May Brings A Fresh Start To The Cannabis Campaign.
Would that we were in spring looking forward to a splendid summer. Instead, in mid-July we are heading into autumn towards what looks like a stern, drab and ominous future. Theresa May is prime minister, perhaps the worst nightmare for those who seek cannabis law reform.
You have to admire her first few days though. What you see is what you get. She is smart, calculated and very, very certain about the nature of the government she will lead. I have no doubt she has a softer, caring side and there is testimony to that effect from those who support her. She is a strong woman, she will be sympathetic to people and causes that she chooses but ruthless and absolute against those she opposes. Our problem is that, as confirmed by both the National Audit Office and Public Accounts Committee, evidence has nothing to do with it. Theresa May’s drugs policy is based on her personal opinions and even the plight of those in chronic pain and disability is unlikely to change her mind even on the medicinal use of cannabis. I remember Norman Baker told me that she simply does not comprehend that cannabis can be a legitimate medicine. The very idea is anathema to her. It is beyond her comprehension. The daughter of a vicar, who attended a convent then a grammar school, she has a lot about her that suggests piety, reserve, self-discipline and control. Admirable qualities but lacking perhaps in empathy with modern lifestyles and values.
But this is a fresh start. Amber Rudd, the new Home Secretary, is cast from the same mould as Ms May. My MP, Oliver Letwin, himself disposed of in the new cabinet, has already written to Ms Rudd and asked her to see me. As of today, CLEAR represents nearly 700,000 registered supporters, equivalent to the electorate in more than eight parliamentary constituencies, so I think she has a good reason to give me a few minutes. I will continue to press for a meeting until she or one of her junior ministers agrees to see me.
It can only help that I am now a fully paid-up member of the Conservative Party. I made this decision shortly after the EU referendum and I have also joined the Conservative Policy Forum which works to influence Conservative Party policy from the grassroots. I will be advancing the cause of medicinal cannabis and wider drugs policy reform as quickly and effectively as I can through the party’s established channels. Whether it is a short or long game, it has to get started now.
I do believe this is the best way forward for the cannabis campaign. I will work from within the party of government to try and influence change. It is more than likely that the Tories will be in power for the next 10 years, if not more. Now is the time to get involved, face our opposition, engage with those who have power. Every other UK political party is in disarray.
When we relaunched the Legalise Cannabis Alliance as CLEAR Cannabis Law Reform in 2011, we brought a totally new, professional approach to the campaign. Others have followed and there is now a significant group that understands how to use professional lobbying techniques. The greatest achievement of this has been to get the Liberal Democrats involved and although there remains great resistance amongst party members in the shires, the leadership is very much onside. Sadly, the party itself is as far away from power as it has ever been and, in my view, has swung widely off course in a futile and misguided effort to reverse the referendum result. Such whimsical strategies have always been the LibDems’ problem. Unless a political revolution suddenly makes Corbyn a serious contender then there will be no other party in power but the Tories. This is where we must invest time, effort and all our resources. We must understand how to turn Tory aims, ambitions and viewpoints to our advantage. Which arguments will work and how do we get them across?
Although we now have a more professional campaign and several individuals with real ability, now is not the time to revert to talking amongst ourselves. Conferences, meetings, documentary films and events are all very well but they almost exclusively preach to the choir. Just like the demos and protests that have at last ebbed away, they make those involved feel good and they ramp up morale but they do little to create change. This is no way to make progress. I will ensure that CLEAR is on the front line. It is those who oppose us that we need to be talking to, not those who already agree with us.
At the same time, specifically on medicinal cannabis, our focus must be on the medical profession. We published ‘Medicinal Cannabis:The Evidence’ just over a year ago and it has added real credibility to the campaign. In a few weeks when the APPG for Drug Policy Reform publishes its report on medicinal cannabis, Professor Mike Barnes will release his own review of current evidence and it will become the definitive work on the subject. CLEAR will be taking this to GPs all over the country, to the Royal Colleges and particularly to those working in pain management. We already know that thousands of doctors endorse their patients’ use of cannabis for chronic pain, it is time to bring this out of the closet. Doctors and nurses have literally been terrorised into keeping quiet about cannabis. We have first hand knowledge of Home Office officials warning off doctors who have tried to assist their patients by prescribing Sativex off label or recommending Bedrocan. This must stop. We must equip the medical profession with the evidence it needs to be able to do the best by its patients.
I know many will be downhearted by this new government but change is always a good thing. It offers us the opportunity to renew our campaign. Most important, we must walk towards the enemy, not hide in our bunkers, fearful of their response. All over the world, mainstream opinion is turning in favour of cannabis as medicine and wider drugs policy reform. Now is the time to step forward, to do all we can to educate and inform those who are still in the dark. I have set out above what CLEAR’s new strategy will be. Please join us. Become a member. Sign up here. Your first duty? Make an appointment to see your MP. This is the most effective thing you can do. We will publish new guidance in the next few days on how to prepare for and conduct these meetings.