Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category
I was honoured to be invited to speak at Trinity College this week in a debate chaired by the Irish TD Brid Smith. In July, Ms Smith introduced legislation in the Dáil to allow the use of cannabis and cannabis-related products for medicinal purposes. However, the debate itself was much broader than medicinal cannabis. As I said in my own speech, it was a pleasure to get away from the earnest discussion of science and evidence for a while.
This was my speech.
I get high every day.
This morning, as is my daily routine, I walked to the top of the hill behind my house. Looking south-east, about 15 miles away, I can see the Isle of Portland. Then Chesil Beach sweeps towards me into Lyme Bay. As it curves round in front of me I’m about two miles back from the Jurassic Coast and then it runs off to the west past Bridport, Lyme Regis and, on a clear day you can see right over towards Torquay.
So you can tell I’m pretty high, just because of the amazing view I have. And the view itself makes me high. It inspires me, however many times I see it.
But I’m also pretty high because it’s a steep hill, I’m out of breath by the time I get to the top and my body is pumping out endorphins, endocannabinoids and there’s a surge in dopamine, serotonin and other neurotransmitters, hormones, all of which give me a buzz. They make me high!
Being high is a natural state of mind. It’s something we all aspire to and achieve, every day. So my argument to you is certainly that this house would get high but also that it does get high and must get high, regularly, for good health.
I got even higher this afternoon when I drove to Bristol Airport and then Aer Lingus flew me to Dublin at 16,000 feet. I’m also planning on getting a little high after this debate is finished, as I’m reliably informed there will be a “lavish, themed reception” in the Conversation Room, presumably including a drink or two.
So now we come to the nub of the issue. We all get high, through many routes. Even young children, as soon as they can crawl, start to experiment with altering their consciousness. Soon they are hanging upside down off swings, deliberately making themselves dizzy on roundabouts. As they grow up they graduate to their first sips of alcohol. I hope, as I did, they miss out the dreadful experiment with sniffing glue – and so we arrive at the joint, the dried flowers of the cannabis plant, smoked with the single-minded intention of getting high.
What are these arbitrary distinctions our society makes between acceptable forms of getting high and others that are so condemned that we are threatened with incarceration, in some countries, even worse?
What difference does it make how we get high, if being high is a natural state of mind?
We can smoke a little weed, drop an ‘E’, sniff a few lines of coke, down a few large Jamiesons. Or we can just listen to some amazing music, walk to the top of my hill, go to the gym – or, any combination of these paths to getting high.
Our governments seek to determine how we may get high. Their pretext is that they are protecting us, either from individual health harms or from wider, social harms, such as those caused by street dealing, criminality caused by addiction.
But even a cursory examination of this shows that it is false, it is mythology. Our means of getting high are controlled not by any concern for harm but by the imposition of someone else’s moral standards. This is usually a government minister and his or her personal opinion, often heavily influenced, either by the media, where editors also seek to impose their moral standards or, more sinister, by a vested interest, ‘Big Booze’, that wishes to preserve its one way street, no stopping, no U- turns on its path to getting high.
There’s also the legitimisation of sugary drinks, snacks, sweets, cakes and goodies. I wanted nothing more as a child than to get high off sugar. “And a cake please Grandad?” was my childhood refrain that I am still teased with today. But sugar causes tremendous harm and apart from pious, preachy health warnings, it’s all OK because our government says so.
It’s also OK to get high as a medical therapy. When it’s an SSRI anti-depressant, it’s objective is to make you feel better, to alter your brain chemistry to get you high, in fact by flooding your synapses with serotonin.
More of these happy pills are prescribed than any other form of medication. In fact, we don’t really understand how they work, how in some people they have the opposite effect and make them suicidal. But it’s all OK because this is government-sanctioned happiness – or unhappiness – but it’s OK because some privileged middle aged person, who couldn’t tell a synapse from a hockey stick says so , and she or he knows best.
But any suggestion that cannabis might be medicine has to be forcefully caveated with denials that it’s about getting high. Did you know, Sativex, the one legal form of medicinal cannabis, both here and in the UK, gets you high?
