Peter Reynolds

The life and times of Peter Reynolds

Posts Tagged ‘Paul Flynn

Let’s Temper Hope For Paul Flynn’s Medical Cannabis Bill With Some Reality.

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Paul Flynn MP introducing his 10 Minute Rule Bill

No one would like to see Paul Flynn’s ‘Elizabeth Brice’ bill  to re-legalise medical cannabis pass through Parliament more than me.  Yet it concerns me that expectations are being raised way beyond what is realistic. There is widespread misunderstanding about what the bill is and what are its chances of getting any further.

The Legalisation of Cannabis (Medicinal Purposes) Bill 2017–19 is a Private Member’s Bill. It was  introduced to Parliament on Tuesday 10 October 2017 under the Ten Minute Rule. This allows an MP to make his or her case for a new bill in a speech lasting up to ten minutes. An opposing speech may also be made before the House decides whether or not the bill should be introduced. If the MP is successful the bill is taken to have had its first reading.

Private Member’s Bills almost never become law.  Those that have the best of a very slim chance are proposed by one of about 20 MPs who win the right to put a bill forward a bill in the ballot that takes place at the beginning of each session.  This also decides the order of precedence for the 20 bills to be given parliamentary time.

A 10 Minute Rule Bill is even less likely to become law.  It is the only way other than the ballot that an MP can introduce a bill personally and if it passes its first reading, as Paul Flynn’s bill did, it is set down for second reading.  All Private Member’s Bills are debated on Fridays and before any 10 Minute Rule can be debated the bills put forward under the ballot will come first and even for those, mostly there will be no time available.  Remember also that on Fridays most MPs will not even be in Parliament, they will be back in their constituencies seeing people in their surgeries.

Sadly, the truth is that the second reading of Paul Flynn’s bill is unlikely even to take place.  Although it is set down for 23rd February 2018, there is virtually zero chance of any time being found for it.  It will simply wither away with no progress or further mention.

Even Parliament’s own website says of 10 Minute Rule Bills “an opportunity for Members to voice an opinion…rather than a serious attempt to get a Bill passed.”

I asked Paul Flynn himself what he thought were the chances of his bill making any progress and his response is illuminating. His exact words were: “I am expecting major changes to political party attitudes in the next 12 months following the developing trends in the United States.”

I think we can all agree on that.  In fact, I would say that there already have been major changes in the attitudes of most MPs.  The single biggest obstacle to any drug law reform is Theresa May. After all, what other leader anywhere in the world, apart from the murderous thug President Durterte of the Philippines, has recently called for a continuance of the war on drugs?

May and Duterte – two of a kind on drugs policy

I am confident that once Theresa May is gone, then whatever party is in power, we will see some progress. There is similar, hopeless optimism about Jeremy Corbyn.  Speaking at a Labour leadership debate in Glasgow, in  August 2016, he said: “I would decriminalise medicinal uses of cannabis.”  I think it was the same day or the day after that both John McDonnell and Diane Abbott contradicted him.   Nevertheless, there is a delusional strand of opinion that Corbyn would act on this immediately he was elected.  Dream on!  The Labour Party has the worst record of any UK political party on drugs policy.  For instance it was Margaret Thatcher who introduced needle exchange back in the 80s and yes, even Theresa May sanctioned the provision of foil to heroin users for smoking as an alternative to injecting.  The Labour Party has never done anything in support of progressive drugs policies that it hasn’t reversed under pressure from the tabloid press.

Progress on access to medical cannabis is coming irrespective of which party is in power.  In the meantime, the best that any of us can do is keep up pressure on our personal MPs and in our local media and through our doctors.  Probably the biggest breakthrough this year on medical cannabis will be the publication of guidelines by the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP).  Organised by CLEAR and authored by our Scientific and Medical Advisor, Professor Mike Barnes, this shows MPs that however irresponsible and pig-headed government ministers may be, doctors have a responsibility to their patients, an ethical duty that transcends the grubby and corrupt politics that ministers subscribe to.

Sadly then, 23rd February and the second reading of Paul Flynn’s bill will be a non-event. For the rest of 2018 look out for the RCGP guidelines and drop your MP a line when they come out asking for his or her view.  Also, in July look out for Canada’s legalisation of cannabis for all adults.  Again, another opportunity to bring the subject up with your MP.  The latest, standard, Home Office approved reply from MPs reads as follows:

“Cannabis in its raw form is not recognised as having any medicinal purposes. The licensing regime for medicines is administered by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which issues licences for medicines in the UK which have been tested for their safety, quality and efficacy. 
 
