabis for medical purposes?

In 2011, CLEAR commissioned independent, expert research from the Independent Drug Monitoring Unit (IDMU).  The report, ‘Taxing the UK Cannabis Market’9, reveals there are three million people using cannabis in the UK regularly (at least once per month).  Since then CLEAR has regularly polled its members and followers and consistently one in three of respondents claim at least some part of their use is for medicinal reasons.  It is reasonable to estimate therefore that there are up to one million people using cannabis for medicinal purposes in the UK.  It is certain that there are hundreds of thousands of medicinal users and previous estimates in the region of 30,000 are far too low.

The most common indications for medicinal use declared by our respondents are chronic pain, fibromyalgia, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis and cancer.

Our interpretation of the responses we have received is that generally cannabis is used as a palliative agent.  Some people find it so effective that they consider it to be a ‘cure’ as long as they keep using it.  Others find it extremely helpful in reducing the amount of toxic and/or dangerous pharmaceutical medicines they are prescribed.  Often the side effects of pharmaceutical medicines are severe and debilitating and cannabis offers a way of minimising these.

CLEAR maintains a Medicinal Users Panel10 which members join in order to gain support in lobbying their MPs and/or attempting to obtain prescribed Bedrocan medicinal cannabis.  The active membership of the panel varies between 20 to 80 people.  Panel members have also been involved in delegations to meet government ministers and other parliamentarians

 

What has been the impact of the current schedule 1 status on research into the medicinal uses of cannabis?

In the UK there is very little research into the medicinal uses of cannabis, except that undertaken by GW Pharmaceuticals11.  There has been some research carried out into single cannabinoids but the evidence is that the therapeutic effects of cannabis depend on the whole plant ‘entourage effect’.

The allopathic, reductionist approach to medicine, which is reflected in the way that the MHRA regulates medicines, is the fundamental, establishment  doctrine that impedes research into cannabis.

Sadly, one of the biggest trials of MS patients, the CUPID study at the University of Plymouth12, intended to look at the many anecdotal reports of benefit, used synthetic THC and consequently the results were disappointing and irrelevant to the claims it sought to test.

It is far easier to obtain funding for research into the harms of cannabis which is undertaken with an almost absurd degree of repetition, most notably by the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London (IOPPN).13  It is also worth noting that IOPPN regularly and consistently overstates the results of its research, encouraging the media to report causal effects between cannabis use and mental illness which its research does not support.14

There is a huge stigma around cannabis, largely due to inaccurate, misleading and hysterical press coverage.  For instance, neither of the pre-eminent MS patient groups, the MS Society and the MS Trust, will take a stand in support of patients, despite the fact that many use cannabis. Similarly, despite extraordinary human clinical trial results on Crohn’s disease, none of the Crohn’s patient groups will engage with the campaign.  Mention cannabis and calls are not returned, people are scared by the stigma.  The immediate reaction from all such patient groups is to overlook evidence of benefit and refer to risks to mental health which, in fact, are very low compared to pharmaceutical products.  The press, unchallenged by politicians in its disproportionate attention to these risks, bears a heavy responsibility for this stigma and the lack of research.

Unlike many within the reform movement, CLEAR recognises and values the expertise and achievements of GW Pharmaceuticals.  However, any doctor or scientist that expresses any interest in medicinal cannabis in the UK is immediately retained or contracted by GW. We receive hundreds of reports of doctors, GPs and consultants, who tacitly and sometimes explicitly support their patients’ use of cannabis but it is impossible to find any doctor who is prepared to speak out publicly.  In the few instances where doctors have spoken out on behalf of patients, they have been contacted by Home Office officials and warned. One GP reported that he felt “intimidated”. By contrast, there are tens of thousands of doctors across Europe, Israel and North America who advocate for the use of medicinal cannabis and further research into its applications.

The security and record-keeping requirements for cannabis as a schedule 1 drug15 are wildly disproportionate to the real potential for harm, requiring a high security safe for storage and an audit trail fit for Fort Knox.

