Posts Tagged ‘cannabis’
It’s the Institute of Psychiatry at Kings College London, yet again, with another terrifying story about cannabis that is immediately distorted, exaggerated and misrepresented by the scientifically illiterate hacks of Fleet Street.
This time though King’s College itself has reported the results of its own research inaccurately and published false and misleading claims.
Can King’s College explain why its press release is headlined “Study shows white matter damage caused by ‘skunk-like’ cannabis”, when the researcher Dr Dazzan says “It is possible that these people already have a different brain and they are more likely to use cannabis”? The truth is that the study does not show any causative effect. It is merely correlation yet here we have supposedly eminent scientists and scientific institutions reporting results falsely.
I have written to Professor Shitij Kapur, Executive Dean & Head of Faculty of the Institute asking for an explanation.
On a regular basis the team at King’s College publishes research about cannabis that suggests it is far more harmful than real world experience demonstrates. Always these studies contain the vital caveat that no causation can be shown for the various ‘differences’ or ‘changes’ that the researchers observe. Always, without fail, the researchers overlook this fundamental weakness in their work when they talk direct to the press. As a result we get ludicrous, inaccurate and wildly irresponsible reporting, particularly in the extremist rags such as the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph but often extending, as today, even into The Times, supposedly a responsible and authoritative publication.
This latest study was led by Dr Silvia Rigucci of Sapienza University of Rome in conjunction with Dr Paola Dazzan and Dr Tiago Reis Marques from King’s College. Dr Razzan has fallen over herself in an undignified rush to gain media headlines. She is reported as saying: “There is an urgent need to educate health professionals, the public and policy makers about the risks involved with cannabis use.” Of course, in truth, all these people have been systematically misled about cannabis for many years. All that Dr Razaan is doing is contributing to the vast quantity of misinformation already out there by misrepresenting and overstating her own work.
This is a very small study with no proper controls that proves nothing either way about cannabis use. It is exaggerated and misrepresented by both King’s College and the scientists concerned, presumably in an effort to boost funding. This is the state of science on cannabis where vested interests promote misinformation which defies the real world experiences of hundreds of million of cannabis consumers worldwide. The team at King’s College displays all the classic markers of a cult. It pursues a belief in cannabis as the ‘devil’s lettuce’ as a quasi-religion. It dresses up its meaningless observational studies as significant evidence. It reinforces its belief by exaggerating and misrepresenting its work. It considers no alternative explanations and it endlessly repeats itself, its ‘studies’ and its presentation of them as proof of its own conclusions.
No one in their right mind can claim that cannabis is harmless but neither is there any evidence to support claims that it is dangerous. These untruths are promoted by vested interests such as researchers needing more funds, the alcohol industry guarding its monopoly of legal recreational drugs or newspapers seeking sensational stories.
It’s difficult to get hold of a copy of the actual study without paying for it. My advice is read the reports, understand the facts rather than the deliberate misinterpretations and expect more of the same. Remember that unless such evidence is compared with evidence in respect of other substances it is meaningless. All in all there is no evidence to suggest cannabis is any more harmful than coffee.
Yet another cannabis petition amongst hundreds of similar pleas was filed earlier this autumn. This one though is more tightly focused on removing cannabis from schedule 1, which defines it as having no medicinal value. The petition is also commendably concise but characterises itself as a ‘demand‘ that cannabis be rescheduled, an unfortunate choice of words.
Nevertheless, congratulations are due in that it has exceeded the threshold of 10,000 signatures which means the government must respond. That response is now in and it is predictably dishonest, dismissive and authoritarian in its tone. The Home Office has responsibility for drugs policy so it has drafted the response but it surely must have consulted with the Department of Health.
In fact, I was told only this week by a senior minister that “… the search into the medicinal use of cannabis is something that falls within the jurisdiction of the Department of Health.” That may be a subtle shift in policy from which we can draw some hope. But I fear that the response to this petition offers no hope at all. It is stubborn, obstinate, inaccurate and in denial of evidence and experience.
To be clear, the Home Office has been systematically lying and misleading the British people about cannabis for at least 50 years. The Department of Health is timid on the issue, leaves the public statements to the Home Office heavies and seems more interested in generating fee income for the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), than in actually treating patients effectively.
I analyse the response paragraph by paragraph.
“Herbal cannabis is listed in Schedule 1 as a drug with no recognised medicinal uses outside research. A substantial body of scientific evidence shows it is harmful and can damage human health.”
By far the majority of scientists and doctors now recognise that cannabis has real and significant medicinal uses. Of course it is possible that cannabis can cause harm, as can any substance. However, there is no scientific evidence that shows cannabis as being any more harmful than over-the-counter medicines or many common foods. Professor Les Iversen, chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, is on the record saying: “cannabis is a safer drug than aspirin and can be used long term without serious side effects”.
“The Government will not encourage the use of a Schedule 1 controlled drug based on anecdotal evidence. It is important that a medicine is very thoroughly trialled to ensure it meets rigorous standards before being licensed and placed on the market so that doctors and patients are sure of its efficacy and safety. “
It is not the government’s role to encourage the use of any drug as medicine, that is the role of a doctor. Only by removing cannabis from schedule 1 can that decision be placed in doctors’ hands. There is a vast quantity of peer-reviewed, published scientific evidence on the medicinal use of cannabis including human clinical trials. It is false to suggest that only anecdotal evidence is available. See ‘Medicinal Cannabis: The Evidence’. Thousands of doctors and millions of patients are sure of the efficacy and safety of cannabis based on existing research, trials and experience. Many commonly prescribed medicines have nowhere near as much evidence behind them as cannabis.
