On 24th June 2015, a Daily Mail headline screamed:
“Medicinal cannabis DOESN’T ease pain, nausea, vomiting,
MS muscle contractions, sleep disorders or Tourette’s”
In fact the study reported on, from the University of Bristol, found exactly the opposite. It showed that medicinal cannabis DOES ease pain, nausea, vomiting and the other conditions referred to.
The exact words of the study’s conclusion were:
“There was moderate-quality evidence to support the use of cannabinoids for the treatment of chronic pain and spasticity. There was low-quality evidence suggesting that cannabinoids were associated with improvements in nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy, weight gain in HIV infection, sleep disorders, and Tourette syndrome.”
Not a terribly positive endorsement of medicinal cannabis but the Daily Mail had published another bare faced lie. CLEAR made a formal complaint to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) and, as a result, the headline has been changed. It now reads:
“Weak evidence that medicinal cannabis eases pain, nausea,
vomiting, MS muscle contractions, sleep disorders or Tourette’s”
In other words, a complete climbdown. Of course the damage has already been done and such deliberate dishonesty about evidence on cannabis is an everyday occurrence from the Daily Mail. See the revised article here.
Another small victory, another small chink in the Berlin wall of prohibition. We will bring it tumbling down very soon.
We also complained that all but two of the 79 papers reviewed in the study referred to synthetic cannabinoids and not to cannabis. As a result, the article has been amended to include these words at the end:
“Medical cannabis refers to the use of cannabis or cannabinoids as medical therapy to treat disease or alleviate symptoms. Cannabinoids are any compound, natural or synthetic, that can mimic the actions of plant-derived cannabinoids”
The Cannabis Petition. If It Was The Tories, Labour Or the Unions – Guaranteed They’d Be Faking Votes.
We could easily do that. We could issue a CLEAR email address to every one of our nearly half a million followers. We could certainly add to the ever increasing total – 180,998 as I write this.
There is no doubt that the Tories, Labour and the unions have been involved in rigging votes. The Tories also quite blatantly buy votes. In the recent general election they were pumping tens of thousands of pounds a week into the constituencies of LibDem MPs and they succeeded in buying their seats. They used their large cash resources to subvert democracy.
If the cannabis campaign was to use such tactics you can be certain the government would call us out. In fact, I’m just waiting for some bumptious, baying donkey on the Tory backbenches to make the accusation. But it would be untrue. To have nearly 200,000 people sign a petition that requires email verification is an enormous event. It is only the tip of the iceberg and represents the millions in the UK that want to see our archaic and harmful laws on cannabis changed.
MPs of all parties are so far out of touch that they don’t even begin to realise what is going on. Conservative MP Philip Davies, who is on the Justice Select Committee, said that Ron Hogg, the Durham PCC is “abusing his position” by saying that cannabis is a low priority. This is typical hypocrisy and bluster from a pompous fool who doesn’t really believe in democracy. That was the idea of PCCs wasn’t it, to bring policing in line with what local people want?
Fellow Tory ignoramus, MP Andrew Percy said: “We’ve got to start debunking the liberal elite view that cannabis is some sort of benign drug”. Which, of course, is exactly what it is.
It’s not just Tory MPs, it’s on all sides. They are ignorant, poorly informed, more driven by prejudice than evidence. Take the baby-faced Blairite John Woodcock. About a year ago he came out with the fantasy theory that the cannabis policy in Holland led to more hard drug use. In fact, exactly the opposite is the case. In Holland, where adults may purchase up to five grams of cannabis without fear of prosecution, rates of heroin use and addiction are very much lower than the UK.
The EMCDDA reports problem opioid use (rate/1000)as follows:
UK: 7.9 – 8.3
Netherlands: 0.8 – 1.0
So, in fact problematic opioid use in Holland is about one-sixth of what it is in the UK.
This is just typical of how useless the majority of our MPs are. They have no idea what is going on. They get their so-called ‘facts’ from the Daily Mail or the Daily Telegraph, both of which have descended to become nothing but dishonest propaganda and crass scaremongering.