In addition the fee for a high THC licence is currently £4700.00 per annum and applications can take more than a year to process. These requirements, delays and corresponding costs severely impede research into medicinal cannabis.

Recently, in response to two government e-petitions, the Home Office issued the following statement:

In 2013 the Home Office undertook a scoping exercise targeted at a cross-section of the scientific community, including the main research bodies, in response to concerns from a limited number of research professionals that Schedule 1 status was generally impeding research into new drugs.

Our analysis of the responses confirmed a high level of interest, both generally and at institution level, in Schedule 1 research. However, the responses did not support the view that Schedule 1 controlled drug status impedes research in this area. While the responses confirmed Home Office licensing costs and requirements form part of a number of issues which influence decisions to undertake research in this area, ethics approval was identified as the key consideration, while the next most important consideration was the availability of funding.”

We consider this response to be disingenuous and misleading.  Cannabis is  a special case.  It is a combination of hundreds of molecules, unlike other schedule 1 drugs, most of which are single molecules.  Also, as is well established in written and archaeological evidence, cannabis has been used effectively for at least 5,000 years as medicine without any evidence of harm.

Furthermore. ethical approval and funding are difficult largely due to the evidence-free scaremongering about cannabis and the consequential stigma, in which the Home Office plays a leading role.  Ethical approval and funding do not seem to be a problem in researching potential harms of cannabis.  Indeed, as noted above, there is a massive amount of such research even though much of it is repetitive and inconclusive.

Until it is recognised that for many years, under successive governments, the Home Office has been systematically misleading and scaremongering about cannabis, it is difficult to see how an evidence-based decision can be reached.  The Home Office regularly makes assertions about cannabis that are completely without evidential support.  There is an established prejudice  and determination to misinform and this must be tackled at root as it amounts to misconduct and corruption.

 

Is there useful evidence emerging from the regulation of cannabis in over 20 US states and elsewhere and what does it tell us about the case for cannabis to be included in the UK pharmacopeia?

There is a vast amount of peer-reviewed, published evidence of the safety and efficacy of cannabis as medicine.  Much of this arises from research carried out in the USA, the Netherlands and Israel, where medicinal cannabis regulation has been in place for many years.

It is a populist myth, promoted by the Home Office, the press, the BBC and the prohibitionist lobby, that there is no evidence supporting the use of cannabis as medicine.

In February 2015, a delegation of medicinal cannabis users from CLEAR met with George Freeman MP, the life sciences minister, at the Department of Health who is largely responsible for medicines regulation. At the conclusion of the meeting, Mr Freeman requested CLEAR to produce a summary of the available evidence.

The result is the paper ‘Medicinal Cannabis:The Evidence’16 (MCTE) which has received international acclaim, so much so that in association with Centro de Investigaciones del Cannabis (CIC), a Colombian non profit association, a Spanish language version has been published.

MCTE was submitted to George Freeman MP in April 2015.  Since then he has repeatedly refused to meet CLEAR again or respond to us directly, even after multiple requests from individual MPs representing CLEAR members. His only responses, received through third parties, fail to address the evidence at all. He simply refers to the legal status of cannabis, the theoretical availability of Sativex and the MHRA process for issuing marketing authorisations in respect of medicines.

This refusal to engage, acknowledge or properly consider the very large amount of evidence that is available is indicative of an inexplicable prejudice within government. Although conspiracy theories abound, it is difficult to understand why ministers adopt this position.

Cannabis was one of the most used medicines in the British pharmacopeia until only about 100 years ago.  It could be restored immediately by a stroke of the Home Secretary’s pen to remove it from schedule 1.  This would immediately make it possible for doctors to prescribe medicinal cannabis from Bedrocan17, the Netherlands government’s exclusive contractor.