“Cannabis in its raw form (herbal cannabis) is not recognised as having any medicinal purposes in the UK. There is already a clear regime in place to enable medicines (including those containing controlled drugs) to be developed and subsequently prescribed and supplied to patients via healthcare professionals. This regime is administered by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which issues Marketing Authorisations for drugs that have been tried and tested for their safety and efficacy as medicines in the UK.”
The lack of recognition for the medicinal purposes of cannabis is a grave error with no evidence that supports it. Cannabis is a traditional medicine which recorded history shows has been used safely and effectively for at least 5,000 years. The only thing that stands in the way of cannabis being prescribed by doctors is its schedule 1 status. The MHRA is a diversion and is irrelevant. It exists to trial and regulate new medicines and requires a £100,000 application fee before very costly clinical trials take place. This is an unnecessary obstacle to a traditional medicine which contains more than 400 compounds. The MHRA process is designed for potentially dangerous, single molecule drugs and is not applicable to cannabis.
“It is up to organisations to apply for Marketing Authorisation for products that they believe have potential medicinal purposes so that these can be subject to the same stringent regime and requirements that all medicines in the UK are subjected to.”
Many substances and drugs which have medicinal purposes are regulated either as Traditional Herbal Products or food supplements. It is the schedule 1 status of cannabis which prevents it being regulated and controlled in this way which is far more appropriate given its very low potential for harm and the very wide range of conditions for which it can be useful.
“Since 2010 UK patients can use the cannabis-based medicine ‘Sativex’ for the treatment of spasticity due to multiple sclerosis. ‘Sativex’ can also be prescribed for other conditions at the prescribing doctor’s risk. ‘Sativex’ was rigorously tested for its safety and efficacy before receiving approval, and is distinguished from cannabis in its raw form. It is a spray which is standardised in composition, formulation and dose and developed to provide medicinal benefits without a psychoactive effect. Due to its low psychoactive profile ‘Sativex’ was rescheduled from Schedule 1 and placed in Schedule 4 Part 1 to enable its availability for use in healthcare in the UK.”
Sativex is a massively expensive form of cannabis oil which is not prescribed because of its cost. It is at least 10 times the price of Bedrocan medicinal cannabis as regulated by the Netherlands government which could be immediately made available in the UK. It is a deliberate falsehood to claim that Sativex does not have a psychoactive effect. The statutory document ‘Summary of Product Characteristics’ describes “euphoric mood” as a “common” side effect. The scheduling of Sativex in schedule 4 is a deception requiring 75 words falsely to distinguish it from other forms of cannabis whereas every other drug in every other schedule requires just one word.
“The MHRA is open to considering marketing approval applications for other medicinal cannabis products should a product be developed. As happened in the case of ‘Sativex’, the Home Office will also consider issuing a licence to enable trials of new medicines to take place under the appropriate ethical approvals. “
Cannabis, which contains 400 + compounds is not suitable for MHRA regulation which is designed for single molecule drugs which are potentially dangerous. There is no significant danger from the use of cannabis when prescribed by a doctor. This is already well established in scientific evidence and the referral to the MHRA is a diversion and an excuse for failing simply to put the decision in doctors’ hands.
“In view of the potential harms associated with the use of cannabis in its raw form and the availability of avenues for medicinal development, the Government does not consider it appropriate to make changes to the control status of raw or herbal cannabis. “
The government has offered no evidence of the potential harms to which it gives such weight. No “development” of cannabis is required. It is a traditional medicine consisting of the dried flowers of the cannabis plant.
“The Government’s view is that the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and regulations made under the Act continue to facilitate the development of medicines which are made from Schedule 1 controlled drugs. The legislation is aimed at protecting the public from the potential harms of drugs and is not an impediment to research into these drugs or development of medicines.”
The government’s view is intransigent and as demonstrated by this response is ignorant of the available evidence. This response reinforces the government’s clear intention not to consider the evidence and simply to deny it. The evidence shows that the potential harms of cannabis as medicine are trivial and inconsequential. If its schedule 1 status was not an impediment to research, there would already be a great deal more research into cannabis as medicine.
“In 2013 the Home Office undertook a scoping exercise targeted at a cross-section of the scientific community, including the main research bodies, in response to concerns from a limited number of research professionals that Schedule 1 status was generally impeding research into new drugs.
Our analysis of the responses confirmed a high level of interest, both generally and at institution level, in Schedule 1 research. However, the responses did not support the view that Schedule 1 controlled drug status impedes research in this area. While the responses confirmed Home Office licensing costs and requirements form part of a number of issues which influence decisions to undertake research in this area, ethics approval was identified as the key consideration, while the next most important consideration was the availability of funding.”
The Home Office is entirely untrustworthy and dishonest on anything to do with cannabis. Researchers, scientists, doctors and those already using cannabis as medicine simply do not trust anything it says on the subject based on long experience of its calculated dishonesty and misinformation.
On 12th October, after more than 220,000 people had signed a government e-petition, Mike Penning MP, the drugs minister, responded to the debate. He said:
“I have every sympathy for my friends and members of my family who have had MS and the terrible pain and anguish that they go through because of an incurable disease. So I start from the premise of having sympathy. Let us see what we can do in the 21st century to take people out of that environment…we could look carefully… at the research. We need to look at why the research is not taking place and at the effects of certain parts of the legislation…We have cross-party agreement that we will look at research and see how we can help people. I am committed to that…It is crucial that we do not set ourselves in one position but that instead, we ask what research could help take things forward. That is what I have committed to doing and it is very important.”
Then, on 26th October, in response to a written question, he said:
“The government’s position on the medicinal value of cannabis remains unchanged and no discussions are planned.”
