Posts Tagged ‘Oliver Letwin’
This is the astonishing reality of the way the UK government is responding to the national outcry for access to cannabis as medicine. They are doing absolutely nothing.
Across the world a revolution is taking place as more and more jurisdictions are introducing legal access to medical cannabis. Medical professionals and patients alike are realising the huge benefits to be gained from re-opening access to this most valuable of medicines. Scientific research is proving beyond doubt that cannabis is a safe and effective medicine for a wide range of conditions. Many pharmaceutical companies are investigating different cannabinoids, extracts and therapies. Most of all, citizens are demanding access to a medicine that has been denied to them for no good reason and that can improve, even save the lives of people of all ages, from the baby with severe epilepsy to the grandparent suffering the effects of aging, even dementia. Cannabis can help improve and maintain good health in all of us.
Yet the UK government is not considering the evidence. Despite even a year long Parliamentary inquiry which recommended permitting access, the Department of Health has not considered nor even asked for any expert advice. My Freedom of Information request has established this beyond doubt. See here: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/395319/response/965315/attach/html/2/1078680%20Reynolds.pdf.html
I have been pressing my MP, Sir Oliver Letwin, on this issue ever since I became his constituent two years ago. Early on he was an extremely powerful cabinet minster, generally recognised as number three in the government after David Cameron and George Osborne but he was swiftly sacked when Theresa May became prime minister. He has already announced he will not stand for re-election to the next Parliament.
To be fair, Oliver has always listened to me politely and attentively. We have met on about half a dozen occasions and we frequently exchange emails. He has been more responsive to me than I had hoped and to begin with he told me he was investigating what was happening in government about the subject. His answer was that the evidence has been considered, expert advisors have been consulted and ministers have concluded that there is not a good case for reform.
I have pressed him again and again, shown him reams of evidence, shared stories with him from across the world, both of scientific research and patient testimonies. While always courteous towards me he has remained resolutely opposed. I could have given up long ago. Indeed, when I asked him why can’t we simply leave it to the professional judgement of doctors whether to prescribe it or not, he gave me an answer straight out of a ‘Yes Minster’ script. He said: “But then they would prescribe it.”
At the beginning of this year I asked him once again for assistance in putting me before a minister to advance my case. He replied:
“We have discussed this issue before, but I am happy to set out the reason why I will not support your proposals. The Department of Health have, as you know, considered this issue, have taken advice on it from their professional public health advisors, and have concluded that the gains in healthcare arising from the legalisation of medicinal cannabis (as opposed to cannabinoids) would not be sufficiently great to outweigh the risk of abuse.”
It seems that, at best, Sir Oliver is mistaken. I have written to him again asking for comments on the FOI response.
Whatever reply I now receive, I urge everyone to get on to their MP about this. It is a scandal. There can be no doubt that it is irresponsible and negligent that the Department of Health is so clearly failing in its duty to the country. That’s not to say how very cruel and inhumane this failure is or how much money legal medical cannabis could save the NHS. Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Health, must be called to account for this.
In a letter dated 15th August 2016, Amber Rudd, the new Home Secretary, has invited CLEAR to raise “any queries and concerns” about present UK policy on cannabis. This is the first time since 2006, with Charles Clarke, that the UK cannabis campaign has had any direct contact with a serving Home Secretary. It reflects the reality, now recognised in government, that changes in cannabis policy are imminent.
In recent months, there has been a manifest and significant change in attitudes within the Home Office. We have seen this through the process of obtaining a low THC cultivation licence for our partnership with GroGlo Research and Development. The response from the drugs licensing department has been enthusiastic. There has been no difficulty with our declared purpose of producing CBD oil for sale as a food supplement and we are now in detailed discussions on our application for a high THC licence, looking towards clinical trials for a medical product for chronic pain.
As soon as Theresa May announced that Amber Rudd would be heading up the Home Office, I contacted my MP, now Sir Oliver Letwin, thanks to Cameron’s resignation honours list. Although he will not openly support our campaign, in the past year or so he has been very helpful indeed, meeting with me on roughly a monthly basis and helping me navigate through the Conservative government. He has now put me in direct contact with Ms Rudd and I will be preparing a written submission as a preliminary to a face-to-face meeting.