Bedrocan cannabis is carefully regulated by the Netherlands government’s Office of Medicinal Cannabis. It is available in five different THC:CBD ratios.  It is already exported to many countries in Europe and the company has established itself in Canada as well.  It is less than a tenth the cost of Sativex for equivalent cannabinoid content and can be consumed either by a medical vapouriser or as an infusion.

No minister in this or any previous government has ever presented a coherent reason for the refusal to allow cannabis to be used as a medicine.  Their only response is to fall back on largely spurious or exaggerated claims about the harms of recreational use.

 

What would be the implications of licencing cannabis for medicinal use following a change in Schedule?

Cannabis would not need to be ‘licenced’ for medicinal use following a change in schedule.  As soon as it removed from schedule 1, doctors would be able to prescribe it and businesses interested to grow, process and develop cannabis medicines would be able to obtain cultivation/possession licences from the Home Office.

Medicines are no longer ‘licenced’ in the UK.  The MHRA grants marketing authorisations. The initial fee, simply for filling in the application form is £103,000.00, thus prohibiting any but the very largest, established businesses from even considering such a venture.  The very term ‘marketing authorisation’ reveals the mindset of medicines regulators which is now more about commercial interests than the evaluation of the safety and efficacy of medicines.

The MHRA does have a regulatory scheme for ‘Traditional Herbal Registration’ (THR) but it only applies if the medicine is used for minor health conditions where medical supervision is not required.”.  An application for a THR for cannabis could not be made while it remains in schedule 1 but, if granted, would not permit its use for many conditions where there is excellent evidence of its efficacy.

The MHRA is locked in an inflexible, unscientific and restrictive process which can only evaluate medicines which are either one or two molecules.  Its process is designed for synthetic, potentially very dangerous molecules and is entirely unsuitable for a plant based medicine such as cannabis.  This is why, as explained above, Sativex has been improperly regulated as containing only two molecules: THC and CBD.

When the Sativex (nabiximols) patent expires, independent analysis of the medicine would certainly demonstrate that it is whole plant cannabis oil.  Presumably alternative and/or generic versions could then be produced.  However, by any standards, for all parties, the regulation and scheduling of Sativex is inaccurate, if not dishonest, and needs revision.

If cannabis is removed from schedule 1, most appropriately to schedule 4 alongside Sativex, in our judgement there will be a large number of businesses applying for cultivation/possession licences for research which will eventually result in applications for marketing authorisations.  In the meantime, it can only be described as cruel and evidence-free not to permit doctors to prescribe Bedrocan, a safe, effective medicine already regulated by another European government.

It is likely that enabling the prescription of Bedrocan would result in substantial savings to the NHS medicines budget.  However, any idea that this could be quantified based on existing evidence is fanciful.  Certainly, compared to existing prescription medicines and Sativex, Bedrocan is very inexpensive, probably less than 10 euros per patient per day.  However, the complexity of calculating which medicines it could replace by individual, partly or wholly and for how long makes the exercise so hypothetical as to be meaningless.

It must be true that once local, UK-based cultivation of medicinal cannabis was permitted, prices would reduce even further.

 

What role could EU regulations play in developing the potential for the medicinal use of cannabis?

Aside from France and Ireland (which is moving rapidly towards drugs policy reform), every other EU country has a more intelligent, compassionate and evidence-based policy towards medicinal cannabis.  Based on existing policy and its record, the UK government would simply refuse to comply with any EU regulation of medicinal cannabis.

Under the Schengen Acquis (of which UK is a signatory, though not to the full Schengen Agreement), if a medicine is prescribed to a resident of a member state, that resident may travel to other member states with up to three month’s supply under the protection of a Schengen certificate.  The effect of this is that a resident of the Netherlands, Belgium, Finland, Germany, Italy, etc. can bring prescribed cannabis, likely Bedrocan, into the UK and use it without restriction.

The crucial test here is residency, so it is not possible for a UK resident to travel to another country, obtain a prescription and then return to the UK legally with cannabis.  Presently, a Schengen certificate for a UK resident has to be issued by the Home Office.  Strangely and in contravention of this explicit provision, Norway (Non EU but a signatory to Schengen) does permit its residents to obtain prescriptions, usually in the Netherlands, and return home with cannabis.