This is dishonest and a subversion of our democratic process. However, in the UK, despite its historical role as the mother of parliamentary democracy, government ministers are now entirely unaccountable. Even in their individual role as MPs they answer to the electorate only once every five years, a level of accountability which is ridiculous in the 21st century. Between elections they only need consider their party whips or the more senior ministers who hold power over their careers.
In any other context, in business or in personal affairs, reneging on a promise as Mike Penning has done would have serious consequences. In some instances it might even bring him before the criminal courts. But Penning doesn’t give a damn, faces no consequences and he continues with impunity as any robber baron might have in the Middle Ages or any cowboy outlaw in the Wild West.
I have written to Mike Penning asking for an explanation and I have also written to my MP asking him to obtain an official explanation from the government. I ask you to do the same.
These Are The MPs Who Did Their Duty And Attended The Debate:
Lyn Brown, Labour, West Ham (Shadow Home Office minister)
Lisa Cameron, Scottish National Party, East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow
Nigel Evans, Conservative, Ribble Valley (Chair of the debate)
Paul Flynn, Labour, Newport West
Cheryl Gillan, Conservative, Chesham and Amersham (Chair of the debate)
Sylvia Hermon, Independent, North Down
George Howarth, Labour, Knowsley
Rupa Huq, Labour, Ealing Central and Acton
Norman Lamb, Liberal Democrat, North Norfolk
Peter Lilley, Conservative, Hitchin and Harpenden
Caroline Lucas, Green, Brighton Pavilion
Anne McLaughlin, Scottish National Party, Glasgow North East
Paul Monaghan, Scottish National Party, Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross
Mike Penning, Conservative, Hemel Hempstead (Home Office minister)
Dr Dan Poulter, Conservative, Central Suffolk and North Ipswich
Graham Stuart, Conservative, Beverley and Holderness
Andrew Turner, Conservative, Isle of Wight
It’s important to point out that four MPs were there because they had to be. Lyn Brown was there as a shadow Home Office minister. Nigel Evans and Cheryl Gillan were there because they took turns to chair the debate. Mike Penning was there as the Home Office minister with responsibility for drugs policy.
If your MP didn’t attend the debate, particularly if you wrote asking them to, it is your right (I would argue it’s your duty) to complain and ask for an explanation.
There are very few reasonable excuses. If your MP is a government minister then he or she wouldn’t have been able to speak and may well have ministerial duties which would take priority. Other than that, apart from sickness or some other emergency, if your MP failed to represent you then you need to write, ask for an explanation and what will they do instead to advance your views to government.
Excellent work was done in lobbying MPs before the debate. I doubt that so many letters and emails have been sent to MPs on the subject before. Now is not the time to be downhearted, now is the time to keep up the pressure.
You can also Google your MP’s name which will lead you to their personal website and more contact details.
You can write by letter to your MP at: House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA
Most important is that you must include your full postal address and postcode to show that you are a constituent. Without this your email or letter will be ignored.
Either an email or a letter is fine but you might want to consider doing both!
We are not providing a template letter for reasons already explained. They simply do not work anymore. The activities of mass lobbying groups like 38 Degrees have really stymied individual lobbying efforts because they have swamped MPs with ludicrous quantities of emails. Consequently, to stand any chance of getting any attention your email needs to be clearly an individual, personal message.
Above all, please be polite. Aggression or hostility will get you nowhere. I met several MPs in the run up to the debate who were clearly surprised about how much correspondence they were getting but more than one mentioned that they were unmoved by people getting angry with them by demanding the right to use cannabis.
Asking questions is very important. If you don’t get answers you’re entitled to write again and insist. So these are the points you need to make. Incorporate them into an email or letter in your own words.
Five Point Plan.
- I was disappointed you didn’t attend the cannabis debate (after I wrote asking you to represent my views) Why were you not there?
- Nearly 250,000 people signed the petition to legalise cannabis. That makes it the second largest petition ever and shows it is of huge public concern. As only 17 MPs turned up to the debate what is the point of the petition website? What excuse do MPs have for ignoring this demonstration of democracy?
- A great deal of evidence was presented in the debate about the benefits of legalisation but none from the government about the possible harms of legalisation. Why? What evidence does the government have supporting its position?
- The only evidence the government has offered on the subject is the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) report from 2008. This does not support present policy. It says cannabis should be class C and that the criminal justice measures do not work and public health strategies are needed instead. Why is the government misrepresenting the evidence?
- Please will you write to government ministers on my behalf and get answers to these questions?
Please make sure you do this. We will win this war against cannabis prohibition if we keep up sustained pressure. There is no valid reason to oppose reform and no evidence that supports present policy. We must keep up the lobbying effort. Persistent, polite pressure will work. Please do your bit. If we all work together we will prevail.
If you don’t get a response from your MP then please write again. Don’t be shy about saying you ‘insist’ on a response but do remain polite. If you still don’t get a response then make an appointment to see your MP at their constituency surgery. It may be possible to have a CLEAR representative come with you if you ask in good time. Email: email@example.com
Please send any responses received to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Today, Friday 9th October, in advance of Monday’s cannabis debate in Parliament, I met with Oliver Letwin, the Cabinet Office minister with responsibility for the implementation of government policy.
According to The Independent, Oliver Letwin is “probably the most powerful person in the government after the Prime Minister and Chancellor”. I first met with him back in July and he agreed to investigate the possibility of cannabis being available on prescription. When the cannabis debate was announced, I asked to see him again before the debate took place and he very generously arranged to see me just in time.
