Peter Reynolds

The life and times of Peter Reynolds

Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

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

with 2 comments

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.

Advertisements

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

with 6 comments

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’.

Click to download

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.

 

“The Settled View Of Ministers Is That The Medicinal Campaign Is Just An Excuse To Take Cannabis”.

with 2 comments

These are the words of Sir Oliver Letwin, my MP, during a meeting with him just a few days ago.

To some this may be an astonishing revelation, to others it will be depressing confirmation that this bigoted and out-of-date view still persists.  Anyone with even a modicum of knowledge will agree that it is deeply ignorant and in defiance of a vast quantity of scientific evidence.

This is the end point of my two and half years of discussion with Sir Oliver.  He’s not currently a cabinet minster but through his 20 year parliamentary career he’s always been at the top of the Conservative Party: Shadow Home Secretary, Shadow Chancellor and then in government in 2010 elevated to the status of right hand man to David Cameron.  As Minister for Government Policy and then Chancellor of The Duchy of Lancaster, he was been described as ‘the intellectual powerhouse of the Tory Party’ and as ‘number three in the government after Cameron and Osborne’.

So what goes through Oliver’s mind is a pretty good indication of how the Tory Party establishment thinks.  I’m absolutely certain that what he has told me is exactly the present mindset of ministers from Theresa May down.

Back in 2015 Oliver wrote to George Freeman MP on my behalf, then the minister with responsibility for medicines.  He’s also written to Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary and Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary.  None of this correspondence has resulted in anything but the usual, anodyne words that are nothing but a brush off.  I did think I was getting somewhere though when he told me he would establish with the Department of Health what its position was on the scientific evidence. Back came the answer that all the evidence had been considered, expert advice had been taken and the conclusion was that the risks of  legalising for medicinal use would outweigh the benefits.

Now this didn’t make sense to me. I wanted to know what evidence and what experts.  After half a dozen requests for this information and no response I submitted a Freedom of Information Request to the Department of Health.  Eventually it was returned stating quite clearly that it had neither requested, received nor considered any evidence on medicinal cannabis. Coincidentally, just a few days later, Paul Flynn MP asked almost exactly the same question in Parliament and received the same answer. So I wrote to Oliver and said that either he had been misled or he was misleading me, which was it? It was at this point that he stopped replying to my emails.

After several months of repeated requests and no response I went direct to his parliamentary secretary and booked a surgery appointment to see him as a constituent.  I was quite prepared to confront him face to face.  I was amused to receive an email from Oliver the very same day in which he said that would reluctantly agree to see me on the subject “one last time”.  So at the meeting his explanation was that it had all been a huge misunderstanding, he didn’t mean to suggest that any evidence had been examined, it was simply “the settled view of ministers is that the medicinal campaign is just an excuse to take cannabis”.

Such is the state of our so-called democracy and so-called evidence-based policy.

Written by Peter Reynolds

October 18, 2017 at 4:26 pm

A Cannabis ‘Protest’ That Was Well Judged.

with 2 comments

This was the best ‘protest’ I have seen. The characterisation of it as a ‘cannabis tea party’ was clever and combining it with Paul Flynn’s 10 minute rule bill was a smart move.

It was good that three MPs actually attended and the press coverage was extensive and largely positive. This is a welcome change from the disastrous demos and protests of the past which have undoubtedly hindered progress.

So while I’m not exactly eating it, I take my hat off to the organisers for a good job, well done.

The most promising news is that Andrea Leadsom, Conservative Leader of the House, has personally endorsed Paul Flynn’s bill which is real chink of light. This government, desperate to recover some credibility with younger and progressive voters, if it had any sense, would see this as a big opportunity. If the government was to choose to support the bill it would gain huge credit without having to lose its ‘tough on drugs’ stance.

We can only hope.

Written by Peter Reynolds

October 16, 2017 at 9:01 am

Americans And Their Guns. The Death Of A Great Civilisation.

with one comment

Misguided, Dangerous and Deluded

Remind me never to discuss guns with Americans again.  There is a strand of opinion there that is so powerful it has subverted the kind, human instinct of millions of people.

