Who is to be the new drugs minister?
No word yet from David Cameron. I have been calling the Home Office every day since the election and the answer is always the same – ‘no appointment has been made, it is expected within the coming days’.
Responsibility for the drugs strategy rests with the Minister of State for Crime Prevention. At least it did throughout the last Parliament. That gave us the horror of arch-prohibitionist James Brokenshire, followed by Baroness Browning, then the Liberal Democrat Jeremy Browne, followed by Norman Baker, the man who broke the mould and resigned because of Theresa May’s opposition to evidence and common sense. Lynne Featherstone succeeded him and continued to support reform. The Liberal Democrat’s intelligent and progressive drugs policy was incorporated into its election manifesto, sadly defeated by an electorate terrorised by the prospect of a Labour/SNP victory.
Why is this vital role still not decided? Perhaps responsibility for drugs is to be allocated elsewhere? Probably too much to hope that it will go the Department of Health but there were encouraging noises from the civil service just before the election, suggesting that the costs of enforcing drug possession charges were too high and decriminalisation should be considered.
This decision, when it comes, will speak volumes about the new government. The signs are not good with Cameron launching the most horrendous attacks on liberty and British values, threatening to crack down on the freedom of speech and thought for which thousands of British heroes have fought and died over many years.
So this is a crucial decision. On it will depend the development of CLEAR’s future strategy. What is certain is that we must re-adjust to communicate effectively with Tory ministers. We are well placed to do that, more so than any other UK drugs policy reform group because our strategy is already one of engagement, not protest. We need to be talking about public expenditure savings, new tax revenues, individual liberty. Now more than ever the failed politics of protest and human rights will not work.
Immediately after the election came calls from the stoner groups for protests and direct action. A ridiculous and futile demo has been arranged for 30th May “FUCK YOUR DRUG WAR – PROTEST“. Make no mistake, these ideas are idiotic, misguided, counterproductive, offensive, exactly what the campaign does not need.
The choice of which minister gets to look after the drugs strategy is hugely important. Watch this space.
Our principal allies on the Liberal Democrat benches have all lost their seats.
Quickly now, the government will be formed. No surprise that Theresa May has already been reappointed Home Secretary but who will the junior Home Office ministers be?
Brokenshire may leave for another department. He’s probably due for a promotion. It would be very good to see the back of him. Who will the Crime Prevention Minister be? Within that portfolio rests responsibility for drugs.
This is when the nightmare struck. Key candidates for Home Office ministers will be backbenchers who have sat on the Home Affairs Select Committee. I hardly dare write his name in case it puts ideas in Cameron’s mind – Michael Ellis.
Ellis is a hard line prohibitionist, anti-drugs, anti-liberty, anti-science, criminal barrister with a particular record of boorish behaviour during PMQs. He’s a junior barrister working out of chambers in Northampton and he thinks that his experience with a few scumbag dealers qualifies him to know all about drugs policy.
The idea is a nightmare. Cameron will see his increased number of seats as vindication of all past policies so he may well go further to the right. I hope I’m wrong. Perhaps we will get some young MP with a brain in his head and an eye for the free market economy that is blossoming in Colorado and elsewhere. Let’s hope so.
There’s also the new members of the Home Affairs Select Committee. Who will they be? We need to get to know them and present our case.
We must re-design, re-target, re-focus and refine our campaign for our new audience – Tory ministers are our most important targets.
Our messages must be developed for Tory eyes. More focus on the free market, profit opportunities, public expenditure savings. And our tactics must work with Tories as well. There is even less room now for the self-defeating tactics of protest, civil disobedience and flaunting alternative lifestyles in a way that distracts from our very powerful arguments. Such tactics might cause a right-wing backlash now.
Instead of being self-obsessed, as so much of the cannabis campaign is, if we want to be effective we must see things through the eyes of our target audiences, look outward not in, recognise that preaching to the choir achieves little. It is people who don’t agree with our cause that we must talk to and it is to their standards that we must dress and behave if we want to influence them.
Now, more than ever before, we need to be smart about the way we campaign for cannabis law reform. We do have allies in the Tory party and the worldwide momentum continues to build.
A few adjustments on the tiller are necessary but we remain on course. Let’s just be sure we adjust our sails and our technique for the new weather.
In my view the only rational choice for the next UK government is another Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition.
The Labour Party is simply a joke. Miliband is an out-of-touch, Hampstead-socialist buffoon who was part of the team whose reckless borrowing meant that the banking crisis destroyed this country’s economy. It is ludicrous that we should even consider giving the same people another chance.