No? Yes I know all the doctors say it doesn’t and the nanny-state do-gooders tell you the bit that gets you high has been taken out. But take a look at the statutory documentation and what does it say? Oh! Something called “euphoric mood” is described as a “common” side effect
It’s actually a real pleasure to talk about getting high. I spend all my time engaged in earnest discussions about science, evidence, therapeutic and side effects. I forget that a lot of it is about getting high, however you choose to do it.
So, this house would get high. Indeed this house is high and I predict most of you will be a little higher in the next half hour or so.
Getting high is nothing to be ashamed of. Go for a run, climb a hill, eat a space cake ( but mind the sugar).
Getting high is a human right, a necessity and a great way to live. Get high and stay high.
After an entertaining and fascinating debate with contributions from other guest speakers and students, Bridie summed up by reading an extract from Tom Paxton’s song ‘Talking Vietnam Pot Luck Blues”. I’d never heard it before but it carries a wonderful message about how getting high brings people together.
The moment came as it comes to all,
When I had to answer nature’s call.
I was stumbling around in a beautiful haze
When I met a little cat in black P.J.’s,
Rifle, ammo-belt, B.F. Goodrich sandals.
He looked up at me and said,
“Whatsa’ matta wit-choo, baby?”
He said, “We’re campin’ down the pass
And smelled you people blowin’ grass,
And since by the smell you’re smokin’ trash
I brought you a taste of a special stash
Straight from Uncle Ho’s victory garden.
We call it Hanoi gold.”
So his squad and my squad settled down
And passed some lovely stuff around.
All too soon it was time to go.
The captain got on the radio. . .
“Hello, headquarters. We have met the enemy
And they have been smashed!”
It takes a lot to get me angry these days about attitudes towards cannabis. Many people are simply misinformed and are themselves victims of a relentless propaganda campaign by governments and the gutter press. Today though I watched the Victoria Derbyshire show on catch up from last Tuesday, the day that Parliament published published its report on medicinal cannabis. In the studio were CLEAR member Lara Smith, UPA member Faye Adams and Chip Somers, described as a ‘government advisor’, was on Skype from his home in Hampstead.
You can watch the programme on BBC iPlayer here. The segment runs from 1:22:09 to 1:33.58.
Now this is the BBC, which is always pro status quo and has a dreadful record on inaccurate reporting about cannabis. It’s also the Victoria Derbyshire show, which is a long way from serious news and is more like a cross between Jeremy Kyle and Woman’s Hour – but give them credit for covering the issue
You can’t blame people who have been misinformed and whose prejudice is deeply ingrained from years of brainwashing. This applies to many MPs, journalists, even doctors and scientists. Remember, the endocannabinoid system. one of the most important physiological systems, isn’t even taught in UK medical schools, so ignorance is widespread, even amongst those you would expect to be well informed.
There can be no excuse for this mendacious and wicked man, Chip Somers, though. He is, you will remember, the addiction therapist who grandstanded over his work with Russell Brand a couple of years ago. He advocates the total abstinence route to recovery which has been so eagerly embraced by the judgmental puritans at the Home Office and has led directly to the highest ever rate of drug overdose deaths, only released last week. Is the man simply a complete fool or is he deliberately dishonest? I think it has to be both. No one with the experience he claims could be so stupid. For some reason: misplaced morality, corrupt influence of money, government pressure, self-promotion of his therapy business – he is engaged in deception.
I’m not going to analyse every one of his miserable words. Watch him for yourself but prepare to be appalled. Suffice to say that his only tactic was to argue against medicinal use with ‘dangers’ that apply only to recreational use by children – a transparent disinformation strategy. He was also nothing less than abusive to Faye’s and Lara’s testimony and his dismissal of Professor Mike Barnes’ evidence review, which analyses 20,000 scientific papers, was just laughable.
Chip Somers is a liar, a charlatan, a confidence trickster and a deceiver. If only some such donkey of a faux therapist would seek recourse in the courts for such descriptions of him. Then we would have the opportunity to prove that he is a man of bad character and evil motivation.