A medicine derived from the cannabis plant, Sativex, has already been licenced for use in the treatment of spasticity due to multiple sclerosis (MS). The MHRA is open to considering other licence applications for medicines containing cannabinoids should such products be developed.
 
In 2014, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) published its clinical guideline on the management of MS that does not recommend Sativex as a cost effective use of NHS resources. In the absence of positive guidance from NICE, it is for commissioners to make decisions on whether to fund this treatment based on an assessment of the available evidence.
 
I do appreciate that there are people with chronic pain and debilitating illnesses who seek to alleviate their symptoms by using cannabis.  Although such use is illicit, the Sentencing Council’s guidelines on drug offences identify such circumstances as a potential mitigating factor.
 
The Government has no plans to legalise the recreational use of cannabis. The official advice from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs cites medical and scientific research showing that cannabis use has a number of adverse acute and chronic health effects, especially for people with mental health problems, and continues to present a significant public health issue.”

If you receive this response, first of all, don’t bother writing back, it will get you nowhere.  If you really want to do your bit then make an appointment to see your MP at his/her surgery.  Then give him/her this simple fact that totally devastates the Home Office and MHRA position:

In every jurisdiction throughout the world where medicinal cannabis has been legally regulated, it is through a special system outside pharmaceutical medicines regulation.

This is the government’s very last excuse for denying access to medicinal cannabis. The MHRA process is incapable of dealing with a medicine that contains hundreds of molecules.  It is designed by the pharmaceutical industry for regulating single molecule medicines, usually synthesised in a lab, which have the potential to be highly toxic. Every other government that has recognised the enormous benefit that medicinal cannabis offers has come to the same conclusion: cannabis is a special case.  It is far more complex but much, much safer than pharmaceutical products.

 

A Cannabis ‘Protest’ That Was Well Judged.

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This was the best ‘protest’ I have seen. The characterisation of it as a ‘cannabis tea party’ was clever and combining it with Paul Flynn’s 10 minute rule bill was a smart move.

It was good that three MPs actually attended and the press coverage was extensive and largely positive. This is a welcome change from the disastrous demos and protests of the past which have undoubtedly hindered progress.

So while I’m not exactly eating it, I take my hat off to the organisers for a good job, well done.

The most promising news is that Andrea Leadsom, Conservative Leader of the House, has personally endorsed Paul Flynn’s bill which is real chink of light. This government, desperate to recover some credibility with younger and progressive voters, if it had any sense, would see this as a big opportunity. If the government was to choose to support the bill it would gain huge credit without having to lose its ‘tough on drugs’ stance.

We can only hope.

Written by Peter Reynolds

October 16, 2017 at 9:01 am

The Drugs Policy Debate. House Of Commons, 18th July 2017.

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This debate was held in Parliament following the publication on 14th July 2017 of the ‘2017 Drug Strategy’.

The debate may be watched in full here.  It starts at 13:17 and finishes at 19:00.

Highlights include:

Crispin Blunt MP at 14:09

 

 

 

 

 

Jeff Smith MP at 15:21

 

 

 

 

 

Norman Lamb MP at 16:10

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paul Flynn MP at 16:32

Written by Peter Reynolds

July 26, 2017 at 4:07 pm

The Weak And Ineffectual Response Of Most MPs To The Cannabis Debate.

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CLEAR has been mobilising its members as never before to lobby their MPs in advance of the cannabis debate on 12th October.

There are honourable exceptions but most responses have been unhelpful, dismissive and have completely failed to deal with the arguments put forward.  Most MPs are indoctrinated with the false reporting churned out by the press, scared stiff of the subject and not prepared to look any deeper.

It is a terrible indictment of these people, each of whom costs us about £250,000 per year in salary and expenses. Most simply do not do their job properly, certainly not in the interests of or representing their constituents, mainly they just pursue their own political ambitions and interests. They cannot be bothered to deal with the cannabis issue.

Usually, from both Tory and Labour MPs, the responses parrot the official Home Office line. Most are too lazy to inform themselves about cannabis and the facts and evidence around current policy which costs the UK around £10 billion per annum.  This vast sum comprises a futile waste of law enforcement resources and the loss of a huge amount of tax revenue.  It provides funding to organised crime, including human trafficking, and does nothing to prevent any health or social harms around cannabis.  In fact, if anything it maximises these harms, endangering health, communities and the whole of our society by enforcing a policy which is based not on evidence but on prejudice. Source: http://clear-uk.org/media/uploads/2011/09/TaxUKCan.pdf

Paul Flynn MP

Paul Flynn MP

As Paul Flynn MP, said in the House on 14th September:

“There is [a debate] in a fortnight’s time, on a subject that terrifies MPs. We hide our heads under the pillow to avoid talking about it, but the public are very happy to talk about it in great numbers. That subject is the idea of legalising cannabis so that people here can enjoy the benefits enjoyed in many other countries that do not have a neurotic policy that is self-defeating and actually increases cannabis harm.”