Monday’s debate will be the first time in nearly 50 years that MPs have had an opportunity to consider the subject. Throughout the world, more and more governments are waking up to the huge damage that cannabis prohibition causes. Nearly all the harms around cannabis are not caused by cannabis itself but the laws against it. Prohibition of anything for which there is huge demand inevitably creates a criminal market. More than three million people in the UK choose to use cannabis regularly. We consume more than three and a half tons every day and spend more than £6 billion every year, all of which goes into the black economy.
Since the early 20th century, acres of newsprint have been devoted to telling us how harmful cannabis can be. The alcohol industry fiercely guards its monopoly of legal recreational drug use. It has enormous influence in government and its £800 million annual advertising spend give it great power over the media.
But the truth is becoming clear. Scientific evidence and real world experience show that compared to alcohol and even common painkillers and over-the-counter medicines, cannabis is very, very safe. Concerns about mental health impacts are proven to be wildly overblown as cannabis use has escalated by many orders of magnitude but mental health diagnoses have remained stable. Increasingly, those responsible for drugs policy realise that abandoning this huge market to criminals only makes things worse. Criminals don’t care who they sell to or what they sell, so children and the vulnerable become their customers and their product becomes low quality, contaminated, often very high strength ‘moonshine’ varieties.
A Win Win Proposal To The UK Government On Cannabis.
Perhaps the most pernicious effect of cannabis prohibition is the denial of access to it a medicine. On this, Mr Letwin has been consulting with other ministers in the Department of Health and the Home Office. He says he is now convinced that there is a very positive future for cannabinoid medicines. As a result, I hope to be meeting again shortly with George Freeman MP, the Life Sciences Minister. I led a delegation of medicinal cannabis users to meet with him at the beginning of this year. Mr Letwin has indicated to me that it is Mr Freeman’s office that needs to deal with this, so I am hopeful of real progress in the near future.
Mr Letwin warned me that the debate itself will not produce any change in the law and I acknowledge this but it is part of the process that will eventually get us there. I suggested that there is a win win option that could be implemented very easily and quickly. There is huge pressure on the government to act but also great inertia and resistance to change from the old guard. I proposed that if cannabis could be moved out of schedule 1 of the Misuse of Drugs Regulations it would enable doctors to prescribe it and researchers more easily begin the task of developing and testing new products.
The great benefit this would offer to the government is that it would be seen to be responding to the evidence, being progressive and keeping up with the worldwide movement towards reform. However, for the more conservative thinkers, the ‘tough on drugs’ mantra would remain in place. Cannabis would still be a class B drug and all the same penalties would remain in force. Both sides of the debate could see this move as a success for their argument.
So we all look forward to the debate. As is normal practice, no government ministers will participate but I expect a Home office minister will give some sort of response. We are making progress. Revolution is not the British way but I do think we can continue with guarded optimism that our message is getting through and the direction of travel is certain.
Howard Marks, Britain’s most famous drug dealer, has terminal cancer. Yet Lynn Barber, his first girlfriend at Oxford, found her old flame in fine form — and with no regrets about his shady past.
I found Howard Marks surrounded by vast stashes of drugs, but alas not the fun drugs of yesteryear — these are all the anti-cancer drugs he has to take nowadays. He was diagnosed with inoperable bowel cancer a year ago and it had already reached stage four — and I remember Christopher Hitchens telling me “there is no stage five” — and spread to his liver and lungs. So he is on the way out but cheerfully, gracefully, with no regrets. He accepted his death sentence with the same lack of self-pity that he accepted his 25-year prison sentence in 1988. Though it was rather galling that he’d been going to the doctor complaining of intestinal problems for five years and been repeatedly told he had irritable bowel syndrome.
He lives alone in a one-bedroom flat in Leeds, in a converted warehouse near the canal. The living room is more like an office, with a huge desk along one wall with computers, DVD players and a plasma screen above. This is where he works, and he still works when he is well enough — he is currently writing the introduction to a coffee-table book about Pikes Hotel, Ibiza, where all the stars stayed — they’ve still got Freddie Mercury’s toilet as a sort of shrine. Howard, by contrast, has a commode in the corner. On the walls, there are two Cannabis Culture Awards with photos of him surrounded by cannabis leaves, and a black-and-white portrait that will be the cover of his new book, Mr Smiley. The big terrace outside the window is mainly taken up with a huge garden shed, which I assumed he used for growing cannabis, but no, it contains stacks of files marked E for evidence from his various trials.
It’s strange seeing him again after all these years. I was his first undergraduate girlfriend at Oxford — “rivetingly glamorous”, he wrote in Mr Nice, and certainly a change from all the Woolworths shopgirls he’d been shagging up till then. He was in his first year when I was in my second, and it was generally considered infra dig to go out with a fresher, but he was irresistible. People would point him out in the High — “Do you know our Welsh oik, Howard Marks?” — and cross the road to clap him on the back. It is hard to convey how exotic he seemed among the tweedy undergraduates of those days: first, because he came from a Welsh mining village, Kenfig Hill, and spoke Welsh as his first language. Second, because he dressed like a teddy boy, with crepe-soled shoes and slicked-back hair, and would occasionally break into Elvis Presley impressions. And third, because he was at Balliol, which was the most serious-minded, the most mandarin, of all the Oxford colleges. Others, like Brasenose and Teddy Hall, would accept occasional thickos if they were good at athletics or rowing, Christchurch would take them if they had titles, but Balliol never took thickos at all. So just being there meant that he was formidably intelligent, even if it was sometimes hard to understand what he was saying through his thick Welsh accent.