If you showed the average MP the reality of legal cannabis in Colorado, Washington, Oregon or Alsaka they would think they were dreaming. I’ve explained to some ministers that in Israel and Canada vapourisers are provided on trollies in hospital wards. I don’t think they believed me. The UK Parliament exists in a state of denial and delusion about cannabis. Only in the House of Lords do we see any lawmakers with a grip on reality but even they are mostly victims of the ‘killer skunk’ myth, asserting that this moderately potent strain is somehow different and ‘dangerous’.
It’s unlikely that the petition and the debate which surely must follow will succeed in changing the law. But MPs, however arrogant they are, cannot ignore the will of the people for ever. Too many are ignorant about the scientific and medical evidence on cannabis. Most are too cowardly to address the issue even if they are beginning to realise the truth. However, this is a battle of attrition and we are quite clearly winning.
How the Code has been breached
1. Subhead: “Police laxity has led to more young pot-heads and rising levels of psychosis and addiction” This is factually incorrect. There are now fewer people of all ages using cannabis.
2. Para 3 “Far from a harsh approach, it is laxity that has boosted the number of young pot-heads. This is bad for multiple reasons. Cannabis itself is extremely dangerous. It impairs memory, cripples judgment and the ability to learn. In high doses it can cause addiction, paranoia and psychosis and provoke schizophrenia.”
Factually incorrect. The “number of young pot-heads” has declined not been “boosted”. There is no evidence that cannabis is “extremely dangerous”. There is no evidence that cannabis causes psychosis.
3. Para 7 “Then they claimed Portugalâ’s drug liberalisation had caused drug use to tumble. This was untrue; the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction showed that drug use there had increased.”
Factually incorrect, the EMCDDA and all sources show that drug use has declined in Portugal since decriminalisation
4. Para 10 “Although there is no scientific evidence for definitive benefit from medicinal cannabis, the US has now legalised this in 23 states”
Factually incorrect, there is a vast quantity of peer-reviewed, published scientific evidence demonstrating the efficacy and safety of medicinal cannabis.
These are very serious inaccuracies which Ms Phillips publishes on a regular basis in the full knowledge that they are untrue. Any newspaper which knowingly publishes lies and falsehoods to deceive its readers should be subject to the strongest possible sanctions including a financial penalty. Such dishonest publications must be dealt with firmly, sufficient to deter repetition.
It seems that unless you choose a herbal product with a THR mark you can have no certainty at all about what you are buying.
An excellent report on the BBC’s ‘Trust Me I’m A Doctor‘, reveals that the industry is rife with confidence tricksters, fraudsters and probably some well-meaning incompetents. How can you know what you’re getting in a herbal product? This has major implications for the medicinal use of cannabis and the businesses that will be needed to supply the product when it is legally available.
The THR mark is Traditional Herbal Registration as regulated by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). It costs between £600 to £8000 to apply but that’s only if you’re claiming “the medicine is used for minor health conditions where medical supervision is not required (eg a cold).” If you want to claim anything more you have to apply for a marketing authorisation when fees are in excess of £100,000, plus the cost of clinical trials or evidence of your claims and your product’s safety.
This is probably the biggest single problem facing the campaign for medicinal cannabis. We are a round peg which doesn’t fit into any of the government’s square holes.
If we argue for cannabis as medicine, we challenge the reductionist, allopathic establishment which says that medicines are single molecules with directly quantifiable, predictable and consistent results. We cannot fit into the government’s square holes without the sort of approach taken by GW Pharmaceuticals at a cost of tens of millions in development.
That is why the campaign has to focus on removing cannabis from schedule 1, so that doctors may prescribe it as they see fit. Some doctors are ready to do so (a few brave individuals already are prescribing) but it will require a huge campaign to educate others as to why and how to prescribe – and it will not be possible to make any medical claims in that campaign!
The model of cannabis as medicine with different strains providing different therapeutic value just doesn’t fit within any concept of medicine in the UK. That’s like a triangular peg in a square hole.
So perhaps there is little point in an unwinnable campaign to legalise such a drug as medicine when its use is already tarnished by years of propaganda and media scaremongering? It may be a hopeless cause and seeking a more general decriminalisation of the plant might be a wiser course.
This is a question that seems to be unique to the UK. Other jurisdictions, such as the US states, have achieved reform through radical democracy which we do not enjoy in Britain. Canadians have used their courts to enforce access to cannabis as a fundamental human right. Other European countries just seem to be more flexible, intelligent and sympathetic to patients.
