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Peter Reynolds

The life and times of Peter Reynolds

Posts Tagged ‘Transform

Victoria Atkins MP, The UK Drugs Minister, Opposes Drugs Regulation While Her Husband Grows 45 Acres of Cannabis Under Government Licence.

The UK’s New Princess Of Prohibition: Dishonesty, Hypocrisy, Corruption And Cruelty Behind A Pretty Face.

There are many examples of wilful ignorance, blind prejudice and bare faced dishonesty on drugs policy from many former and current MPs.  There is no one though who plumbs the depths of deception and hypocrisy as the new drugs minister Victoria Atkins.

Her recent performance in the Westminster Hall debate on drug consumption rooms (DCR) was riddled with inaccuracies, distorted information and downright falsehood about the success of such facilities throughout the world.  She simply told brazen untruths in order to support her rejection of the clamour from other MPs to introduce DCRs because they are proven to save lives.  I can do no better than Transform in explaining her behaviour. Its press release sets out her lies in detail.  Ronnie Cowan MP even raised a point of order and then a Home Office question about her scandalous dishonesty but as usual the government just brushed aside any criticism.

Victoria Atkins: Barrister, MP, Home Office Minister, Dishonest And Corrupt To The Core

Ms Atkins is the daughter of Sir Robert Atkins, a former Conservative MP and MEP.  She studied law at Cambridge and was called to the bar at Middle Temple in 1998. She has practised as a barrister and was formerly listed as a member of Red Lion Chambers.  She has been appointed to the Attorney General’s Regulators Panel and the Serious Fraud Office’s List of specialist fraud prosecutors.  She claims to have been involved in the prosecution of major, international, drugs gangs and that this, somehow or another, qualifies her as an expert in drugs policy.

I relate her background because it is clear that she is a highly intelligent, clever and well informed woman.  This makes her dishonesty, hypocrisy and corruption all the more serious and completely inexcusable.

Ms Atkins has replaced Sarah Newton as drugs minister.  Ms Newton didn’t last long, perhaps because she couldn’t stand the ridicule that she was subjected to for trying to hold the line on the government’s ridiculous drugs policy.  When she tried to claim that alcohol isn’t really that damaging compared to illicit drugs, she had MPs either gasping in amazement or chuckling in amusement.  Ms Atkins was clearly spotted for the job because she is one of the few MPs still enthusiastic about prohibition.

Paul Kenward, Victoria Atkins’s husband, grows cannabis under government licence

But of course, it’s specifically on cannabis that I must call Ms Atkins to account. Aside from the usual, hysterical and evidence-free claims that so-called ‘skunk’ cannabis is causing an enormous increase in mental illness, which she trots out repeatedly, she rejects any idea of regulation in drugs policy as a means of reducing harm.  In the drugs policy debate on 18th July 2017 (before she was appointed drugs minister) she said:

“We are talking about gun-toting criminals, who think nothing of shooting each other and the people who carry their drugs for them. What on earth does my hon. Friend think their reaction will be to the idea of drugs being regulated? Does he really think that these awful people are suddenly going to become law-abiding citizens?”

and “I do not share the optimism of others about tackling the problem through regulation.”

Paul Kenward’s Cannabis Greenhouse

However, in what must be the most blatant hypocrisy ever from a government minister, Ms Atkins benefits directly from regulation of drugs.  She is married to Paul Kenward, managing director of British Sugar which is growing 45 acres of cannabis under licence in its mammoth Norfolk greenhouse.  Mr Kenward is producing high CBD cannabis for use in Epidiolex, GW Pharma’s cannabis extract epilepsy medicine.  Ms Atkins has tried to brush this off calling it “…a very different substance (from the) psychoactive version of cannabis.”   Of course, anyone with even the most basic knowledge of plant science will know this is nonsense.  The difference between different strains of cannabis is the same as the difference between different varieties of tomatoes.  Whether they’re Ailsa Craig or Alicante, they’re all tomatoes.