He remains grateful to Balliol, first for accepting him and then for nursing him through his physics degree (he got a 2:1) despite his complete lack of work. He and his best friend, Julian Peto, met on their first day and still go to every Balliol Gaudy [reunion] together, and Howard is proud of the fact that he has never missed one — they are held every seven years or so, and his prison sentence conveniently fitted in between. “I love it — it’s the Oxford old boys’ club and I enjoy the company of those people very much. Balliol were very good to me — they paid my daughters’ school fees while I was in prison, and that was one of the first debts I repaid when I got some money.”
I only went out with Howard for one term because he was soon snowed under with other girlfriends and ended up marrying one of them, the dazzlingly beautiful Ilze Kadegis. They moved to Brighton after Oxford and I lost touch with them, but, of course, I heard rumours of his burgeoning career as an international drugs smuggler and occasionally saw him at parties when he was supposedly on the run. He was eventually caught and tried at the Old Bailey, but to everyone’s amazement he was acquitted — the happiest day of his life, he says — but he was arrested again in Mallorca in 1988, deported to the States and sentenced to 25 years in Terre Haute prison (though he eventually only served seven). I sent him books, but didn’t see him again till he emerged in 1995, when I interviewed him at his home in Mallorca. Subsequently, I saw him doing a couple of shows based on his autobiography, Mr Nice, but I didn’t really like the pothead atmosphere, and I didn’t go to the recent Kentish Town Forum concert, where he appeared with his friends Rhys Ifans and Super Furry Animals. So this is the first time I’ve seen him for ages. He turned 70 last month, and his once-luxuriant black hair is now a few grey wisps. But he is still very recognisably Howard, with the same cheerful grin, and a mind as sharp as ever — or possibly more so, because for once he is not stoned. And he still has the charm — that gilt-edged, rock-solid asset he has always relied on.
His manager, Daniel Gray, has brought three bottles of wine, so we happily pour wine and light cigarettes, though Howard insists on rolling his own. When I ask for a light, he opens a desk drawer containing at least 20 lighters, including a hob lighter that he uses when his hands are shaking from the chemo. He explains that the chemo goes in two-week cycles and gets worse as it goes on. Often his fingers tremble so much he can’t type and at some points he can’t talk either, though his girlfriend can still understand him. He has three “good” days when he can go out, and another three days when he can work at home but not go out because he can’t wear his tooth implants — “which is not something that makes you feel like socialising”. His big regret is that he can’t travel abroad any more because he has to be near the hospital at all times.
He had a weird sort of binge a few weeks ago when he took every known remedy for every known cancer all at once, including three weeks’ supply of cannabis oil, and ended up being sectioned. There were rumours he thought he was a chicken, but he can’t remember that — “There’s an awful lot I can’t remember. Apparently I launched into a group of policemen and started hitting them, which is really uncharacteristic behaviour because, as you know, I’m normally a very peaceful character.” Did the policemen know who he was? “I’ve no idea. They didn’t ask for my autograph! So then I was sectioned and went to a lunatic asylum for about two weeks.” Did he meet anyone interesting there? “I met someone I thought was very interesting, but on reflection he was a bit of a headcase.”
His doctors think he’s doing well — his cancer is now “stable” and his tumours have reduced by about 20%. And they’ve asked him to do a reading at their Christmas concert, which seems to show confidence — he plans to do Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales. And he, in turn, is very confident that he is getting the best possible treatment. Leeds is one of the top cancer places anyway, but it helps that he has some formidable backup — his old friend Julian Peto is Cancer Research UK chair of epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and Julian’s brother, Sir Richard Peto, is professor of medical statistics and epidemiology at Oxford. Howard’s sister is a fellow of Durham University specialising in health planning, and she comes to his consultations because she knows what questions to ask. “So it’s obviously helpful having those contacts. And being a minor celebrity is also helpful.” Does he think he’s getting better treatment than if he were Joe Bloggs? “Yes — which I’m obviously not happy about.”
Until the diagnosis, he spent most of his time doing shows based on Mr Nice, sometimes two or three a week. He liked to go to all the music festivals — Glastonbury, Bestival, Latitude — because they paid much better than literary festivals, but he didn’t think he was up to camping this year. Couldn’t he demand a hotel? “Well, I could — but I’ve got to be a man of the people, haven’t I?” Anyway, he’s far too ill. The trouble with doing his shows was that members of the audience always wanted to smoke a spliff with him afterwards and tell him their conspiracy theories. “Luckily, because of my postgraduate degree in the history of philosophy of science, I can keep some sort of balance about it.” But why bother? Why was he always so willing to listen to mad stoners rambling on? “Well, they’ve listened to my story, so I felt I had to listen to theirs. And being accessible, you know, is part of my image.” But the problem was they all brought their own home-grown super-strong skunk and he was too polite ever to refuse a spliff, even though “I’d rather have gone home and had a Horlicks, to be honest”. He still enjoys smoking hash, but he says this new skunk is evil.
Being forced to stay at home means that he has finally completed the long-awaited follow-up to Mr Nice, which will be published on Thursday. It’s called Mr Smiley and covers the period from l995, when he emerged from prison, to 2000 when (he claims) he finally gave up drugs smuggling for good. But whereas Mr Nice was all high times and jolly japes, Mr Smiley tells a much darker story. He came out of prison to find all his old contacts either dead, retired or turned police informers, and the Mallorca bars he used to frequent were under new ownership. And although he was thrilled to see his wife Judy and their children, Amber, Francesca and Patrick, after all his years inside, he soon realised that he and Judy had grown apart. She had had to accept a plea bargain in order to be released, which meant she could never get a visa to visit him in prison in the States.