On the other hand, it does seem that the MHRA’s THR scheme works and you know what you are getting when you buy a herbal medicine. Otherwise charlatans and confidence tricksters would prevail.
These issues concern not only the campaign for medicinal cannabis but for cannabis law reform as a whole. Until we get to grips with them and develop a coherent approach we may find the UK continues to lag behind the rest of the world.
Face it, this is exactly how too many people in Britain see medicinal cannabis users. It’s not true. It’s not fair. It’s unjust. Almost everything about it is wrong. The one thing that’s right – is that it’s a stereotype some people keep on reinforcing.
So we have to educate and inform those who have the power to change the law. We also have to adjust our aims and our expectations to be realistic in the eyes of those we need to persuade. It’s a big enough leap to convince people that cannabis can be a safe and effective medicine. In 2015, in the UK, the idea that we are going to convince politicians and medical policymakers that we “grow our own medicine” is fantasy. It is not going to happen.
Of course, many people have to grow their own at present because they have no choice. Particularly now that NICE have recommended against Sativex there is, for most people, no other option.
Effective campaigning is about focus, ruthless focus on a precise target. For medicinal cannabis, wider issues of human rights, individuality, ecology, lifestyle, – these are irrelevant. Do those some other time. Real and effective campaigning is like a job interview. You behave and dress in a way you believe will win you credit with your your prospective employer. That’s what we must do if we want to persuade people and change minds.
So the image of medicinal cannabis users we present is crucial. When government ministers see that we are ordinary, decent, hardworking people with families, careers, homes, pets, elderly relatives that we care about – and all we are trying to do is improve our health – that’s what makes the difference.
Believe me, I have seen it with my own eyes. When we first met Norman Baker last year, he was far from convinced about medicinal cannabis. He was pretty dubious about it in fact, as are many. He said initially there was only “limited evidence”. Only when he met some people and listened to their stories did he become open to considering the evidence that we offered. I swear, I actually watched his mind changing, particularly as he listened to Lara Smith explain how she copes with constant pain and bringing up three young children.
Later, Norman told me that when he spoke to Theresa May about it, she simply didn’t understand. She couldn’t conceive that these scumbag potheads and druggies have anything to do with the consumption of a therapeutic and beneficial plant.
It is a step too far to try and include GYO in the campaign for medicinal cannabis. We are simply laughed at. No one suggests growing opium poppies or willow trees or deadly nightshade to use as medicine. It undermines all the effort to provide good scientific evidence and a responsible, coherent argument. GYO cannot provide the standards of quality, consistency, safety (free from mould, fertiliser and pesticide residues, etc) that other medicines have to comply with.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for GYO but I’m a weirdo, one of those eccentrics who also grows his own tomatoes, potatoes and other vegetables. Most people prefer to buy them in Sainsbury’s and that’s exactly how it will be when cannabis is finally legalised. Most people will prefer it in a nice plastic tray with a film wrapper and a label telling them exactly what they are getting.
GYO must wait for wider decriminalisation or legalisation. Bringing it into the argument for permitting medicinal use is the cannabis campaign shooting itself in the foot – yet again!
Oliver Letwin MP is, according to The Independent, “probably the most powerful person in the government after the Prime Minister and Chancellor”.
He is the Cabinet Office minister with responsibility for the implementation of government policy. He holds the ancient title of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. He is a member of 13 of the 14 Cabinet committees and chair of three of them, more than anyone other than Cameron. He is now chair of the most powerful of them, the Home Affairs committee, which Theresa May would have expected to chair and he also sits on nine of the 10 new “Implementation Taskforces”. Cameron is said to have told him “I need you with me every day”.
An extraordinarily powerful and influential man. I met with him last week to put the case for reform of policy on medicinal cannabis. He listened attentively, asked searching questions, evidently has a good understanding of science and medicines regulation. In the end, he agreed to ask Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Health, to meet with me and a delegation of medicinal cannabis users. We agreed that the Home Office is no longer the route to reform. The word is that if the Department of Health calls for a new policy then the Home Office will comply. Theresa May has been sidelined on this issue. Her minister of state for drugs policy, Mike Penning, seems to be nothing but a mouthpiece for Home Office civil servants. Quite properly and at last, medicinal cannabis is being seen as a health issue and not one of law enforcement or criminal justice.