Cameron is an oily, two-faced oaf who has transformed the Conservative Party into the Bullingdon Club Party, dominated by out-of-touch posh boys with quasi-fascists like Theresa May, Iain Duncan Smith and Chris Grayling as their attack dogs.
The only redeeming factor about the Tories is a basic competence in managing the economy. Osborne knows what he is doing but left unrestrained he would devastate our society: trashing the benefits system, care for the disabled and access to justice.
We must have the decent, fair, rational and conscientious Liberal Democrats in government with the Tories. Crucially they must hold out for a much tougher coalition agreement which will see the disgusting policies of Duncan Smith and Grayling reversed. I think it’s too much to hope that we will see the back of Theresa May but definitely, in my area of special interest, the Liberal Democrats will insist on drugs policy reform. The evidence-free, prejudice-based, self-defeating and cruel drugs policies of the past must be overturned. They have caused too much harm, suffering and promoted the interests of organised crime and the alcohol industry over common sense and the national interest.
So, in February I joined the Liberal Democrats. I was free to do so because that month the CLEAR Executive Committee resolved that we would no longer be a political party. An explanation of that decision is here.
My decision had a lot to do with drugs policy but, as I have explained above, was considered across the wider issues. I think it reflects the fact that the LibDems are less ideologically-driven, more rational, evidence-based and fair in their policies. All my life I have been a Tory voter for the crucial values of individual liberty, regulated free markets and opposed to the cloying, repressive ideas of socialism and the overbearing state – but the Tories have lost their way, their moral compass and their integrity. I will never, ever vote Tory again.
CLEAR has worked closely with the LibDems since I first led a delegation of medicinal cannabis users to meet Norman Baker, then drugs minister, in July 2014. Just a few weeks later he publicly called for a change in policy on medicinal cannabis, the most significant breakthrough in the UK cannabis campaign for nearly 50 years. This year we have worked closely with Nick Clegg’s team and the LibDem manifesto incorporated CLEAR’s policy on medicinal cannabis word for word. I had the privilege of personally briefing him on medicinal cannabis just a few weeks ago. Julian Huppert, Norman Lamb and Lynne Featherstone, also LibDems, have been of great help to the CLEAR campaign and demonstrated outstanding sincerity, honesty and commitment, uncommon qualities amongst politicians. Personally, I also greatly admire the courage of LibDem David Ward in standing against Israeli war crimes and in support of Palestine.
On the narrow issue of drugs policy, once again, Labour is a joke. It doesn’t have one. With a few honourable exceptions, such as Paul Flynn, David Winnick and Bob Ainsworth, the party is stuck in reefer madness, terrorised by tabloid editors and prefers prejudice and scare stories to science and evidence. The Tories have more individuals who support reform but the party as a whole is in a corrupt relationship with the alcohol industry and also terrorised by the tabloid press.
As far as the Greens are concerned, yes they have a sensible drugs policy (originally drafted, in fact, by Derek Williams, my colleague on the CLEAR Executive Committee) but they have no chance of any influence in the new government. Caroline Lucas did a good job on getting the drugs debate in Parliament last year but I cannot support her party’s bizarre behaviour in the illiberal ‘No More Page 3′ censorship and fracking campaigns. The Green’s attitude to fracking is as evidence-free and based on prejudice as is Labour’s attitude to cannabis. Also, CLEAR gave the Greens an opportunity to present their drugs policy to our supporters but despite repeated efforts they couldn’t get it together. By contrast, the LibDems welcomed us enthusiastically and at the highest level.
I am a Eurosceptic LibDem, which is unusual. In fact, I voted for UKIP in the last European elections and although the party itself is confused on the issue, I have talked with Nigel Farage in person at length on drugs policy and he is progressive, intelligent and pragmatic on the subject.
CISTA, the Cannabis Is Safer Than Alcohol party? Well, I know a number of the candidates personally and I would recommend voting for them in constituencies where the LibDems stand no chance. Overall though the party is a waste of Paul Birch’s money and I can say that with the experience of CLEAR’s 16 years as a political party. It’s great that they are bringing some attention to the campaign but it’s a futile strategy and Birch has spurned all efforts at support and assistance from CLEAR. Had he even returned our calls we would have endorsed and promoted CISTA candidates in some constituencies.
So in conclusion, for drugs policy reform, particularly for access to medicinal cannabis, but also for a fairer society where policy is based on evidence and compassion rather than prejudice and vested interests, vote Liberal Democrat!