He had decided in prison that he was going to stay sober and go straight, but his resolve soon weakened. Writing was all very well, but he missed the excitement of drugs smuggling. So, when he got wind of a possible deal, he threw himself into it again. But the drugs had changed and so had the atmosphere. Nobody wanted the finest Pakistani and Afghani hash that used to be his speciality — they were all growing their own — so he had to move into MDMA or ecstasy, which was controlled, not by old hippies like him, but by big criminal cartels. He believes that much of the Brink’s-Mat gold was laundered through the clubs in Ibiza. So he started importing MDMA, but with very little success and ended up burning his last consignment because it was contaminated. That was 10 days before the new millennium.
It is evident from Mr Smiley that his second go-round as a drugs smuggler was not nearly as much fun as the first. He seems to have spent most of his time alone, holed up in grim flats or rotting chalets waiting for phone calls that never came. He didn’t even make much money because most of his drug deals went wrong. “They all went wrong really, and I ended up disappointing people. It was a sort of trough in my life.” So why did he persist when, by then, he could have made money from writing? “Well, obviously in retrospect, I’d just got hooked on smuggling. I happened to be good at it and I did love it. And the temptation was always just one more deal.”
But he is such a good writer, I wish he had stuck to that. Some of the descriptions in Mr Smiley of the Marbella coast, its seedy bars and empty millionaires’ mansions, are almost worthy of Raymond Chandler. Supposing he’d written a successful novel straight after Oxford, could he have gone straight then or was the lure of criminality too strong? “Well, it turns out that the lure of criminality was too strong.” And as far as he’s concerned, writing is too much hard work for too little money. Mr Nice did very well, sold 1m copies and was made into a film (starring Rhys Ifans), but then he wrote a couple of crime novels, Sympathy for the Devil and The Score, which, despite good reviews, didn’t sell — “So that was an experiment that didn’t work.” He does care about money much more than an old hippy should. When I asked what he missed about his former millionaire lifestyle, he didn’t hesitate: “The millions!”
What was the best of the high times? “You mean the over-the-top stuff? Embarrassingly, my engagement party to Judy. We had a £500-a-week flat in Hans Court [in Knightsbridge] and I had a model train that took joints from one room to another and the only food was foie gras and caviar. Just silly stuff like that — I’m embarrassed to remember it. I was just behaving as a bit of a plonker — as most rich people do, I think.” He believes that money doesn’t make you popular, it makes you despised. “Because of course people eventually ask you for money — ‘I only need 10 grand’ — and you say, ‘All right, here’s 10 grand.’ But then they come again. And fortunes fluctuate, you know — sometimes you don’t have 10 grand. And then they feel you’ve let them down.”
The police were sure, when they arrested him, that he’d got millions stashed away in foreign bank accounts and they tracked most of them down. The rest, he says, went on paying lawyers, so that he was broke when he was finally released. He gave the house in Mallorca to Judy when they split up and she still lives there. It was an acrimonious divorce. She wrote a book in 2006 called Mr Nice and Mrs Marks, saying that he had been a bad husband, bad father and totally narcissistic. I thought she made her point. They still have phone conversations about the children and “sometimes the conversations are quite civilised, but generally it doesn’t take long for her to start complaining again — ‘And you were never there,’ and so on”. Whereas he is still friends with Ilze, his first wife, and also with Rosie, the mother of his first child, Myfanwy.
He made a will when he was diagnosed, leaving everything to his four children. “I also took a DNA test because there was another possible child, by the first girl I ever shagged back in Kenfig Hill. I didn’t meet her till she was 50, but her children used to come to my shows and say they were my grandchildren, and there was always some doubt. I would have included her in my will if she was really my child, but she’s not — I got the DNA results about three months ago.” He’s also had other people claiming to be his children turning up at his shows, but “they’ve always got the dates completely wrong, so they’ve all been ruled out”.
Since 1999 he’s been going out with a teacher called Caroline Brown, although they’ve never lived together. She is the reason he moved to Leeds. They were introduced by Ilze, who was teaching at the same school at the time. Caroline is “totally straight, highly bound up with education”, but she didn’t mind going out with a known drugs smuggler. “She had no interest in crime whatsoever and didn’t want to know. She wouldn’t understand the details anyway, even if I explained them to her.”
Whereas Howard is still a bit too interested in crime. Some of his best friends are criminals. “There’s some travelling gypsy drug dealers I like very much. And Freddie Foreman, I really like him.” Really? Wasn’t he a hitman for the Kray twins who admitted murdering two people? “Yes. You’ve seen The Long Good Friday — that was him. It was more to do with imposing order on complete chaos. Someone has to be the mediator, the organiser.” But Howard — he killed people! “I’m not judgmental. I’ve friends in the army who’ve killed people.”
He also liked some of the criminals he met in Terre Haute. “Especially the Mafia ones. I met far more of them than I ever did outside. And I was also impressed by some of the Colombian cartel runners. As usual, you make far better contacts in prison. And there was one Jamaican guy I liked very much. He’d been very high up in the army, but he overstayed his visa in the US and they put him in prison somewhere — and he burnt the f****** prison down! So then they sent him to Terre Haute. When I came out, I used him as my bodyguard at shows — not because I needed one, but because it’s such a cool look!”
He says his time in prison wasn’t too bad, mainly because he was a foreigner, but also because he heeded the advice his father gave him: take care of those less fortunate than yourself, and there were plenty of them. He helped them write letters and tried to teach them to read. A few years after his release, a black girl came up to him at one of his Mr Nice gigs, and said: “My brother was in prison with you and he talks about you often.” And she took the ring off her finger and said: “That’s from him.” He still wears it.