The simple fact is that the easy availability of guns in America has led directly to a continuing tragedy of epic proportions: gun violence and murders at a frequency that exceeds any other place on our planet.  That anyone seeks to defend this appalling truth or argue that the present situation should continue is beyond reason.

I have engaged in shooting sports for more than 40 years, so I am not anti-gun but if the choice is between the carnage caused by the madness of the NRA and my freedom to continue clay and game shooting, then it is an easy decision. Guns must be strictly and rigorously controlled.

1. You have to prove legitimate use for owning a gun
2. Psychological and medical stability certified by a doctor
3. Limited magazine capacity
4. Limited ammunition quantity

If America does not grasp this nettle then it is doomed .

Written by Peter Reynolds

October 3, 2017 at 8:52 pm

Posted in Biography, Politics

BBC Executive Complaints Unit, Stage 3 Complaint Re: Interview Claiming ‘Cannabis More Harmful Than Heroin’.

with 2 comments

Louisa Philips Kulukundis

CLEAR has submitted a formal complaint to the BBC concerning its broadcast of the interview with Lousia Kulukundis in which she claimed that using heroin was safer than using cannabis.

BBC complaints are outsourced to Capita and are not actually considered by the BBC itself until they reach Stage 3, the ‘Executive Complaints Unit’.

From: Peter Reynolds
Sent: 22 September 2017 17:05
To: ‘ecu@bbc.co.uk’ <ecu@bbc.co.uk>
Subject: Request to review complaint CAS-4563673-ZNGCG0

Dear Sirs,

1. Please review the decision made in respect of this complaint.  The correspondence including complaints and responses at stages 1a and 1b are attached to this email.

2. The complaint concerns an interview with Louisa Kulukundis, a psychotherapist, a member of the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP).  The interview was broadcast as part of ‘Newsbeat Documentary Cannabis:Time for a Change’ which was repeated frequently on the BBC News channel and is available online.  It was also included within the ‘Newsbeat Debate: Cannabis’ also broadcast on the BBC News channel and also available online.

A formal complaint about Ms Kulukundis’ conduct has also been made to the BACP.

During the interview Ms Kulukundis made the statement:

“I would say give me a room full of heroin addicts than skunk addicts. I remember saying to my older son I would prefer you to take heroin than to smoke skunk. There will be generations of kids with severe mental health issues.”

1.The points of complaint raised at 1b that need reconsideration are:

a. In broadcasting these comments which are dangerous, irresponsible and directly contradicted by all scientific and medical evidence, the BBC has acted negligently and endangered the lives of vulnerable, easily-influenced young people at whom this programme was targeted.

b. The relative danger and/or harms of heroin and cannabis cannot be justified as a matter of opinion or of ‘balance’ because they are clearly established scientific fact.

c. It is essential that the BBC should broadcast a correction with equal prominence and repeated as many times as the original programme. The BBC owes a duty of care to its viewers, particularly in the case of programmes for the young.  It must make clear that Ms Kulukundis’ words were incorrect, that heroin is hundreds of times more dangerous than cannabis to both physical and mental health and can lead to death.

Broadcasting this interview breaches the BBC Editorial Guidelines as follows:

a. “…we must give our audiences content made to the highest editorial and ethical standards.  Their trust depends on it.” 1.1

b. “ We must therefore balance our presumption of freedom of expression with our responsibilities…to provide appropriate protection for our audiences from harm.” 1.1

c. “Accuracy  is  not  simply  a  matter  of getting facts right; when necessary, we will weigh relevant facts and information to get at the truth.” 1.2.2

d. “…we  balance  our  right  to broadcast  innovative  and  challenging  content  with  our  responsibility  to  protect the vulnerable from harm…particularly  in  relation  to  the  protection of children.” 1.2.5

e. “We will be rigorous in establishing the truth of the story and well informed when explaining it.” 1.2.6

f. “We will always seek to safeguard the welfare of children and young people…while ensuring their dignity and  their  physical  and  emotional  welfare  is  protected  during  the  making  and broadcast of our output.  Content which might be unsuitable for children will be scheduled appropriately.” 1.2.9

