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Peter Reynolds

The life and times of Peter Reynolds

Posts Tagged ‘prescribed

Legal Medicinal Cannabis In Britain

with 92 comments

In The Pink

Last week Jim Starr flew into Bristol Airport from Amsterdam carrying 80 grammes of herbal cannabis as prescribed for him by a Dutch doctor.  That’s just under three ounces of dried flower heads.  He was carrying it in a parcel about the size of a telephone directory.

There was no one at customs, even though Jim went through the red channel and had telephoned ahead to advise the airport that he was bringing the cannabis in.  He waited, even looked around for someone, anyone, but there was no one to be seen at all.  He wanted to declare what he had with him.  He’s never wanted to break the law.  He knew that he was risking confiscation of the cannabis, possibly even arrest but the coast wasn’t just clear, it was deserted.  The authorities had evidently decided that in their “war on drugs”, this time, discretion was definitely the better part of valour.  They were in full scale retreat.

Jim had confirmed to the airport that he had the necessary paperwork to prove it was prescribed medicinal cannabis.  His doctor had told him that he was protected under Article 75 of the Schengen Agreement which states “persons may carry the narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances that are necessary for their medical treatment provided that, at any check, they produce a certificate issued or authenticated by a competent authority”

Prescription

Of course, even then, it didn’t stop the journey being a nerve wracking and tense experience.  Now, safely at home in Dorchester with his family, Jim understands from the Home Office that he is entitled to bring in the cannabis as prescribed for him by his Dutch doctor.  He can bring in up to three month’s supply at a time if he carries it on his person. Otherwise he has to apply for an import licence and have it shipped to a UK pharmacist.

Jim is 36 and is married to Emma, with whom he has two children.  Originally from Birmingham, he was a very active man in full time employment until in 1999 he was diagnosed with a degenerative disease of the spine.  In 2003 he was involved in a road accident and suffered terrible spinal injuries. His life seemed hopeless. The cocktail of powerful drugs he was prescribed, including morphine, were debilitating in themselves.  He couldn’t face a future in which he was turned into a zombie, unable to enjoy any sort of decent life with his wife and children. He admits frankly that he was suicidal.

One day in 2004, Jim was upstairs in bed in so much pain and despair that he could barely move.  A friend called round to see him and offered him a joint. Half an hour later Jim made it downstairs for the first time in three weeks.  Suddenly he had hope and the possibility of a future with his family.

Life since then has been a constant game of cat and mouse with the police and drug dealers.  Apart from risking arrest and even prison, Jim has also been in danger of being robbed or ripped off by dealers. He’s never wanted to break the law. He told his doctor the relief that cannabis provided and as soon as Sativex became available, even before it was officially licensed, his doctor prescribed it for him. Unfortunately, the very next day she rang to say that because of licensing and regulation problems she wouldn’t be able to prescribe it again.  In fact, Jim did manage to get another prescription for Sativex but again it was withdrawn, this time because his health authority refused to fund it.

Jim has been an active campaigner for the legalisation of cannabis ever since.  He has organised a series of marches, protests and petitions in Dorchester, Weymouth and even Downing Street. Over the last seven years, three MPs, Oliver Letwin, Jim Knight and Richard Drax, have written various letters in support of him.  He is a distinctive figure in his wheelchair with his dyed beard which has earned him the nickname “Pinky”.  Perhaps he has been a little too high profile for the Dorset police who he accuses of persecuting him.  Unable to obtain Sativex or afford the prices and risks of dealers, Jim enlisted the help of a friend to grow his own medicine. Inevitably, in May 2009 the police arrived and Jim was arrested.

Campaigning

In August this year at Dorchester Crown Court Jim was given a two year conditional discharge for growing cannabis. He is now pursuing a complaint against the police alleging brutal treatment during his arrest.  Other complications, allegedly at the police’s behest, have led to the DVLA revoking his driving licence although he has never been arrested, charged, convicted or even stopped on suspicion of driving under the influence.

Jim has become an avid recorder of everything.  He uses mobile phones, video cameras and audio recorders to retain evidence of every contact with the authorities.  He has a video recording of an officer saying to his wife “Look luvvy, whatever he grows up there from now on is up to him.  We promise it don’t bother us”.  Foolishly, he took the officer at his word.  Three weeks after receiving his conditional discharge the police arrived again.

There was no provision for transporting him to the police station in his wheelchair.  The officers were warned not to lift him by his arms because of his spinal condition.  They wrenched him out of his chair by gripping his shoulders and underpants causing anal bleeding due to an existing condition. He was refused a doctor at the station. There was no provision for disabled people, even for his special toilet needs.  He was refused access to any of his prescribed medication or even his specialist anti pressure sore mattresses.

The following day he attended hospital and was diagnosed with torn shoulder muscles.  In fact, his spinal column is so delicate that any movement could potentially paralyse him. This is the basis of all his high profile campaigning and must be well known to the police.  Jim now faces another charge of cultivating cannabis and a possible prison sentence.

With Mr Nice

The trip to Holland was a last resort, only made possible by the generosity of a friend.  The Dutch doctor was horrified at the range of highly toxic prescription medicines given to Jim and prescribed two grammes per day of medicinal herbal cannabis.  He told Jim that he shouldn’t be using Sativex as the alcohol in its solution was like pouring petrol on a fire, given his medical conditions.

So at last, Jim seems to have the medicine he needs.  He will have to continue to rely on the generosity of friends to pay for it.  He is applying for a Home Office licence for the cannabis to be imported to a local pharmacist who can then dispense it to him.  He will continue to campaign for the right to grow his own for free.  The costs of cultivation at home are minimal compared to the rigmarole of importing from Holland or the massive “Big Pharma” cost of Sativex.