When he goes into a party or a crowded room, can he tell who are the criminals? “Usually, yes. They sit with their backs to the wall and size people up.” And does he do that? “No. I studiously avoid it. Because then people might think I was a criminal.” Ah. This is where I always come unstuck with Howard. I forget that he has never regarded himself as a criminal because he did not believe that importing cannabis should be a crime. “And the lack of violence, of course. That has always been important to me. Not only do you not kill anyone, you don’t endanger anyone’s life. They might end up in prison or something, but they are not physically harmed.” But if he believes this, how can he be friends with Freddie Foreman? His moral code is too complicated for me.
Daniel warned me beforehand that Howard tired easily and I promised that I wouldn’t keep him for more than an hour and a half. But when I was due to sign off, Howard asked if I’d like to come out for lunch. Of course. Will The Sunday Times pay? Yes, I told him, crossing my fingers. In that case, he said, we’ll go to the mafia restaurant — they have some very good wines.
I never found out why he called it the mafia restaurant, beyond that it was Italian, but, my God, it had some very good wines. A bit too good, I realised, when I caught a glimpse of the price list — Château Mouton Rothschild (£750), Château Lafite (£1,100). “Stop it, Howard!” I cried when I saw his finger hovering over the Brunello di Montalcino Biondi Santi, at £175. Oh, all right, he said, we’ll have the cheap version (£66) and the Rapitala Gran Cru (£36) to start. He ordered scallops and sea bass and I got irritated because he ate so slowly, but Daniel said afterwards that it was wonderful to see Howard eating a proper meal for the first time in months. The bill came to an intoxicating £267.
Over lunch, Howard gave me good advice on how to make my smartphone and laptop secure, recommending a messaging service, Telegram, which would auto-destruct any message I sent. But why bother? “Maybe you don’t have to, but I have to, for the sake of other people out there. I want to keep my connections with the criminal world, or some of them.” Why? “Because they’re funny.” And, I suppose, because he still nurtures the hope, the dream, of pulling off the world’s biggest deal. When I asked whether that consignment he burnt in the Mexican desert l0 days before the new millennium was really his last ever deal, he said firmly: “Absolutely, yes.” But then added: “Of course, if I’d come across a deal I thought I could get away with, maybe I would have done it… And maybe I’d do it now.”
I’m glad he’s incorrigible. I’m glad he has no regrets. But I’m also glad that he’s written a follow-up to Mr Nice. I always thought that book was dangerously seductive, and I used to worry about my daughters reading it when they were teenagers and thinking it would be fun to go out with a drugs smuggler. Mr Smiley certainly knocks that idea on the head. It has few laughs, no glamour, no romance — instead, a grimly realistic but beautifully written account of what a life of crime actually entails. I very much hope he makes it to the launch party — and that nobody offers him another deal.
“I Had Been Part Of Her Rampage”
Howard Marks recalls his fling with Lynn Barber, pictured at Oxford, and their first interview
Once upon a time they called me the largest dope smuggler in the world, the man who controlled a fifth of the world’s hashish and marijuana traffic — probably something of an exaggeration. But who was I now? Probably no more, in the cold light of day, than a half-remembered name from the tabloids, a name from the past; and after so much time inside, I had begun to lose sight of the confident, self-assured person I had been.
My immediate problems in those first months were mainly financial. Though there had been reports in the press since my release that I had stashed away millions in eastern European banks, I was in reality stone broke. All my Spanish accounts had been used up on legal fees, and the dozen other accounts I had kept for a rainy day in Switzerland, Sicily, Hong Kong and Thailand had all been tracked down by the DEA and local drug agencies during my incarceration and sequestered.
When an offer came through to me from the publicist Max Clifford to sell my story to the News of the World for £10,000, this helped in the short term; but though I had no objection to doing business with Clifford, whom I had always found pleasant enough in previous encounters, this sort of money was not going to last long. I also had debts to Balliol College, who had lent me money while inside to finance my daughters’ school fees. Selling more stories to other papers for a few hundred pounds helped me scrape by for another few weeks, along with writing some book reviews. When a friend from the old days, Lynn Barber, approached me to do an interview I wanted to charge her, but knew I wouldn’t get away with it.
As Lynn was one of the few people I had known before I went into dealing and smuggling — she had briefly been a girlfriend of mine — I hoped she might be useful in finding employment in the journalistic world, and I spent a lot of time trying to remember our past together as a way of getting back into her good books. But all that was coming back to me were the basic outlines: how we had met at the Kemp cafe, a student hangout, when Lynn had been the girlfriend of a leading student actor, Richard Durden-Smith.
After he left her for another starring student actor, Maria Aitken, Lynn, by her own account, had gone on the rampage, and I had been part of her rampage. To be fair, it had been the Sixties, and we had been stoned all the time, and a lot of girls were on the rampage. Lynn’s theory that you should have sex first to see if you were compatible must have paid off, as she’d met her husband, David Cardiff, while she was doing the rounds of the male campus, and they had been happily married for 30 years. During this time she had built up a reputation for well-observed psychological insights on her interviewees, finding out their less well-defended weak spots and hitting the mark; so I dreaded reading her piece about me, but most of it, thankfully, turned out to be harmless reminiscence and I felt I had been let off lightly.
© Howard Marks. Extracted from Mr Smiley: My Last Pill and Testament, to be published on September 24 (Pan Macmillan £18.99). To buy it for £16.99 (inc p&p), call 0845 271 2135 or visit thesundaytimes.co.uk/bookshop
CLEAR has been mobilising its members as never before to lobby their MPs in advance of the cannabis debate on 12th October.