In accordance with CLEAR policy, our first concern is how we can enable UK residents to gain access to medicinal cannabis on a doctor’s prescription. In practice that means Bedrocan products as there is presently no other source of prescribable, consistent, high-quality, herbal cannabis. I would expect that to change very soon though. Both Canada and Israel look like potential near-future sources. GW Pharmaceuticals is undoubtedly considering entering the market and our venture with GroGlo could shift gear depending on how quickly UK policy changes.
We will also be addressing the need for wider reform and a legally regulated market for adult consumers. Although medicinal access remains the top priority, there is no doubt that more overall harm is caused by prohibition of the recreational market. It is this that creates the £6 billon per annum criminal market which is the cause of all the social harms around cannabis. This will need to be handled much more carefully as, due to nearly a century of misinformation and media scaremongering, many people still retain great fear as to what legal cannabis will mean.
The one thing that has been very lacking in the cannabis campaign is pragmatism. Most campaigners for recreational use continue to be lost in a swirl of ‘free the weed’, teenage angst, outrage, revolution and delight in being a rebellious outlaw. That was until 2011 when CLEAR introduced a new approach which has led to more engagement with government than ever before. The emergence of the United Patients Alliance and now the End Our Pain campaign has helped this but these campaigns are focused only on medicinal use
The fact is that we need to work with Theresa May’s government and the anti-Tory tribalism that many still adopt is nothing but an obstacle to reform.
In addressing Ms Rudd, our overall strategy for wider reform will be:
1. A final separation from the ridiculous ‘free the weed’ movement and ‘stoner’ groups which are incapable of understanding how they are seen and despised by wider society.
2. Differentiation between medicinal use and the more controversial legalisation for adult, recreational use.
3. Shift public attention onto scientific and medical evidence rather than the very poor standard of media reporting.
4. End the fake policy that says ‘cannabis is dangerous therefore it must be regulated’. Educate that nearly all the harms around cannabis are caused by its prohibition, not by cannabis itself.
5. Emphasise the importance of harm reduction information, education about excessive use and essential investment in treatment for those who do suffer health harms.
6. Clarify that decriminalisation is no solution and is a dangerous option that would probably increase harm. The product needs to be sold within a properly regulated environment, careful that over-regulation would support a continuing criminal market.
Would that we were in spring looking forward to a splendid summer. Instead, in mid-July we are heading into autumn towards what looks like a stern, drab and ominous future. Theresa May is prime minister, perhaps the worst nightmare for those who seek cannabis law reform.
You have to admire her first few days though. What you see is what you get. She is smart, calculated and very, very certain about the nature of the government she will lead. I have no doubt she has a softer, caring side and there is testimony to that effect from those who support her. She is a strong woman, she will be sympathetic to people and causes that she chooses but ruthless and absolute against those she opposes. Our problem is that, as confirmed by both the National Audit Office and Public Accounts Committee, evidence has nothing to do with it. Theresa May’s drugs policy is based on her personal opinions and even the plight of those in chronic pain and disability is unlikely to change her mind even on the medicinal use of cannabis. I remember Norman Baker told me that she simply does not comprehend that cannabis can be a legitimate medicine. The very idea is anathema to her. It is beyond her comprehension. The daughter of a vicar, who attended a convent then a grammar school, she has a lot about her that suggests piety, reserve, self-discipline and control. Admirable qualities but lacking perhaps in empathy with modern lifestyles and values.
But this is a fresh start. Amber Rudd, the new Home Secretary, is cast from the same mould as Ms May. My MP, Oliver Letwin, himself disposed of in the new cabinet, has already written to Ms Rudd and asked her to see me. As of today, CLEAR represents nearly 700,000 registered supporters, equivalent to the electorate in more than eight parliamentary constituencies, so I think she has a good reason to give me a few minutes. I will continue to press for a meeting until she or one of her junior ministers agrees to see me.
It can only help that I am now a fully paid-up member of the Conservative Party. I made this decision shortly after the EU referendum and I have also joined the Conservative Policy Forum which works to influence Conservative Party policy from the grassroots. I will be advancing the cause of medicinal cannabis and wider drugs policy reform as quickly and effectively as I can through the party’s established channels. Whether it is a short or long game, it has to get started now.
I do believe this is the best way forward for the cannabis campaign. I will work from within the party of government to try and influence change. It is more than likely that the Tories will be in power for the next 10 years, if not more. Now is the time to get involved, face our opposition, engage with those who have power. Every other UK political party is in disarray.