It is also likely that given the hostility towards EU regulation, adding cannabis into that debate would be counterproductive.  It would be used as another stick with which to beat the EU.

 

Access to prescribed Bedrocan medicinal cannabis is already possible based on careful use of loopholes and errors in existing English law.

As some members of the APPG are aware, CLEAR has been involved in trying to obtain legal access to prescribed Bedrocan since 2012. We now have approximately a dozen members who regularly receive private prescriptions from their doctors (both consultants and GPs) and travel to the Netherlands to have them dispensed.

In all instances, these individuals have either declared their medicine at customs and/or have made prior arrangements with the Border Force, producing supporting documentation.

This is possible because of errors and inconsistencies in the MoDA and the MoDR.  All English drugs legislation, including the recent Psychoactive Substances Act 2016, is badly drafted, contradictory and scientifically illiterate.

The principle active ingredients of cannabis are delta-9-THC and cannabidiol (CBD).  Bedrocan products are specified with different ratios of these substances.  While cannabis is classified in schedule 1, so is delta-9-THC but it is also in schedule 2 described as dronabinol, which is the international non-proprietary name (INN) for delta-9-THC.  CBD is not a controlled drug.

Therefore, if a doctor is prepared to write a prescription e.g. dronabinol (Bedrocan 22%) or dronabinol (Bediol 7.5%), three month’s supply of the medicine may be legitimately imported as a schedule 2 drug.

In the past four years only one CLEAR member has been frustrated in this.  He had his medicine seized but he was not prosecuted.  An appeal against the seizure failed.

Clearly, the vital factor in this scheme is a doctor who understands the law and the science and is prepared to write the prescription.

 

References

 

1. Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001 http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2001/3998/contents/made
2. Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1971/38/contents
3. House of Lords Science and Technology Committee report 1998 http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/ld199798/ldselect/ldsctech/151/15101.htm
4. Misuse of Drugs (Designation) Order 2001 http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2001/3997/made
5. Nabiximols (Sativex) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nabiximols
6. Cambridge News, 24th Jan 2012 http://www.cambridge-news.co.uk/Cannabis-company-enjoys-major-growth/story-22509041-detail/story.html
7. Email corres with Marc Rogerson, GW Pharma, 160312. Attached.
8. Sativex (nabiximols) marketing authorisation, MHRA , 2010 http://www.mhra.gov.uk/home/groups/par/documents/websiteresources/con084961.pdf
9. Taxing the UK Cannabis Market, IDMU, 2011 http://clear-uk.org/media/uploads/2011/09/TaxUKCan.pdf
10. CLEAR Medicinal Users Panel http://clear-uk.org/pages/medicinal-panel/
11. GW Pharmaceuticals website http://www.gwpharm.com/
12. CUPID study, University of Plymouth, 2015 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25676540
13. Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London website http://www.kcl.ac.uk/ioppn/index.aspx
14. King’s College Confirms Institute of Psychiatry Misled Media On Cannabis Brain Study. CLEAR, 2015 http://clear-uk.org/kings-college-confirms-institute-of-psychiatry-misled-media-on-cannabis-brain-study/
15. Controlled Drugs (Supervision of management and use) Regulations 2013, Dept of Health https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/214915/15-02-2013-controlled-drugs-regulation-information.pdf
16. Medicinal Cannabis: the Evidence, CLEAR, 2015 http://clear-uk.org/static/media/PDFs/medicinal_cannabis_the_evidence.pdf Attached
17. Bedrocan BV website http://www.bedrocan.nl/

 

 

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Peter Reynolds of CLEAR, Nick Rijke of MS Society. BBC Radio Kent, 8th April 2015

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Julia George interviews Peter Reynolds of CLEAR, following publication of the report ‘Medicinal Cannabis:The Evidence’.  Nick Rijke, of the MS Society, comments on using cannabis to treat multiple sclerosis and how Sativex, the only licensed cannabis medicine, is very difficult to obtain on prescription.