There are honourable exceptions but most responses have been unhelpful, dismissive and have completely failed to deal with the arguments put forward. Most MPs are indoctrinated with the false reporting churned out by the press, scared stiff of the subject and not prepared to look any deeper.
It is a terrible indictment of these people, each of whom costs us about £250,000 per year in salary and expenses. Most simply do not do their job properly, certainly not in the interests of or representing their constituents, mainly they just pursue their own political ambitions and interests. They cannot be bothered to deal with the cannabis issue.
Usually, from both Tory and Labour MPs, the responses parrot the official Home Office line. Most are too lazy to inform themselves about cannabis and the facts and evidence around current policy which costs the UK around £10 billion per annum. This vast sum comprises a futile waste of law enforcement resources and the loss of a huge amount of tax revenue. It provides funding to organised crime, including human trafficking, and does nothing to prevent any health or social harms around cannabis. In fact, if anything it maximises these harms, endangering health, communities and the whole of our society by enforcing a policy which is based not on evidence but on prejudice. Source: http://clear-uk.org/media/uploads/2011/09/TaxUKCan.pdf
As Paul Flynn MP, said in the House on 14th September:
“There is [a debate] in a fortnight’s time, on a subject that terrifies MPs. We hide our heads under the pillow to avoid talking about it, but the public are very happy to talk about it in great numbers. That subject is the idea of legalising cannabis so that people here can enjoy the benefits enjoyed in many other countries that do not have a neurotic policy that is self-defeating and actually increases cannabis harm.”
Below I reproduce a reply from one MP. This is the standard MP line on cannabis. The words may vary slightly but essentially this is the response that the Home Office enforces and, irrespective of party, these are the disingenuous statements that MPs hide behind.
“I believe cannabis is a harmful substance and use can lead to a wide range of physical and psychological conditions. I therefore do not support the decriminalisation or legalisation of cannabis at this time.
I welcome that there has been a significant fall in the numbers of young people using cannabis, and the number of drug-related deaths among under-30s has halved in a decade and I would not want to see this progress undermined.”
Stating cannabis is harmful is meaningless and and an evasion of the question. Anything can be harmful. Such an assertion only has any meaning when in comparison to other substances. In fact, cannabis is relatively benign, even when compared to many foods. It is much less harmful than energy drinks, junk food, all over-the-counter and prescription medicines and, of course, tobacco and alcohol. Compared to these two most popular legal drugs, cannabis is hundreds of times less harmful. Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4311234/
If cannabis can lead to a wide range of physical and psychological conditions, what are they and how likely is cannabis to bring them on compared to other substances? In fact, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, whose publications are often presented as evidence of cannabis harms, states unequivocally
“There is no evidence that cannabis causes specific health hazards.”
There is a reported fall in cannabis use from the British Crime Survey. However, the Association of Chief Police Officers reports ever increasing incidents of cannabis cultivation and there has been a massive surge in the use of ‘legal highs’ or novel psychoactive substances. Without exception, these are far more harmful than cannabis and their very existence is the product of government policy. In places such as Holland and the US states that have legalised, there is no problem at all with such substances.
As for “drug-related deaths”, this is classic disinformation. What does it have to do with cannabis? Are our MPs so badly informed that they cannot distinguish between different drugs? Sadly, in many cases the answer is yes. Even so, this is a false claim. The latest figures show an increase in the number of drug poisoning deaths to the highest level since records began in 1993. So much for the claimed “progress”. Source: http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171778_414574.pdf
Just recently MPs have started to address the question of medicinal use, almost certainly because of the rising clamour from people in pain, suffering and disability. Also because the UK is now a very long way out of step with the rest of Europe, the USA, Canada, Israel, Australia and most ‘first world’ countries. Source: http://clear-uk.org/static/media/PDFs/medicinal_cannabis_the_evidence2.pdf
“I am aware that one of the issues raised is around enabling the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes. I know that cannabis does not have marketing authorisation for medical use in the UK, and I understand that the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency can grant marketing authorisation to drug compositions recognised as having medicinal properties, such as in the case of Sativex.”
A marketing authorisation from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is a deliberate diversion from the issue. Medicines do not have to have an MHRA marketing authorisation. Doctors can prescribe any medicine, licensed or unlicensed, as they wish. However, since 1971, medical practitioners have been specifically prohibited from prescribing cannabis on the basis of no evidence at all except minsters’ personal opinions. Source: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2001/3997/made.
Applying for an MHRA marketing authorisation costs over £100,000 as an initial fee and clinical trials have to be conducted at a cost of at least the same again. Instead, minsters could simply move cannabis from schedule 1 of the Misuse of Drugs Regulations to schedule 2 alongside heroin and or, more logically, to schedule 4, alongside the cannabis oil medicine Sativex. This would place the whole question of the use of cannabis as medicine in the hands of doctors and not in the politically motivated hands of Westminster. Isn’t that where it should be?
This is the most important short term objective of the cannabis campaign – move cannabis out of schedule 1. Not only would this enable doctors to prescribe Bedrocan medicnal cannabis as regulated by the Dutch government but it would mean research could start in earnest. The restrictions presently in place on cannabis, because it is schedule 1, make research very expensive, complicated and are a real deterrent.
If you haven’t lobbied your MP on the cannabis debate yet, you still have time to. If you can, get along and see them in a constituency surgery. Full guidance is provided here but you must act now: http://clear-uk.org/guidance-on-how-to-lobby-your-mp-for-the-cannabis-debate/
Most MPs run surgeries on Fridays so that means you have just this coming Friday, 2nd October and the following 9th October.
Please at least ensure you write to your MP. This is our moment and we are having an impact. Make sure you do your bit.