g. “…accuracy  must  be  adequate  and  appropriate  to the  output,  taking  account  of  the  subject  and  nature  of  the  content,  the  likely audience expectation and any signposting that may influence that expectation.” 3.1

h. “Accuracy   is   not   simply   a   matter   of   getting   facts   right… we should check and cross check facts…corroborate claims and allegations made by contributors.” 3.1

i. “The  BBC  must  not  knowingly  and  materially  mislead  its  audiences.    We should  not  distort  known  facts,  present  invented  material  as  fact  or  otherwise undermine our audiences’ trust in our content.” 3.2.3

j. “We should normally acknowledge serious factual errors and correct them quickly, clearly and appropriately.” 3.2.4

k. “ In  all  our  content  we  must  check  and  verify  information,  facts  and documents,  where  required  to  achieve  due accuracy.” 3.4.2

l. “We should not   automatically   assume   that   the   material   is   accurate   and   should   take reasonable  steps,  depending  on  how  it  is  to  be  used  and  if  necessary  to achieve due accuracy, to seek verification.” 3.4.3

m. “We  must  not  knowingly  and  materially  mislead  our  audiences  with  our content.” 3.4.11

n. “We should consider the emotional impact pictures and personal testimony can have on perceptions of risk when not supported by the balance of argument.  If a  contributor’s  view  is  contrary  to  majority  opinion,  the  demands  of  due accuracy and due impartiality may require us to make this clear.” 3.4.21

o. “We should normally acknowledge serious factual errors and correct such mistakes quickly, clearly and appropriately.  Inaccuracy may lead to a complaint of  unfairness.    An  effective  way  of  correcting  a  mistake  is  saying  what  was wrong as well as putting it right.” 3.4.26

p. “When dealing with ‘controversial subjects’…Opinion   should   be   clearly distinguished from fact.” 4.4.7

q. “…when   personal   view   programmes…cover  ‘controversial  subjects’…we should:…retain a respect for factual accuracy.” 4.4.30

r. “The  BBC  must  apply  generally  accepted  standards  so  as  to  provide adequate  protection  for  members  of  the  public  from the  inclusion  of  offensive and harmful material.” 5.2.1

s. “We  must  not  broadcast  material  that  might  seriously  impair  the  physical, mental or moral development of children and young people.” 5.2.2

t. “…deal  with  all  aspects  of  illegal  drug  use…with due accuracy.” 5.4.42

I am happy to provide further information, evidence or detail on any aspect of this complaint.

Yours faithfully,

Peter Reynolds

Written by Peter Reynolds

September 25, 2017 at 12:22 pm

We Should Encourage Peter Hitchens In His Bombastic Ways.

with 3 comments

Peter Hitchens clearly doesn’t realise what a turn off his rude, boorish behaviour is to 90% of people who watch him on TV. Of course, to the small minority who agree with him, it’s very effective rabble rousing just like an Islamist fanatic or a hard right hatemonger.  That’s exactly how he looks to most people and really we should encourage him to do more of the same.

Peter’s performance on BBC Sunday Morning Live followed a pattern all too-familiar to those who understand his tactics. Through such occasions his tone becomes increasingly strident, he interrupts everyone repeatedly, complains that no one has read his book, throws in a wild and dishonest claim about cannabis and mental health, then goes into full tantrum mode complaining he’s never allowed to finish his point.

He was accompanied today by David Raynes, the retired-in-disgrace, ex-customs officer who is well trained in Hitchens’ techniques. With a career one step up from a security guard, he now holds himself out as some sort of scientific and medical expert and has a ready made reefer madness story to add in while partnering with Hitchens on the interrupting, talking over and hectoring of other guests.

The moderation of the debate by Sean Fletcher was weak, ineffectual and really rather pathetic but I do sympathise.  Hitchens is a Machiavellian, calculated subverter of debate and only the very strongest can handle him.

But it’s clear that nowadays he digs himself deeper and deeper the more hysterical he becomes and the angrier he is, the more the weakness of his arguments is exposed.  Carry on Peter, you’re doing our job for us now.

Written by Peter Reynolds

September 24, 2017 at 9:51 am