With this latest scandal the shameful truth about UK drugs policy and the corrupt nature of this Conservative government is highlighted once again.  It is difficult to believe this bare faced dishonesty can prevail in a country that was once held up as an example of honour and decency but as with so much that Theresa May has been responsible for since she entered government in 2010, we are disgraced, shamed and the electorate is treated with absolute contempt.

 

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‘Gone To Pot’ Shows How Close We Are To Legalisation. Now We Just Need To Deal With The Scaremongering.

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It seems we really are on a roll now.  The cannabis campaign has gained momentum over the last five or six six years more than ever before.  It’s snowballing, the rate of progress is accelerating.

What’s made this happen? It’s recognition of the benefits that cannabis offers.  It certainly isn’t because of some crazy idea that if we exaggerate and overstate its harms, suddenly the government will recognises that legal regulation makes it safer.  No, that flawed idea has nothing to do with the fact that we are now getting very close to the change we seek – even here in backwards, bigoted Britain.

There are more and more reports of real medical benefits and also of less dramatic but very real help with conditions such as insomnia, anxiety and stress.  It’s this that is changing minds, not scaremongering and fake data from the charlatans in the ‘cannabis therapy’ business.  Sadly this is the path that Volteface, the new drug policy group, has chosen to take with its ‘Street Lottery’ report.  It’s not the first of course, Transform has also followed this misguided path but at least, unlike the newcomers, it has real credentials in campaigning for reform.

Of course, legal regulation will make the cannabis market safer for everyone but the real dangers are not of young people developing psychosis after bingeing on so-called ‘skunk’ – the actual numbers are tiny – but of the harms caused by prohibition.  It is the criminal market that means cannabis is easily available to children and no age limits can be enforced.  It is the criminal market that means nobody knows what they are buying: how strong is it, is it contaminated, has it been properly grown, does it contain any CBD? It is the criminal market that leads to violence, street dealing even involving young children, dangerous hidden grows that are serious fire risks, human trafficking and modern slavery and, of course, profits on the £6 billion per annum market being diverted into ever more dangerous criminal activities.

ITV and the production company Betty have done an enormous amount of good for our campaign and for the whole of Britain in bringing a balanced, rational, honest exposition of cannabis to our TV screens.  This series showed quite clearly how beneficial cannabis can be but also how it can bite back if you’re a bit silly with consuming too much.  Thankfully it didn’t follow the familiar path of talking up, overstating and exaggerating the very small risk of mental health effects.  It’s easy to see why those who support prohibition have used this tactic to try and demonise the plant but how anyone who claims to support reform can see it as an intelligent or positive way to create the right environment for change is inconceivable.

Volteface is the money of Paul Birch, who became a multi millionaire after his brother founded the now defunct social media company Bebo.  It was a classic flash in the pan of the dot com boom but left those lucky enough to be involved with bulging bank accounts.  Birch first tried to enter the reform movement with his Cannabis Is Safer Than Alcohol (CISTA) political party.  It really is a ‘volteface’ to move from that accurate if tired message to now pushing the dangers of so-called ‘skunk’ as if that’s going to encourage reform.  However, I have it on reliable authority that recently Mr Birch suffered a major panic attack (or ‘psychotic episode’) after over-consuming some potent weed, so much so that an ‘intervention’ was called for.  Many of us will know how disconcerting such an experience can be and usually we can laugh at ourselves in retrospect (just as we laughed at Christopher Biggins and Bobby George when they ate far too much cannabis-infused food on ‘Gone To Pot’).  If he’s basing an entire campaign strategy on one personal experience it’s hardly sensible.

Paul North

Birch’s money has enable Volteface to hire full time staff and now its own tame drug therapist, Paul North. He is the very epitome of the angry young man, getting into furious outbursts on Twitter with anyone who dared to challenge his view. The way people like North manipulate and misrepresent data is horrendous and when they’re challenged their answer is they were engaged in the collection of the data – well yes, duh, that’s the point!  People who work in mental health or drug therapy are always pronouncing on our mental health wards being ‘packed full’ of people with problems caused by cannabis but the facts don’t support these claims. It’s inevitable that if you spend most of your life surrounded by people who are mentally ill, you get a rather distorted perspective on the world.