So we could not have a more important opportunity. Mr Letwin has now confirmed to me in writing that he will “..investigate the question of prescription cannabis for relief of medical conditions. I will start the process of talking to people in MHRA, Public Health England and so forth to try to get a sense of the pros and cons.”
Although he has not yet indicated to me that he supports our cause, he seemed particularly perplexed that cannabis is a schedule 1 drug whereas heroin is schedule 2 and may be prescribed by a doctor. It is clear that he recognises there is medicinal value in cannabis.
To have Oliver Letwin pursuing our cause through government is great progress. Although the loss of our Liberal Democrat allies has been a setback, it seems that the issue of medicinal cannabis has momentum. We need to keep on keeping on. Nothing works better than getting in front of government minsters and showing them that most people who use medicinal cannabis are responsible members of society, doing the best they can to contribute, holding down a job where possible, looking after their families and trying to maintain their health.
I sense that the optimism we felt before the election was not misplaced. Engaging with government, turning away from irresponsible protest and putting our arguments forward with courtesy and evidence is what will achieve our goal.
CLEAR is launching a new recruitment drive for its Medicinal Cannabis Users Panel. If you use cannabis as medicine, joining the panel is the most effective thing you can do both to advance the campaign and, in some instances, gain legitimate access to prescribed Bedrocan medicinal cannabis.
The panel has proved itself to be the most effective campaigning method ever used in the UK. As a direct result of the efforts of panel members, in the last two years there have been more meetings with government minsters, officials and senior MPs than the whole campaign has managed in the last 50 years.
You must be a member of CLEAR to join the panel, then you complete a detailed questionnaire providing information on your condition(s) and how cannabis helps. Each applicant is then interviewed by telephone to develop an individual plan. This will depend on a number of factors, such as your relationship with your doctor, your MP, how much time you have available and whether you are prepared to tell your story to the media.
If your doctor is prepared to help, there is now an established route to getting medicinal cannabis prescribed and legally imported into the UK. CLEAR has developed this process through experience working with doctors, MPs, the Home Office and the Border Force. We also have crucial support from the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Drug Policy Reform and a number of members of the House of Lords. This is on a private prescription basis only. The prescription has to be very carefully written, using exactly the correct wording and, to begin with, you will have to travel to Holland in person to have the prescription dispensed at a pharmacy. Thereafter it may be possible to have repeat prescriptions sent through the post.
Bedrocan is the Dutch government’s official producer of medicinal cannabis. Five different varieties are available at a cost of approximately seven to eight euros per gram. See full details of the different products here.
All panel members are guided in how to approach their doctor and MP. Initial contact should be made by letter or email but then it is important to meet your doctor and MP face to face and provide them with high quality scientific evidence to support your case. CLEAR will offer guidance and help at every stage. If you wish then a member of our executive committee will accompany you to meetings to help you present your case. Whether or not your doctor is prepared to write a prescription for you, we aim to continue leading delegations of medicinal users to meet ministers. We have seen again and again what an impact this can have. When senior politicians who have no experience of medicinal cannabis meet genuine, decent, ordinary people with families and careers who tell their story with sincerity and conviction, it has an enormous impact.
If you live in the UK and are interested in joining the panel, please email a brief explanation of your interest to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please do not go into great detail at this stage. Applications should be no more than 200 words. We will respond to you with a questionnaire within seven to 10 days.
Today, Baroness Molly Meacher asked a question about cannabis in the House of Lords .
There is a great deal of confusion and misunderstanding about what happened, so I shall do my best to explain.
This was not a full debate. There never was any prospect of any law being changed. It was simply a question, which would be answered by the government spokesman and Lady Meacher would then have the opportunity to ask a further, supplementary question. In the process, other members of the House would be able to interject and make their own comments.
The question was whether cannabis could be re-scheduled, out of schedule one, which determines that it has no medicinal value, to schedule two or three which would allow doctors to prescribe it and also enable researchers to access and use cannabis more easily in studies and clinical trials.