Medicinal Cannabis:The Evidence.

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mcte front coverToday CLEAR publishes ‘Medicinal Cannabis:The Evidence’, a comprehensive and up to date review of the evidence supporting the use of cannabis as medicine.

The report details an extraordinary quantity of peer-reviewed, published evidence that demonstrates the efficacy and safety of using cannabis to treat a wide range of conditions.  It looks in detail at five therapeutic areas where the evidence is strongest: Alzheimer’s Disease, Cancer, Chronic Pain, Crohn’s Disease and Multiple Sclerosis.

Archaeological and written evidence suggests mankind has used cannabis for medicinal purposes for as long as 10,000 years.  In the 19th century nearly half of all medicines in the British and US pharmacopeia contained cannabis. With the rise of new pharmaceutical medicines it fell into disuse but in 1996 California introduced the first ‘medical marijuana’ laws.  Now 210 million people in 34 US states and 250 million people in nine European countries have some form of legal access.

Peter Reynolds, author of the report, said:

“This review finally does away with the myth that there is no proof of the value of medicinal cannabis.  There is high quality evidence available from dozens of different sources, including double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials.  No one who examines the evidence can be in any doubt, any longer.  This is a medicine that saves lives and rescues people from pain, suffering and disability with far fewer dangerous and unpleasant side effects than pharmaceutical products.  We must move urgently to allow doctors to start prescribing and introduce professional training in the use of cannabis medicines”

The report is available to download from the CLEAR website: http://clear-uk.org/static/media/Reports/medicinal_cannabis-_the_evidence_v1.1.pdf

CLEAR Cannabis Law Reform is the UK’s leading drugs policy reform group with more than 330,000 followers.  It aims to end the prohibition of cannabis most urgently for those who need it as medicine.  CLEAR also advocates replacing the anarchic mess of prohibition with a framework of regulation which would allow proper control of the product’s strength and quality while providing protection for children and the vulnerable.

CLEAR’s policies are based on independent, expert research carried out by the Independent Drug Monitoring Unit in 2011: http://clear-uk.org/media/uploads/2011/09/TaxUKCan.pdf

CLEAR’s detailed proposals for cannabis regulation, ‘How To Regulate Cannabis In Britain’: http://clear-uk.org/static/media/uploads/2013/10/CLEAR-plan-V2.pdf

 

An Appeal To Andrew Lansley

with 32 comments

Dear Mr Lansley,

Medicinal Cannabis

I am writing to you about the urgent necessity to permit the prescribing of medicinal cannabis by doctors.

Please do not refer me to the Home Office. Its intransigent position on the subject amounts to a scandalous denial of science and cruel mistreatment of hundreds of thousands of British citizens.  This is a health issue which requires your attention and care for those in pain and suffering.

There is now an overwhelming body of peer reviewed, published research that proves beyond doubt the efficacy of medicinal cannabis for the treatment of many conditions.  Britain is becoming increasingly isolated as a place where patients are denied access to the medicine they need.  Utterly absurd is that patients from the EU can bring medicinal cannabis into Britain under the protection of the Schengen Agreement but British residents risk prison for using exactly the same substance.

Every country in Europe except France and Britain now has some form of medicinal cannabis provision.  15 US states now permit medical marijuana on a doctor’s recommendation and Israel has a fast expanding programme. There are huge cost savings and benefits to be gained and enormous reductions in harm from side effects of poisonous pharmaceutical products.

There are already many instances in Britain where MS patients have been refused Sativex on cost grounds and so have been forced into illegal purchase or cultivation and have then been prosecuted as criminals. This is a shame and disgrace on our nation and I appeal to you to take steps to end it.