In many previous articles, I’ve laid out the facts of the number of people admitted to hospital and in GP community health treatment for cannabis.  The truth is that those with an agenda don’t care about facts.  They prefer the wild, speculative studies from Professor Sir Robin Murray and the Institute of Psychiatry with their bizarre statistical tricks that would make you think there are cannabis-crazed axe murderers on every street corner.  Journalist Martina Lees recently published two articles in the Daily Telegraph where she exaggerated the number of people admitted to hospital for cannabis related problems by 50 times!  Of course, we’re used to this sort of thing and it’s a sad fact that when it comes to science or medicine reporting, even in the so-called ‘quality’ press, Fleet Street is not just incompetent, journalists don’t just exaggerate, they’re systematically mendacious whenever it’s possible to be sensationalist about cannabis.

So let’s be grateful for the light that ‘Gone to Pot’ has shone on the reality of cannabis and let’s continue to reject the falsehood, deception and exaggeration that Volteface and others try to bring to our campaign.  I have no doubt that when legalisation finally arrives some politicians will use their argument to post-rationalise their ‘volteface’ on policy but it’s not the truth and it never has been.  The simple truth is that for 99% of people, not only is cannabis benign but it’s positively beneficial.

Reefer Madness 3.0 Is Here And It’s Being Promoted By Cannabis Law Reformers.

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Reefer Madness started in 1930s America with the propaganda film of the same name.

Reefer Madness 2.0 was promoted by the Daily Mail from 2003 onwards after cannabis was classified downwards to a class C drug.  It was strongly supported by the Labour Party through home secretaries Jacqui Smith, Alan Johnson and prime minister Gordon Brown.

Reefer Madness 3.0 is its latest incarnation but this time it’s promoted by reform groups Transform, which has been around as long as CLEAR and Volteface, which is a new group funded by Paul Birch’s personal fortune.  (Birch was also the founder of the now defunct Cannabis Is Safer Than Alcohol (CISTA) political party.)  Despite the overwhelming body of scientific evidence and the facts of healthcare records which show that cannabis is an insignificant health problem, both Transform and Volteface argue that ‘cannabis is dangerous so it must be regulated’.

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This is nonsense.  Cannabis is not dangerous, in fact for most people it’s beneficial.  It’s prohibition and enforcement of the law against cannabis that are dangerous.  Prohibition has caused far more harm than cannabis ever has or ever could.  Cannabis needs to be regulated because prohibition is dangerous.

I’m very disappointed by the new, much-hyped Volteface report ‘Street Lottery’. It offers nothing new, either in information or in proposed solutions. It takes us no further on from Transform’s work in 2009 or CLEAR’s proposals from 2011.  What it does is ramp up the unjustified scaremongering and panic about high THC and low CBD levels.  It panders slavishly to the exaggerated studies on psychosis from the Institute of Psychiatry and wildly overstates the health harms that, in fact, only occur in a very small number of people.

That’s not to say that we shouldn’t do all we can to protect those very few people for whom cannabis can be a problem and we should certainly educate about harm reduction.  The most important message is that the most dangerous thing about cannabis is mixing it with tobacco.

It’s worth saying that in my opinion, cannabis is a better product when it has higher levels of CBD than usually found in what’s generally available today.  When I say better, I mean more pleasant for recreational use and more effective for medicinal use and it is the ratio of THC:CBD that is more important than the absolute levels.  10:1 THC:CBD is plenty adequate enough to provide the benefits of CBD, any higher that 3:1 and it begins to wipe out the benefits of THC.  It certainly is true that younger people and novice users are best with higher levels of CBD.