Source: http://www.theyworkforyou.com/whall/?id=2015-09-14a.185.0#g194.0

Below I reproduce a reply from one MP. This is the standard MP line on cannabis.  The words may vary slightly but essentially this is the response that the Home Office enforces and, irrespective of party, these are the disingenuous statements that MPs hide behind.

“I believe cannabis is a harmful substance and use can lead to a wide range of physical and psychological conditions. I therefore do not support the decriminalisation or legalisation of cannabis at this time.

I welcome that there has been a significant fall in the numbers of young people using cannabis, and the number of drug-related deaths among under-30s has halved in a decade and I would not want to see this progress undermined.”

Stating cannabis is harmful is meaningless and and an evasion of the question. Anything can be harmful. Such an assertion only has any meaning when in comparison to other substances.  In fact, cannabis is relatively benign, even when compared to many foods.  It is much less harmful than energy drinks, junk food, all over-the-counter and prescription medicines and, of course, tobacco and alcohol.  Compared to these two most popular legal drugs, cannabis is hundreds of times less harmful. Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4311234/

Prof Les Iversen

If cannabis can lead to a wide range of physical and psychological conditions, what are they and how likely is cannabis to bring them on compared to other substances? In fact, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, whose publications are often presented as evidence of cannabis harms, states unequivocally

 “There is no evidence that cannabis causes specific health hazards.”

Source: http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/healthadvice/problemsdisorders/cannabis.aspx

There is a reported fall in cannabis use from the British Crime Survey.  However, the Association of Chief Police Officers reports ever increasing incidents of cannabis cultivation and there has been a massive surge in the use of ‘legal highs’ or novel psychoactive substances.  Without exception, these are far more harmful than cannabis and their very existence is the product of government policy.  In places such as Holland and the US states that have legalised, there is no problem at all with such substances.

As for “drug-related deaths”, this is classic disinformation.  What does it have to do with cannabis? Are our MPs so badly informed that they cannot distinguish between different drugs?  Sadly, in many cases the answer is yes. Even so, this is a false claim.  The latest figures show an increase in the number of drug poisoning deaths to the highest level since records began in 1993.  So much for the claimed “progress”.  Source: http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171778_414574.pdf

Just recently MPs have started to address the question of medicinal use, almost certainly because of the rising clamour from people in pain, suffering and disability.  Also because the UK is now a very long way out of step with the rest of Europe, the USA, Canada, Israel, Australia and most ‘first world’ countries. Source: http://clear-uk.org/static/media/PDFs/medicinal_cannabis_the_evidence2.pdf

“I am aware that one of the issues raised is around enabling the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes. I know that cannabis does not have marketing authorisation for medical use in the UK, and I understand that the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency can grant marketing authorisation to drug compositions recognised as having medicinal properties, such as in the case of Sativex.”

A marketing authorisation from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is a deliberate diversion from the issue.  Medicines do not have to have an MHRA marketing authorisation.  Doctors can prescribe any medicine, licensed or unlicensed, as they wish.  However, since 1971, medical practitioners have been specifically prohibited from prescribing cannabis on the basis of no evidence at all except minsters’ personal opinions. Source: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2001/3997/made.

Applying for an MHRA marketing authorisation costs over £100,000 as an initial fee and clinical trials have to be conducted at a cost of at least the same again.  Instead, minsters could simply move cannabis from schedule 1 of the Misuse of Drugs Regulations to schedule 2 alongside heroin and or, more logically, to schedule 4, alongside the cannabis oil medicine Sativex. This would place the whole question of the use of cannabis as medicine in the hands of doctors and not in the politically motivated hands of Westminster.  Isn’t that where it should be?

your-country-needs-youThis is the most important short term objective of the cannabis campaign – move cannabis out of schedule 1.  Not only would this enable doctors to prescribe Bedrocan medicnal cannabis as regulated by the Dutch government but it would mean research could start in earnest. The restrictions presently in place on cannabis, because it is schedule 1, make research very expensive, complicated and are a real deterrent.