I don’t give a damn how people dress, or what they smoke or do, as long as they’re peaceful. In the ’70s, I lived in Vondel Park, Amsterdam, for two years and later I hitch-hiked around Europe and North Africa with a guitar on my back. I’m still a hippy at heart.
When you want to persuade people, when you need to win hearts and minds, when you want to achieve reform, it doesn’t matter what you think, what your ‘rights’ are, or what is ‘just’ or ‘fair’.
All that matters is the perception of the people whose minds you need to change. It’s what they think that you need to consider, instead of getting angry about what you feel you’re being denied.
It’s a question of what works. We know what hasn’t worked, at all, in the last 50 years and what has worked in the last three years – and spectacularly in the last year.
CLEAR is now working with the policymakers in the Tory and LibDem parties.The campaign has never been closer to a breakthrough. The real work is done in meetings and by hard graft, drafting polices, proposals and boring but essential follow-ups.
Civil disobedience and protests produce a dopamine rush in those attending them – and probably serotonin as well, the ‘togetherness’ buzz. That’s all it is. They have never got us anywhere, just emphasised that cannabis users are ‘different’ and ‘separate’ from the rest of society – and that’s no way to achieve reform because it’s not true! So why, on these occasions, does anyone think it’s sensible to dress and behave as if they’re ‘different’ and ‘separate’?
I don’t blame the people who attend. I blame the tactic, the methods and the organisers who pursue these events for self-aggrandisement (and, increasingly, for profit), not for the sake of the cause.
When the cannabis campaign grows up and understands this pretty basic marketing, then we will be unstoppable.
I greatly look forward to the day when ‘420’ can be a celebration of cannabis as a legal pleasure and not a confused, self-defeating embarrassment.
CLEAR has published a revised and updated version of its leaflet on medicinal cannabis. This will shortly be available for purchase and for inclusion in membership packs. As with the previous version we shall also be carrying our carefully targeted and timed leafleting campaigns. Each year we choose a relevant day to saturate Parliament Square and Whitehall with the CLEAR message.
If you have an event or an opportunity to distribute leaflets, please get in touch. We are always ready to consider a special print run.
Julia George interviews Peter Reynolds of CLEAR, following publication of the report ‘Medicinal Cannabis:The Evidence’. Nick Rijke, of the MS Society, comments on using cannabis to treat multiple sclerosis and how Sativex, the only licensed cannabis medicine, is very difficult to obtain on prescription.
The report details an extraordinary quantity of peer-reviewed, published evidence that demonstrates the efficacy and safety of using cannabis to treat a wide range of conditions. It looks in detail at five therapeutic areas where the evidence is strongest: Alzheimer’s Disease, Cancer, Chronic Pain, Crohn’s Disease and Multiple Sclerosis.
Archaeological and written evidence suggests mankind has used cannabis for medicinal purposes for as long as 10,000 years. In the 19th century nearly half of all medicines in the British and US pharmacopeia contained cannabis. With the rise of new pharmaceutical medicines it fell into disuse but in 1996 California introduced the first ‘medical marijuana’ laws. Now 210 million people in 34 US states and 250 million people in nine European countries have some form of legal access.
Peter Reynolds, author of the report, said:
“This review finally does away with the myth that there is no proof of the value of medicinal cannabis. There is high quality evidence available from dozens of different sources, including double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials. No one who examines the evidence can be in any doubt, any longer. This is a medicine that saves lives and rescues people from pain, suffering and disability with far fewer dangerous and unpleasant side effects than pharmaceutical products. We must move urgently to allow doctors to start prescribing and introduce professional training in the use of cannabis medicines”
The report is available to download from the CLEAR website: http://clear-uk.org/static/media/Reports/medicinal_cannabis-_the_evidence_v1.1.pdf
CLEAR Cannabis Law Reform is the UK’s leading drugs policy reform group with more than 330,000 followers. It aims to end the prohibition of cannabis most urgently for those who need it as medicine. CLEAR also advocates replacing the anarchic mess of prohibition with a framework of regulation which would allow proper control of the product’s strength and quality while providing protection for children and the vulnerable.
CLEAR’s policies are based on independent, expert research carried out by the Independent Drug Monitoring Unit in 2011: http://clear-uk.org/media/uploads/2011/09/TaxUKCan.pdf
CLEAR’s detailed proposals for cannabis regulation, ‘How To Regulate Cannabis In Britain’: http://clear-uk.org/static/media/uploads/2013/10/CLEAR-plan-V2.pdf