When we relaunched the Legalise Cannabis Alliance as CLEAR Cannabis Law Reform in 2011, we brought a totally new, professional approach to the campaign. Others have followed and there is now a significant group that understands how to use professional lobbying techniques. The greatest achievement of this has been to get the Liberal Democrats involved and although there remains great resistance amongst party members in the shires, the leadership is very much onside. Sadly, the party itself is as far away from power as it has ever been and, in my view, has swung widely off course in a futile and misguided effort to reverse the referendum result. Such whimsical strategies have always been the LibDems’ problem. Unless a political revolution suddenly makes Corbyn a serious contender then there will be no other party in power but the Tories. This is where we must invest time, effort and all our resources. We must understand how to turn Tory aims, ambitions and viewpoints to our advantage. Which arguments will work and how do we get them across?
Although we now have a more professional campaign and several individuals with real ability, now is not the time to revert to talking amongst ourselves. Conferences, meetings, documentary films and events are all very well but they almost exclusively preach to the choir. Just like the demos and protests that have at last ebbed away, they make those involved feel good and they ramp up morale but they do little to create change. This is no way to make progress. I will ensure that CLEAR is on the front line. It is those who oppose us that we need to be talking to, not those who already agree with us.
At the same time, specifically on medicinal cannabis, our focus must be on the medical profession. We published ‘Medicinal Cannabis:The Evidence’ just over a year ago and it has added real credibility to the campaign. In a few weeks when the APPG for Drug Policy Reform publishes its report on medicinal cannabis, Professor Mike Barnes will release his own review of current evidence and it will become the definitive work on the subject. CLEAR will be taking this to GPs all over the country, to the Royal Colleges and particularly to those working in pain management. We already know that thousands of doctors endorse their patients’ use of cannabis for chronic pain, it is time to bring this out of the closet. Doctors and nurses have literally been terrorised into keeping quiet about cannabis. We have first hand knowledge of Home Office officials warning off doctors who have tried to assist their patients by prescribing Sativex off label or recommending Bedrocan. This must stop. We must equip the medical profession with the evidence it needs to be able to do the best by its patients.
I know many will be downhearted by this new government but change is always a good thing. It offers us the opportunity to renew our campaign. Most important, we must walk towards the enemy, not hide in our bunkers, fearful of their response. All over the world, mainstream opinion is turning in favour of cannabis as medicine and wider drugs policy reform. Now is the time to step forward, to do all we can to educate and inform those who are still in the dark. I have set out above what CLEAR’s new strategy will be. Please join us. Become a member. Sign up here. Your first duty? Make an appointment to see your MP. This is the most effective thing you can do. We will publish new guidance in the next few days on how to prepare for and conduct these meetings.
Jo Cox is a martyr to British democracy. Why have we had taken from us one who was clearly so worthy when so much of Parliament is comprised of the venal and self-serving? Many MPs will not even meet their constituents if they do not like the questions they have to ask. I have too much experience of MPs refusing to meet or assist their constituents who need access to medicinal cannabis. Some are cowards who avoid controversial issues and disrespect their constituents’ views. Jo Cox was the very opposite and we must hope that some good comes from her sacrifice.
I saw my own MP, Oliver Letwin, just a couple of weeks ago and I wandered into this picturesque folly on the side of a church in Beaminster and there he was, no security, no entourage, not even a friendly bobby on the door. He saw me through the window and called me in. Is such informality, such casual access to a senior government minister, to be lost, even in deepest, rural Dorset?
We have no reliable information yet on the killer’s motivation but I see that has not stopped almost instantaneous and divisive speculation. What is certain though is that the febrile atmosphere of this referendum campaign has brought more tension and division into our society than I have seen before.
I said this to Oliver when I met him. His response was that this is democracy and the very nature of a referendum. That is true but I do believe that the tactics used on both sides of this campaign have engendered far too much hate in Britain. For many this has caused great fear and confusion, particularly for the feeble minded or those that are easily led and can have their emotions inflamed by rhetoric.
The disgusting behaviour of the stinking-rich oaf Bob Geldof, abusing hard working and courageous British fishermen who have seen their livelihood devastated by the EU. The vile UKIP poster of a queue of migrants released just a hour or so before Jo’s murder. Nigel Farage is greatly to be admired for his determined and principled work but this poster is a mistake and inflames racial tension.