Perhaps you do not realise the transformational effect that medicinal cannabis can have on some people’s lives?  Almost miraculous results are being achieved, particularly with MS, Crohn’s and fibromyalgia. People who would otherwise be trapped by pain and disability are able to lead productive lives with the help of medicinal cannabis.

Please Mr Lansley, will you arrange to meet me and a delegation of people whose lives are literally saved by the use of medicinal cannabis?  This cruel and demeaning policy cannot be allowed to continue in the face of overwhelming evidence.  Safe, high quality, standardised dose cannabis is now available from Bedrocan in Holland, the Dutch government’s supplier and is exported all over Europe to fill doctors’ prescriptions.  How much longer must British citizens wait?

Co-ordinated action is already underway for dozens of patients to take the Home Office to judicial review for its refusal to grant import licenses for Bedrocan.  This is at huge cost in public money and people’s lives. You could take steps to end this suffering now.  You could enable the NHS to start making huge cost savings immediately.  This issue is not going away.

CLEAR is a new team of committed professionals that is determined to bring this issue to the top of the political agenda.  Please arrange to meet me and learn at first hand how much good you could do by a change of policy that is, in any case, inevitable. Don’t make those people in pain and suffering wait any longer.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Peter Reynolds

Send a copy of this letter to your MP.  Download and print here.

 

 

A Tale Of Two Conferences

with 33 comments

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”

A Tale Of Two Cities, Charles Dickens.

It was at its best as the brave Clark French and Cure Ukay gave their personal testimonies as medicinal cannabis users at the European Student Drug Policy Reform Conference.  It was at its worst when Peter Hitchens confronted me and Sir Ian Gilmore  at the University of Bedfordshire “A Ceasefire In The War On Drugs?” debate.

The Cannabis Panel

I am so proud to have been associated with both Clark’s and Cure’s contributions at the Manchester conference last weekend.  There were tears in the audience as first Clark, who has MS, then Cure, who has Crohn’s,  explained the reality of their daily lives and the relief that cannabis provides.  The following day, Clark had a relapse and he hobbled to the front to explain, his legs in spasm.  He went outside to take his medicine and literally skipped back into the conference hall.  It was like watching Christ telling someone to take up his bed and walk.  It was intensely moving.  It refreshed my enthusiasm.  It reignited my rage.  They are both warriors for the cause of great courage and dedication.  They are my inspiration.

The conference was a worthy and well-organised event.  Lembit Opik gave a barnstorming speech which had them whooping and cheering in the aisles. There were fascinating contributions from Sebastian Saville and Niamh Eastwood of Release, Darryl Bickler of the Drug Equality Alliance, Chris Hallam and Tom Lloyd of the  International Drug Policy Consortium.  There were very practical workshops on campaigning and an engrossing lecture from Chris Rose of Campaign Strategies.  I know I’m biased but I think Clark and Cure were the stars of the show!

And so to London on Wednesday evening for the debate at Kings College University, near Waterloo.  As I walked into the lecture theatre, there was Peter Hitchens chatting with Sir Ian Gilmore. I marched straight up and introduced myself, explaining to Hitchens that I am responsible for the four Press Complaints Commission complaints that he is currently facing.  I enquired after his brother’s health and he gave me a long and detailed explanation about Christopher’s oseophageal cancer.  He was extremely courteous to me.  I took my seat directly in front of him.

Ceasefire In The War On Drugs?

Hitchens spoke first.  He is the arch dissembler, presenting facts in such a way that he draws you towards a false conclusion. To be fair, he is a fine speaker but at the heart of his argument is an intellectual vacuum.

Sir Ian Gilmore, ex-president of the Royal College of Physicians went next.  He was quiet and dignified and presented a very scientific approach to harm reduction. Finally, Tim Hollis, Chief Constable of Humberside, stood in for David Blunkett. He was an entertaining speaker. I always rather like intelligent policemen.  They have a difficult job to do and I think the good ones are very valuable to society.