The government behaved exactly as expected. The most generous interpretation is that the spokesman, Lord Bates, was misinformed. His first response to Lady Meacher’s question was to parrot the Home Office’s usual line on cannabis about it being a harmful drug.
This of course, is nothing to do with medicinal use. Most medicines are far more harmful than cannabis and any potential harms are traded off against therapeutic benefit.
I know some people are already accusing Lord Bates of being a ‘liar’ but this is not true. He simply has no idea what he is talking about and his briefing from Home Office officials is designed not to inform but to deflect, confuse and retain control within the bureaucracy. The claim that the Advisory Council recommends against medicinal cannabis is factually incorrect. The ACMD is not constituted to advise on the medicinal benefits of any drug.
So ignore what the government said. It is largely irrelevant to the process of informing and changing minds amongst those in power. They will instruct officials and spokespeople as necessary once they understand a more successful path forwards.
The rest of the debate was almost all positive. Lord Dubs succumbed to the ‘skunk’ myth but who can blame him. given the level of propaganda and hysteria promoted even by ‘public service broadcasters’ such as Channel 4 and and some of our so-called eminent ‘scientists’. Lord Howarth of Newport hit the nail on the head and referred to the terrible difficulty of those who need access to Bedrocan. He is a stalwart ally of a few, fortunate CLEAR members whose doctors have had the courage to prescribe.
This mini debate was good news. It was another brick in the wall. Clearly, attitudes are changing and the facts are beginning to overtake the myths. Many Lords and MPs are on our side.
As ever, the way forward is relentless, individual, lobbying and informing. We must keep telling truth to power, challenging misinformation and providing knowledge.
Today, in the House of Lords, progress was made.
Sometime after 3.00pm, tomorrow, Wednesday, 17th June 2015, Baroness Molly Meacher will ask a question in the House of Lords on the re-scheduling of cannabis to permit it to be prescribed by doctors for medicinal use. Watch it here on Parliament TV.
Behind this is a report ‘Regulating Cannabis for Medical Use in the UK’, authored by Professor Val Curran of UCL and Frank Warburton of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy Reform (APPG). This sets out an argument for moving cannabis from schedule one to schedule two or three, enabling doctors to prescribe it and facilitating further research on its therapeutic properties. It also endorses the central theme of CLEAR’s medicinal cannabis campaign – that UK doctors should be permitted to prescribe products from Bedrocan, the medicinal cannabis producer regulated by the Dutch government.
The UK is now a very long way behind the rest of the western world on enabling access to cannabis as medicine. The UK is second only to places like Indonesia, China and Singapore in ignoring evidence and basing drugs policy on prejudice and scaremongering. The only significant difference is that we don’t execute people for possession of drugs.
In Europe more than 250 million people now have legal access to medicinal cannabis, 210 million in the USA, 35 million in Canada and 8 million in Israel. A few CLEAR members, with the support of their doctors and the APPG have managed to obtain legal access to Bedrocan medicinal cannabis from pharmacies in Holland. The struggle involved though is horrendous. It means travelling to Holland, declaring the medicine to customs on return and legality depends on exactly how the prescription is phrased. Get it wrong and both doctor and patient could face criminal charges. It also depends on the mood and knowledge of the Border Force officer on duty at customs. If he or she has had a bad day, as one CLEAR member discovered, that’s £500 of medicine plus travelling expenses, that will never be seen again.
Just a few days ago, Lord Winston, the British public’s favourite doctor, also endorsed medicinal cannabis, saying:
“When I was chairman of the Science and Technology Select Committee some years ago, we looked intensively at the medicinal uses of cannabis. One of the pieces of evidence was very compelling and enabled us to think about rather permissive legislation. It was that a number of people who had medical conditions, such as glaucoma and multiple sclerosis, took cannabis, which was not prescribed, to relieve their symptoms.” Source
This reform is long overdue. UK policy on medicinal cannabis is deeply cruel, evidence-free and based on the views of the tabloid press rather than medical experts, although even that is changing with today’s story in The Sun ‘Cannabis: Is it a curse or cure? Three readers reveal how controversial herb has saved their lives’
CLEAR produced its own report earlier this year ‘Medicinal Cannabis:The Evidence’, a comprehensive and up to date review of the peer-reviewed, published evidence.