If you haven’t lobbied your MP on the cannabis debate yet, you still have time to.  If you can, get along and see them in a constituency surgery. Full guidance is provided here but you must act now: http://clear-uk.org/guidance-on-how-to-lobby-your-mp-for-the-cannabis-debate/

Most MPs run surgeries on Fridays so that means you have just this coming Friday, 2nd October and the following 9th October.

Please at least ensure you write to your MP.  This is our moment and we are having an impact. Make sure you do your bit.

Cannabis Debate On 12th October 2015. Now Is The Time To Contact Your MP.

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Paul Flynn MP

Paul Flynn MP

Today the House of Commons Petitions Committee agreed to hold a debate in response to the cannabis petition. It will take place on 12th October 2015 in Westminster Hall and it will be led by Paul Flynn, the veteran MP for Newport West, who has been campaigning for cannabis law reform for more than 25 years.

Four years ago this month, Paul was instrumental in the launch of the CLEAR Plan ‘How To Regulate Cannabis in Britain‘. He sponsored our launch in the Jubilee Room of the Houses of Parliament and gave the keynote speech. We have already made contact with him to offer any support we can. What distinguishes CLEAR from other groups is that we support our campaign with independent, expert research, detailed proposals for regulation based on public consultation and analyses of existing scientific evidence and studies. We anticipate that the evidence provided by these three key publications will be crucial to informing the debate.

htrcbTaxing the UK Cannabis Market http://clear-uk.org/media/uploads/2011/09/TaxUKCan.pdf
How To Regulate Cannabis In Britain http://clear-uk.org/static/media/uploads/2013/10/CLEAR-plan-V2.pdf
Medicinal Cannabis: The Evidence http://clear-uk.org/static/media/PDFs/medicinal_cannabis_the_evidence2.pdf

Now, even if you have done so recently, is the time to contact your MP and ensure he or she has copies of these documents. Crucially, make it very clear that you expect them to attend the debate and you want them to represent your views. If you can, arrange to meet your MP at their constituency surgery to explain in person what you want them to say.

You can find out who your MP is by entering your postcode on this website

You can find out your MP’s email address by looking their name up here

You can also Google your MP’s name which will lead you to their personal website and more contact details.

You can write by letter to your MP at: House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA

mcte front coverWrite To Your MP

Most important is that you must include your full postal address and postcode to show that you are a constituent.  Without this your email or letter will be ignored.

Either an email or a letter is fine but you might want to consider doing both!

Write in your own words.  MPs are now wise to what they call ‘campaign emails’.  The large number of campaigns by groups such as 38 Degrees have really swamped MPs with repetitive correspondence.  It doesn’t work to send what is clearly a template or automatically generated email.  You will just be ignored.  Many MPs actually warn against this now on their website.

So, in your own words, make these points:

1. Legal regulation of cannabis will be much safer for everyone than the present criminal market.
2. £6 billion every year is spent on cannabis and it all goes to criminals.
3. I want to see cannabis available to adults only through licensed outlets with proper labelling and quality control.
4. I want to see cannabis taxed so that, as in Colorado, we can invest millions more in schools and hospitals.
5. Many people need access to medicinal cannabis for which there is now strong scientific evidence.
6. Please will you support and vote for legal regulation of cannabis?

You can link to these four pieces of evidence in your email or letter

Cannabis is 114 times safer than alcohol:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4311234/

No link between adolescent cannabis use and later health problems:
http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/adb-adb0000103.pdf

‘Medicinal Cannabis:The Evidence’:
http://clear-uk.org/static/media/PDFs/medicinal_cannabis_the_evidence2.pdf

Taxation of cannabis market net annual gain to the UK economy up to £9.5 billion:
http://clear-uk.org/media/uploads/2011/09/TaxUKCan.pdf

Written by Peter Reynolds

September 8, 2015 at 6:07 pm

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!

Politicians’ Negligent Response To The Drugs Debate

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Shamefully Slandered

The Independent in its leader today, says “It is depressing how stale and weary have been the responses” to Bob Ainsworth’s initiative on drug policy reform.  See here.  As with all the media it has failed dismally to point out that he was supported by Peter Lilley, former deputy leader of the Tory party,  Tom Brake from the LibDems and Paul Flynn from Labour.

The BBC, with appalling inaccuracy, stated that  “all three main parties at Westminster remain opposed to legalisation”.  See here. In fact the LibDems’ published policy is “In the longer term, seeking to put the supply of cannabis on a legal, regulated basis”.  It matters little though because almost never has any political party been more irrelevant.   The LibDems now command less respect than the Monster Raving Loonies.