So to questions…and I was fidgeting in my seat with impatience!  I had my go, talked about the harms of prohibition, about taking the more pragmatic approach with a regulated system and the evil injustice of the denial of medicinal cannabis.  Right in front of me Hitchens was visibly seething. When I pointed out that his brother is a passionate advocate of medical marijuana he snapped.  He pointed at me, glared and shouted “Leave my brother out of it!”.

Steve Rolles from Transform spoke as did Harry Shapiro from Drugscope. Tom Lloyd, who had also spoken in Manchester contributed and there were many other intelligent observations and comments.  Hitchens was clearly unhappy.

We went back to the panel and Hitchens was aggressive in his response, gesturing at me and talking of  “idiots” and accusing Sir Ian of talking “drivel”.  I heckled him. he promised to “deal with you later” with another Alan Sugar-style stab of the  finger.  Sir Ian was next and he rather politely suggested that “Peter has his head in the sand” – at which Hitchens exploded!

He grabbed his coat and bag and made as if to leave.  It was a very deliberate flounce in high dudgeon.  Later it was suggested he did it for dramatic effect but no, it made him look foolish.  He was flummoxed by the opposition.

The chairman, ex-BBC presenter John Silverman, skillfully restrained him and persuaded him to stay.  In his closing statement Hitchens quoted some statistics from Portugal in an effort to disprove that country’s success with decriminalisation.  It would be against the rules for me to accuse him of anything more than dissembling but no one in the room recognised any truth in his figures.

It was an entertaining evening and a good opportunity to raise the profile of  CLEAR.  I’m back next week for another session entitled “How the World’s View of the Drugs ‘war’ is Changing”.

Home Office Drug Strategy Blog – Brokenshire The Buffoon

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James Brokenshire introduces the new Home Office drug strategy blog here.

It is difficult to contain the contempt in which I hold this odious and dishonest little man.  His brazen cheek in believing that he has anything of honour or relevance to publish on the internet is astounding.  Is he really so isolated in his ivory tower that he doen’t realise how much he and his polices are despised and reviled?  Does he not know that he is subject to intense ridicule and disrespect at his absurd ideas and propaganda?  Doesn’t he know that he is universally regarded as a complete prat – by all his colleagues, doctors, scientists, members of the ACMD, everyone who comes into contact with him?

This is my comment.  I did my best to restrain myself and stay polite.  I wonder whether it will be published?

There are many, many things wrong with Britain’s drug strategy. We now have one of the most regressive, authoritarian and oppressive drug policies anywhere in the world.  Only in places where they execute people for drug possession such as Malaysia or China are there more backwards, unjust and outdated ideas being implemented.

No omission or error is more heinous though than the failure even to mention the medicinal use of cannabis.  With the new understanding of the endocannabinoid system and its vital importance to all aspects of human physiology, the power of cannabis as medicine is self-evident.  Throughout Europe, doctors are able to prescribe medicinal cannabis to patients.  Extraordinary results are achieved in multiple sclerosis, neuropathic pain, Crohn’s, cancer, ADHD and many other conditions. Meanwhile the British government continues with what can only be described as its inane response that “there are no medicinal benefits in cannabis”.  It is not just a stupid policy. It is cruel.  Hundreds of thousands of British citizens are denied access to the medicine that could relieve their pain and suffering. Meanwhile, in virtually every other country in Europe except France, in Israel and in 15 US states, cannabis is being used as medicine and achieving wonderful results.

Those denied their medicine in Britain are humiliated that European patients can bring medicinal cannabis into Britain and use it under the protection of the Schengen Agreement.  This is a cruel and unusual punishment for the crime of being resident in Britain.

The British drug strategy is a joke throughout the world except amongst those agencies and drug workers that depend upon it for their living.  It is a shame on our great nation and an extreme indictment of our political system which allows such discredited, cruel and self-defeating policies to persist.

The prohibition of medicinal cannabis is perhaps the best example of how utterly useless, out of date and hopeless is current government drugs policy.