CLEAR is the largest drug policy reform group in the UK with more than 685,000 registered supporters. It was formed in 1999 and its main aim is to “To promote as a matter of urgency and compassion the prescription of medicinal cannabis by doctors.”.
Crispin Blunt is a graduate in politics from the University of Durham and an ex-Army officer. He has represented the constituency of Reigate, Surrey as a Conservative MP since 1997. He is presently chair of the foreign affairs select committee.
He commented on his appointment:
“I am pleased to join the board of CLEAR. It is wrong that people with a range of conditions are missing out from medicinal benefits of cannabis because of the UK’s out-of-date drug laws. We need a new approach and a sensible regulatory system to support patients and their healthcare professionals in accessing safe and effective medicinal cannabis products.”
Mr Blunt’s appointment comes a few days in advance of the publication of a Parliamentary report on medicinal cannabis. It is to be announced in the House of Lords, committee room 2 at 11.00am on Tuesday 13th September 2016. Alongside the report, Professor Mike Barnes, the world-renowned neurologist, who is also a member of the CLEAR advisory board, will be publishing a comprehensive review of the evidence of the medicinal applications of cannabis.
Peter Reynolds, president of CLEAR, said:
“This is what we need, a forward-thinking, Conservative MP, Crispin Blunt, alongside an eminent scientist and clinician, Professor Mike Barnes. Very shortly, we will also be appointing a human rights barrister to our advisory board. We aim to shake up the cruel, anti-evidence policy that denies British people access to cannabis as medicine. The UK is in the dark ages on this compared to most of Europe, the USA, Canada, Israel and Australia.”
The launch of the APPG report on its inquiry into medicinal cannabis is a public event which anyone can attend. It takes place at the House of Lords committee room 2 on 13th September 2016 at 11.00am.
Baroness Molly Meacher and Caroline Lucas MP, are co-chairs of the APPG. The guest speakers will be:
Frank Field MP
Ron Hogg, Police and Crime Commissioner for County Durham
Professor Mike Barnes, Neurologist, CLEAR Scientific and Medical Advisor
Lara Smith, Medicinal Cannabis Patient, Life Fellow of CLEAR
Lara was awarded a Life Fellowship of CLEAR in August 2014 in recognition of her enormous contribution to our campaign. She suffers from a terrible chronic pain condition which is only relieved by cannabis. Her consultant is one of those few courageous doctors in the UK who have supported their patient by prescribing access to Bedrocan medicinal cannabis products. Using the protocol which CLEAR pioneered, which exploits loopholes in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, Lara now gains legal access to Bedrocan products on a regular basis. She has to travel to the Netherlands in person to collect her medicine every three months and it has to be paid for on a private basis. The important thing is she gets the medicine she needs and she is within the law.
In a letter dated 15th August 2016, Amber Rudd, the new Home Secretary, has invited CLEAR to raise “any queries and concerns” about present UK policy on cannabis. This is the first time since 2006, with Charles Clarke, that the UK cannabis campaign has had any direct contact with a serving Home Secretary. It reflects the reality, now recognised in government, that changes in cannabis policy are imminent.
In recent months, there has been a manifest and significant change in attitudes within the Home Office. We have seen this through the process of obtaining a low THC cultivation licence for our partnership with GroGlo Research and Development. The response from the drugs licensing department has been enthusiastic. There has been no difficulty with our declared purpose of producing CBD oil for sale as a food supplement and we are now in detailed discussions on our application for a high THC licence, looking towards clinical trials for a medical product for chronic pain.
As soon as Theresa May announced that Amber Rudd would be heading up the Home Office, I contacted my MP, now Sir Oliver Letwin, thanks to Cameron’s resignation honours list. Although he will not openly support our campaign, in the past year or so he has been very helpful indeed, meeting with me on roughly a monthly basis and helping me navigate through the Conservative government. He has now put me in direct contact with Ms Rudd and I will be preparing a written submission as a preliminary to a face-to-face meeting.
