Legal Medicinal Cannabis In Britain
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”
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.
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.
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.
Written by Peter Reynolds
October 1, 2010 at 4:36 pm
Tagged with airport, alcohol, Amsterdam, arrest, Big Pharma, Birmingham, Bristol, brutal treatment, campaigner, cannabis, cat and mouse, chrged, complaint, conditional discharge, convicted, cultivating cannabis, customs, debilitating, degenerative disease, disabled, doctor, Dorchester, Dorchester Crown Court, Dorset police, Downing Street, driving licence, driving under the influence, drug dealer, DVLA, European, evidence, government, growing cannabis, health authority, herbal cannabis, Holland, Home Office, hope, hospital, Howard Marks, import licence, Jim Knight, Jim Starr, legalisation, licensed, march, medication, medicinal cannabis, medicine, morphine, Mr Nice, narcotic, Oliver Letwin, paralyse, persecuting, petition, pharmacist, Pinky, police, prescribed, prescription, prison, prison sentence, protest, psychotropic, regulation, Richard Drax, ripped off, road accident, robbed, Sativex, Schengen Agreement, spinal column, spinal condition, spine, suicidal, suspicion, US, video camera, war on drugs, Weymouth, wheelchair, zombie
Subscribe to comments with RSS.