Of course I understand that arguing for regulation as a means of reducing harm should encourage politicians towards reform.  I’m all for that but we don’t have to exaggerate the health harms and overlook the massive social harms in order to do that. However, it’s blindingly obvious that decisions on drugs policy are not made rationally, so what’s the point?  Our politicians have failed to act on cannabis law reform, despite the solution to the harms of the criminal market being obvious for more than 30 years. Ministers are completely disinterested in effective drugs policy. The truth about their attitude is best illustrated by the Psychoactive Substances Act. This disastrous legislation is regarded as a success because it has taken the sale of NPS off the high street and driven it underground. This is all that ministers care about. They have been seen to do something and these drugs are no longer so obviously available. They really don’t give a damn that use has increased, harms have multiplied and deaths are becoming increasingly common.

Where the Volteface report actually takes us backwards is its pandering to renewed reefer madness and vast exaggeration of the harms of cannabis.

Correct, cannabis can be harmful to a tiny minority of consumers. All the speculative studies from Robin Murray and his team at the Institute of Psychiatry, all the scaremongering hyperbole in what is presented as ‘scientific’ evidence, all the esoteric, statistical tricks that create alarming headlines – none of these can change the hard facts of how infinitesimal is the number of people whose health is genuinely impaired by cannabis.

It’s ‘young people’ that all the concern is about but in the last five years there has been an average of just 28 cases per year of cannabis-induced psychosis – a tragedy for the individuals but a problem that is irrelevant in public health terms: https://www.theyworkforyou.com/wrans/?id=2015-03-17.227980.h&s=drug

For the entire population the total number of finished admission episodes (FAE) for ‘mental and behavioural problems due to use of cannabinoids’ in 2015 – 16 was 1606.  A very long way from a problem of huge significance and you don’t be have to be an expert to realise that a very large proportion of those are due to ‘Spice’, suynthtrci cannabinoids which can have severe health effects.

For GP and community health treatment, Public Health England’s own data shows that 89% of under-18s in treatment are coerced into it, only in 11% of cases does the patient themselves or their families believe they need it: See table 2.4.1 http://www.nta.nhs.uk/uploads/young-peoples-statistics-from-the-ndtms-1-april-2015-to-31-march-2016.pdf

I welcome any new entrant to the drugs policy reform movement. We need all the help we can get but all Volteface has done since its inception is repeat the work already done by other groups. Now it is pursuing the same flawed and misguided route as Transform. It’s worth repeating – cannabis doesn’t need to be regulated because it is dangerous, it isn’t, cannabis needs to regulated because prohibition is dangerous.

US Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders

Note that this mythical ‘mental health crisis’ only seems to exist in the UK. It doesn’t exist in the rest of Europe, the USA, Israel or other jurisdictions where cannabis is legally avalable. Note also that former US Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders is published in the November edition of the American Journal of Public Health saying “The unjust prohibition of marijuana has done more damage to public health than has marijuana itself.”

The valuable contribution Volteface has made so far to cannabis law reform is the money it has spent on professional media relations. This has elevated the subject up the news agenda and that is a very good thing indeed. Everyone, cannabis consumers and those who don’t have the slightest interest, will benefit from legalisation. The sooner we get on with it the better.  A legal, regulated market will help protect the few dozen children and few hundred adults who are vulnerable to possible health harms.  Much, much more important it will halt the enormous harm that prohibition causes.

 

Tim Farron. Another Politician Displays Total Ignorance About Cannabis.

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Tim Farron on BBC's Victoria Derbyshire show

Tim Farron on BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire show

It is truly pathetic to see.  Farron clearly understands the huge harm caused by cannabis prohibition but doesn’t have the knowledge, the courage or the integrity to speak the truth.  Instead he panders to to the scaremongers and says:

“Cannabis causes psychosis”

“Cannabis is dangerous”

“People who use cannabis have a health problem”

“Cannabis is a bad thing”

The Liberal Democrat’s report ‘A framework for a regulated market for cannabis in the UK: Recommendations from an expert panel’ is a re-hash of Transform’s ‘Blueprint’ and its work on a socialist model of cannabis regulation in Uruguay.  It denigrates the highly successful commercial model introduced in Colorado and follows Transform’s evidence-free exaggeration of the harms of cannabis and its determination to impose anti-business controls on a legal cannabis market.