Most of all though, I blame this almost hysterical upsurge in hatred on Cameron’s Project Fear. He and Osborne told people we would be alright if we left the EU and everything would be be OK, we could make our decision without fear that either choice would be a catastrophic mistake. Immediately though they have engaged in a campaign of terrorism, predicting chaos, disaster and mayhem if we vote to leave. Osborne’s scaremongering about a post-Brexit emergency budget was the nadir of Project Fear. He has stepped so far over the line that he will never command the trust of the British people again.
I have already submitted my postal vote and it is #VoteLeave. I know it is the opposite of what Jo Cox would have voted but I pay tribute to her as a politician who stood for democracy and, in my view, that is what this referendum is about. It’s not ‘…about the economy, stupid.’ Neither is it about immigration. It’s about self-determination and being governed by people we elect, not faceless, unaccountable bureaucrats.
A House of Commons full of MPs with the sincerity and good faith of Jo Cox would be my ideal. I believe that is what we should work towards, not abdicating our responsibility to some out-of-touch superstate, not led into servitude by a self-serving, elite of privileged politicians who rely on fear and scaremongering and try to intimidate us into a vote that is not freely chosen.
From: Peter Reynolds
Sent: 09 March 2016 15:00
To: Oliver Letwin
Subject: Conduct of Tory MPs at PMQs
The disgusting behaviour of your colleagues in the House today was shameful. They demean Parliament and our entire political system, not to mention the elected government and, most important of all, our nation.
The spectacle of these pompous buffoons conducting themselves in a manner that would be unacceptable from primary school children is just too much. It appalls me and, I am sure, all decent people throughout the UK. They are pigs rooting in a trough of self-indulgent hypocrisy. Each one of them could do with 24 hours in a cell to contemplate their behaviour which is far worse than some drunken yobbo vomiting in the gutter after a binge drinking session.
That all Cameron can do is smirk makes the whole matter worse. His failure to act makes him the most culpable oaf of all.
Please ensure that my views are communicated to the prime minister, your colleagues in cabinet and other Tory MPs.
This must stop.
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.
Oliver Letwin MP is, according to The Independent, “probably the most powerful person in the government after the Prime Minister and Chancellor”.
He is the Cabinet Office minister with responsibility for the implementation of government policy. He holds the ancient title of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. He is a member of 13 of the 14 Cabinet committees and chair of three of them, more than anyone other than Cameron. He is now chair of the most powerful of them, the Home Affairs committee, which Theresa May would have expected to chair and he also sits on nine of the 10 new “Implementation Taskforces”. Cameron is said to have told him “I need you with me every day”.
An extraordinarily powerful and influential man. I met with him last week to put the case for reform of policy on medicinal cannabis. He listened attentively, asked searching questions, evidently has a good understanding of science and medicines regulation. In the end, he agreed to ask Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Health, to meet with me and a delegation of medicinal cannabis users. We agreed that the Home Office is no longer the route to reform. The word is that if the Department of Health calls for a new policy then the Home Office will comply. Theresa May has been sidelined on this issue. Her minister of state for drugs policy, Mike Penning, seems to be nothing but a mouthpiece for Home Office civil servants. Quite properly and at last, medicinal cannabis is being seen as a health issue and not one of law enforcement or criminal justice.
So we could not have a more important opportunity. Mr Letwin has now confirmed to me in writing that he will “..investigate the question of prescription cannabis for relief of medical conditions. I will start the process of talking to people in MHRA, Public Health England and so forth to try to get a sense of the pros and cons.”
Although he has not yet indicated to me that he supports our cause, he seemed particularly perplexed that cannabis is a schedule 1 drug whereas heroin is schedule 2 and may be prescribed by a doctor. It is clear that he recognises there is medicinal value in cannabis.
To have Oliver Letwin pursuing our cause through government is great progress. Although the loss of our Liberal Democrat allies has been a setback, it seems that the issue of medicinal cannabis has momentum. We need to keep on keeping on. Nothing works better than getting in front of government minsters and showing them that most people who use medicinal cannabis are responsible members of society, doing the best they can to contribute, holding down a job where possible, looking after their families and trying to maintain their health.
I sense that the optimism we felt before the election was not misplaced. Engaging with government, turning away from irresponsible protest and putting our arguments forward with courtesy and evidence is what will achieve our goal.