The Most Dangerous Man In Britain

The responses of our political leaders are not just depressing, they are grossly irresponsible and negligent.  James “Broken Britain” Brokenshire is the most dangerous man in Britain and will be responsible for far more death, misery and degradation in our country than any terrorist.  As The Independent says, “such is the hysteria about drugs in Britain that there is no political space for a reasoned debate by those in authority.”  The evidence that the war on drugs is an expensive failure is overwhelming but politicians prefer to waste money and lives rather than grasp this nettle.

The cowardly hypocrites, Cameron and his poodle, sit back while they allow Brokenshire, a preppy-faced apologist for gangsters to oppress, pillage and brutalise our fellow citizens.

Brokenshire is doing all he can to break Britain and British society.

He is a criminal of the first order.

Breakthrough In The Drugs Debate!

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Bob Ainsworth

Tomorrow, Bob Ainsworth MP, former Home Office drugs minister and Secretary of State for Defence, will call for the legalisation and regulation of drugs. He is to lead a Parliamentary debate in Westminster Hall, at 2.30pm on Thursday 16th December 2010.

Great credit for this must go to the inestimable Transform Drug Policy Foundation, which has led the fight against prohibition.  This is an extraordinary breakthrough.  The news literally brought tears to my eyes.  We have fought so long for such progress.

Mr Ainsworth said;

“I have just been reading the Coalition Government’s new Drugs Strategy.  It is described by the Home Secretary as fundamentally different to what has gone before; it is not.  To the extent that it is different, it is potentially harmful because it retreats from the principle of harm reduction, which has been one of the main reasons for the reduction in acquisitive crime in recent years.

However, prohibition has failed to protect us. Leaving the drugs market in the hands of criminals causes huge and unnecessary harms to individuals, communities and entire countries, with the poor the hardest hit. We spend billions of pounds without preventing the wide availability of drugs. It is time to replace our failed war on drugs with a strict system of legal regulation, to make the world a safer, healthier place, especially for our children.  We must take the trade away from organised criminals and hand it to the control of doctors and pharmacists.

As drugs minister in the Home Office I saw how prohibition fails to reduce the harm that drugs cause in the UK, fuelling burglaries, gifting the trade to gangsters and increasing HIV infections. My experience as Defence Secretary, with specific responsibilities in Afghanistan, showed to me that the war on drugs creates the very conditions that perpetuate the illegal trade, while undermining international development and security.

My departure from the front benches gives me the freedom to express my long held view that, whilst it was put in place with the best of intentions, the war on drugs has been nothing short of a disaster.

Politicians and the media need to engage in a genuine and grown up debate about alternatives to prohibition, so that we can build a consensus based on delivering the best outcomes for our children and communities. I call on those on all sides of the debate to support an independent, evidence-based review, exploring all policy options, including: further resourcing the war on drugs, decriminalising the possession of drugs, and legally regulating their production and supply.

One way to do this would be an Impact Assessment of the Misuse of Drugs Act in line with the 2002 Home Affairs Select Committee finding – which included David Cameron – for the government to explore alternatives to prohibition, including legal regulation.

The re-legalisation of alcohol in the US after thirteen years of Prohibition was not surrender.  It was a pragmatic move based on the government’s need to retake control of the illegal trade from violent gangsters. After 50 years of global drug prohibition it is time for governments throughout the world to repeat this shift with currently illegal drugs.”

Peter Lilley MP, former Conservative Party Deputy Leader said;

“The current approach to drugs has been an expensive failure, and for the sake of everyone, and the young in particular, it is time for all politicians to stop using the issue as a political football. I have long advocated breaking the link between soft and hard drugs – by legalising cannabis while continuing to prohibit hard drugs.   But I support Bob Ainsworth’s sensible call for a proper, evidence based review, comparing the pros and cons of the current prohibitionist approach with all the alternatives, including wider decriminalisation, and legal regulation.”

Tom Brake MP, Co-Chair, Liberal Democrat Backbench Committee on Home Affairs, Justice and Equalities said;

“Liberal Democrats have long called for a science-based approach to our drugs problem. So it is without hesitation that I support Bob Ainsworth’s appeal to end party political point-scoring, and explore sensitively all the options, through an Impact Assessment of the Misuse of Drugs Act.”

Labour’s Paul Flynn MP, Founder Council Member of the British Medicinal Cannabis Register said;

“This could be a turning point in the failing UK ‘war on drugs.’ Bob Ainsworth is the persuasive, respected voice of the many whose views have been silenced by the demands of ministerial office. Every open rational debate concludes that the UK’s harsh drugs prohibition has delivered the worst outcomes in Europe – deaths, drug crime and billions of pounds wasted.”

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

with 16 comments

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.