There is no evidence that cannabis causes psychosis.  The most that can be said is that in a very small number of genetically-vulnerable people, it may be one of many ‘component causes’.

There is no evidence that cannabis is dangerous.  The most that can be said is that it does have the potential for harm if used by children, to excess, irresponsibly or by a tiny group of people who may have an allergic reaction.  If you describe cannabis as dangerous then you have to describe peanuts, aspirin and hay fever remedies as more dangerous.  That’s without even considering comparison with the two most dangerous drugs of all: tobacco and alcohol.

Some people who use cannabis have a health problem and they use cannabis for its remarkable properties to relieve pain and other symptoms.  For most people, in moderation, cannabis is actually beneficial, helping to protect against autoimmune conditions, cancer, dementia and other diseases of aging.

For at least 95% of people who use cannabis they do so safely, without any negative consequences and it is a very good thing for their health and wellbeing.

Written by Peter Reynolds

March 8, 2016 at 11:21 am

For All The Hysteria About Cannabis And Psychosis, Here Are The Facts.

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Charles Walker MP. A Scaremonger Without A Cause.

Charles Walker MP. A Scaremonger Without A Cause.

Charles Walker MP, Parliament’s cheerleader for the ‘skunk scaremongerers’ shot himself and his hysterical campaign in the foot yesterday.

He had submitted a parliamentary written question asking:

“…how many people under 18 years of age have been treated in NHS-funded mental health units for cannabis-induced psychosis in each of the last five years?”

The answer from Jane Ellison MP, minister of state at the Department of Health, must have gravely disappointed Mr Walker.  She revealed there have been average of just over 28 ‘finished admission episodes’ for each of the past five years.  That doesn’t necessarily mean 28 people as it could include the same person being admitted more than once.

Of course, each of these 28 cases is a tragedy for the people involved and nothing must distract from that but it clearly shows that in public health terms, ‘cannabis psychosis’ (which some senior psychiatrists don’t even believe is a genuine diagnosis) is virtually unheard of.  So much for the endless newspaper columns, the endlessly repeated ‘studies’ that never reach any conclusion and the endless moralising and deceit from those who make money from this scare story – either from providing ‘therapy’ or by fleecing money from those prepared to fund so-called science that sets out to reach a pre-determined conclusion.

Of course, not only are these cases very, very few in number but they have arisen under the present policy of prohibition when the market is in the hands of criminals.  How much could we reduce this number if government took a responsible approach and regulated the market?  With proper quality control, age limits, better education and harm reduction surely we could make the cannabis market safer than it is in the hands of the criminal underworld?

Dr Trevor Turner, Consultant Psychiatrist

Dr Trevor Turner, Consultant Psychiatrist

“I don’t think it causes mental illness. I have never seen a case of so-called cannabis psychosis.”

Dr Trevor Turner, East London and City University Mental Health NHS Trust

 

So this is very, very bad news for Charles Walker, for his sponsor, Mary Brett of ‘Cannabis Skunk Sense’, for Peter Hitchens, David Raynes, Sarah Graham, Theresa May and hundreds of rehab clinics, therapists and charlatans who talk up the cannabis psychosis scare story.  The Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph, which systematically misrepresent and distort evidence on the subject are exposed for what they are. Even those on the reform side like Transform, who have chosen the dubious path of talking up cannabis as ‘dangerous’ in order to sell their consultancy services, are disgraced.  Their credibility is destroyed.  Their argument is false and it always has been.

The husband and wife team of Professor Sir Robin Murray and Dr Marta Di Fiori, have built up a family business in skunk scaremongering.  Every year they release another ‘study’ which says almost exactly the same as the last one, never shows any causative effect but is relentlessly exaggerated and regurgitated for those who want to demonise cannabis and cannabis users.  Their last point is always ‘more research is needed’.  I wonder is there anyone stupid enough out there to continue funding this vendetta against the three million people in the UK that enjoy cannabis or use it as medicine?  Similarly in Australia, Professor Wayne Hall and his colleagues at the National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre, have built their careers and made a lot of money pursuing this futile goal of proof that cannabis cause mental illness.  The figures prove them all wrong. They are all self-serving propagandists and deceivers, nothing more.