In accordance with CLEAR policy, our first concern is how we can enable UK residents to gain access to medicinal cannabis on a doctor’s prescription. In practice that means Bedrocan products as there is presently no other source of prescribable, consistent, high-quality, herbal cannabis. I would expect that to change very soon though. Both Canada and Israel look like potential near-future sources. GW Pharmaceuticals is undoubtedly considering entering the market and our venture with GroGlo could shift gear depending on how quickly UK policy changes.
We will also be addressing the need for wider reform and a legally regulated market for adult consumers. Although medicinal access remains the top priority, there is no doubt that more overall harm is caused by prohibition of the recreational market. It is this that creates the £6 billon per annum criminal market which is the cause of all the social harms around cannabis. This will need to be handled much more carefully as, due to nearly a century of misinformation and media scaremongering, many people still retain great fear as to what legal cannabis will mean.
The one thing that has been very lacking in the cannabis campaign is pragmatism. Most campaigners for recreational use continue to be lost in a swirl of ‘free the weed’, teenage angst, outrage, revolution and delight in being a rebellious outlaw. That was until 2011 when CLEAR introduced a new approach which has led to more engagement with government than ever before. The emergence of the United Patients Alliance and now the End Our Pain campaign has helped this but these campaigns are focused only on medicinal use
The fact is that we need to work with Theresa May’s government and the anti-Tory tribalism that many still adopt is nothing but an obstacle to reform.
In addressing Ms Rudd, our overall strategy for wider reform will be:
1. A final separation from the ridiculous ‘free the weed’ movement and ‘stoner’ groups which are incapable of understanding how they are seen and despised by wider society.
2. Differentiation between medicinal use and the more controversial legalisation for adult, recreational use.
3. Shift public attention onto scientific and medical evidence rather than the very poor standard of media reporting.
4. End the fake policy that says ‘cannabis is dangerous therefore it must be regulated’. Educate that nearly all the harms around cannabis are caused by its prohibition, not by cannabis itself.
5. Emphasise the importance of harm reduction information, education about excessive use and essential investment in treatment for those who do suffer health harms.
6. Clarify that decriminalisation is no solution and is a dangerous option that would probably increase harm. The product needs to be sold within a properly regulated environment, careful that over-regulation would support a continuing criminal market.
Every single day of the year, BBC news crews do exactly what Jeremy Corbyn’s video crew did on his train journey the other day. They ‘set up’ a shot to make the point or illustrate the story they want to communicate. When the interviewer nods thoughtfully in response to an interviewee’s wise words, it’s all acting. On a single camera shoot you do the cutaways after the interview and edit them in afterwards. If you can’t get the shot you need at the time you’re there, you set it up for the camera.
There’s nothing new, clever or dishonest about this. What is dishonest is the BBC’s use of it to smear and abuse a man who was just doing his job in exactly the same way as a BBC journalist. Of course the anti-Corbyn Fleet Street Mafia has leapt on it with alacrity, a lot more dishonesty, abuse, exaggeration and bile – but what would you expect from the British press?
As for Richard Branson, I used to be fan like most of the rest of the country but in the last five years I’ve realised that he is an entirely self-serving, selfish and self-centred individual. Nothing the matter with that either, except that he presents himself as a pious, altruistic and groovy guy who’s down with the common people and on their side. There’s as much truth in that as there is Branson in Branston pickle. It’s rubbish. On drugs policy Branson is grandstanding and nothing else. His loose change from yesterday’s jeans would transform the British cannabis campaign but he’s too mean to come up even with a tenner. Seeing him wade in with the mob beating up Corbyn and kick him two or three times while he’s down is truly sickening.
The far more serious matter though is the BBC’s hypocrisy and dishonesty which must be a breach of its Royal Charter obligations. The BBC is composed of soft-left Blairites with a powerful built-in default to the status quo. While I don’t support any of the multiple, confused versions of the Labour Party, I’m in even less support of corrupt, dishonest conduct by our national broadcaster.