Jim is not the first person to get the medicine they need in this way but he is the first to go public about it.  Many tens of thousands may now wish to follow his example.  Most European countries and 15 US states already regulate the provision of medicinal cannabis. Surely it is time for the government to consider reform of what looks increasingly like an absurd and cruel law.

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“Outrageous Scaremongering” Over Cannabis

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Last October,  36-year old Julie Ryan was found dead in bed by her three children, now aged 14, 13 and 8.  At a coroner’s inquest in Oldham last week, pathologist Dr Sami Titi said “The direct cause of her death was cardiac arrest because of a history of smoking cannabis”.

Dr Sami Titi

Julie’s family claims that this is not true, that Julie’s cannabis use has been blamed because the Royal Oldham hospital failed to treat her properly. In Britain, there has only been one previous occasion when a death has been attributed to cannabis. In 2004, Lee Maisey, 36 of Pembrokeshire, who smoked half a dozen “joints” a day, was found dead on his living room floor after complaining of a headache.

At the inquest in Oldham, the coroner, Simon Nelson, was said to be surprised at the pathologist’s story and questioned him closely. Dr Titi insisted that “smoking of cannabis is well known to have a negative impact on the heart and can cause heart attacks in young people”. The coroner said that in 15 years he had never heard a pathologist so confident that cannabis could be fatal. He recorded a narrative verdict of “death from cardiovascular complications induced by cannabis smoking”.

Coroner Simon Nelson

Julie’s brother, Kevin Ryan, says that the pathologist’s remarks are “outrageous scaremongering”. Her mother, Linda, is bewildered by events. As planned, Julie’s children had stayed with her while the inquest was taking place. Now they have returned home to the furore of this extraordinary verdict and are extremely distressed.

Julie had visited the Royal Oldham hospital several times complaining of chest pains but been sent away with a diagnosis of heartburn. The post mortem examination revealed she had a severely enlarged heart and had suffered a previous heart attack which had not been diagnosed. Family sources said “It’s a cover up. Cannabis doesn’t kill. They made a big mistake.” Mary Burrows, Julie’s cousin, who was very close to her, said she preferred to smoke cannabis rather than have a drink and that “she was a wonderful mother and her kids miss her so much”.

Dr Mark Eckersley, a local Manchester doctor, said “More and more pressure is being piled on medical professionals to propagate this type of untruth by the powers that be.” He said doctors need to maintain credibility with the community and that “this type of nonsense makes my blood boil”.

A spokesman for the Royal Oldham hospital said “Miss Ryan died from a heart attack and cardiovascular problems. Our thoughts and sympathy go to her family.”

On 2nd November in California, Proposition 19 is expected to permit the personal use of cannabis for the state’s 28 million adults. As a result, new tax revenues of $1.4 billion are anticipated, up to 110,000 new jobs and a boost of up to $18 billion to the state’s economy from spin-offs such as coffee shops and tourism.

In America, any health concerns about the plant are far outweighed by health benefits. Medical cannabis is already regulated in 14 states with another 12 in the planning stage. In Britain, Sativex, a whole plant extract of cannabis, was recently authorised as a treatment for MS. It costs about eight times what medical cannabis costs in America, Holland, Spain, Israel and very shortly Germany, where there is a fully regulated supply chain. In Britain, despite a House Of Lords Scientific Committee recommendation, the government refuses to consider such a move. Many patients whose doctors have prescribed Sativex have been denied funding from their health authority. In some of these cases, criminal prosecutions have been brought against them for cultivating their own plants.

A spokesman for GW Pharmaceuticals, developers of Sativex, said “The therapeutic ratio for cannabis is so high that it is virtually impossible to ingest a fatal dose”.

Prof. David Nutt

Professor David Nutt was sacked as chairman of the Home Office’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs last year after claiming that cannabis was less harmful than alcohol and tobacco. His successor, Professor Les Iversen, also maintains that cannabis has been “incorrectly” called dangerous and says it is one of the “safer recreational drugs”.

On Friday, Professor Nutt said cannabis “seems to cause much less harm than alcohol and that banning the plant is “unjust and therefore undemocratic”. He added: “The previous government’s policy to deter cannabis use by forceful policing increased convictions for cannabis possession from 88,000 in 2004 to 160,000 in 2008. As well as ruining many lives through getting a criminal record, this added massive costs to taxpayers in extra policing and prison costs.”

Prof. Les Iversen

Dr Sami Titi, the pathologist, was unavailable for comment and did not respond to emails. It has not been possible to identify any scientific support for his conclusions.

Julie Ryan’s family is left bemused and uncertain by this verdict. Three children are without a mother and confused about contradictory messages. The 13 year old has been posting on websites about her concerns. Meanwhile, the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office have criticised the government for basing drugs policy on opinion rather than evidence. James Brokenshire, the Home Office Minister, in direct contradiction to his own advisers, continues with the story that cannabis is “extremely harmful”.

James Brokenshire

Both David Cameron and Nick Clegg are on record over the last 10 years as consistently calling for reform in drug policy. The Your Freedom website has been overwhelmed with requests for evidence based regulation of drugs and the legalisation of cannabis but the government is riding roughshod over this public outcry. A consultation document on a new drugs strategy was issued just over a week ago but it seems meaningless and dishonest as all the big decisions have already been taken. Cannabis campaigners, working on behalf of six million regular users in the UK, are outraged at what they see as hypocrisy, misinformation and regressive government action.

Dr Mark Eckersley, exasperated and concerned at the pathologist’s evidence said “This is simply not true. Hearing this story is more likely to cause a heart attack than the ingestion of any cannabinoid”.

Written by Peter Reynolds

August 31, 2010 at 2:17 pm

Posted in Health, Politics

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