These figures are more than evidence, they are facts and they prove that ‘cannabis psychosis’ is such an infinitesimally small risk, that we really need to stop wasting so much time, energy and money on it. We need to get on, legalise, regulate and start bringing the market under proper control, stop wasting money on futile law enforcement and research and start generating tax revenue and providing therapeutic and financial benefits for the whole community.

A Sad Day When Drug Reformers Capitulate to The Evidence-Free Claim: ‘Drugs Are Dangerous’.

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Transform released this astonishing video two days ago, on 9th March 2015.  It is astonishing because it is so fundamentally flawed and it represents a betrayal of the values for which so many have supported Transform’s work over so many years.

Drugs are not dangerous, certainly not cannabis.

This is a straw man argument, now fundamental to the strategy of Transform, the UK’s most generously funded drugs policy group. They build up the harms of drugs, falsely, without evidence, in order to be able to ride in on their white stallions and rescue us from this imaginary danger.

So now they do the job of the prohibitionists for us.  They have bought right into this inaccurate and misleading mindset and Transform is now promoting drugs as dangerous.  Transform is adding to the messages and media storm from the tabloids, ignorant politicians and the moralising hypocrites that drive the war on drugs.

Are cars dangerous? Is a bottle of vodka dangerous?

Only if they are misused or abused and then they are both far more dangerous than cannabis.

Cannabis doesn’t need to be regulated because it is dangerous.  It needs to be regulated because prohibition is dangerous and causes far more harm than cannabis ever has or ever will.

At least 95% of cannabis use is harmless and without risk.  It is a miniscule proportion of people who are in danger of any harm.  They begin using cannabis at a young age, use it heavily, daily, have a genetic predisposition to mental health issues and will have other component factors in their life such as other drugs (particularly alcohol), life events, family problems, etc.  All the research shows that cannabis is never more than just one factor amongst a complex mix that leads to mental illness.

Danny Kushlick, Transform: "Cannabis Is Dangerous"

Danny Kushlick, Transform: “Cannabis Is Dangerous”

Last year Danny Kushlick, also of Transform, came out with this nonsense that ‘cannabis is dangerous’.  I wrote about it then: Cannabis is Neither ‘Harmless’ Nor ‘Dangerous’. Now, in this latest video, Steve Rolles confirms this misguided, self-defeating path that Transform is embarked on.

I remember, just a few years ago, Steve arguing that even most cocaine use is without harm and he was right. Millions use cocaine every day and only a very few slip into dependency or a self-destructive use pattern.  It isn’t as safe as cannabis but it’s probably no more harmful than alcohol.

So why is Transform set on this course?  Next thing we’ll have leading scientists adopting the same terminology – ‘skunk’ – as the tabloids use to demonise cannabis… Oh yes, it’s already happened.

All organisations become self-serving unless they have active shareholders or members to keep them on track.  In my opinion, those leading Transform should remember how and why they started and I think it was mainly about truth, about combating the lies, misinformation and propaganda that the drug war is based on.

Transform needs to get back to the truth.

To sum up, I quote the very wise words of Lee Prew, a CLEAR member and a man who has his eye on the ball.

“Is it just me or are drug reformers like Transform and The Beckley Foundation part of the misinformation that dominates this country’s lack of understanding and honesty towards drugs? If these people that support positive changes to our system can’t even get the facts right what hope do we really stand of achieving workable drugs policies?

If they believe that simplification of terminology (skunk & hash) and catch all statements like “drugs are dangerous” are in any way helpful to the situation they are wrong. The drug issue is a complicated one with many facets (as we can see with cannabis alone) and by simplifying the situation they only go to undermine their own work. Very worrying.”

Written by Peter Reynolds

March 11, 2015 at 9:47 pm

A Tale Of Two Conferences

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“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”.