Posts Tagged ‘Parliament’
If the Government Won’t Regulate Cannabis Then We’ll Do It For Them
The CBD Market
Educating And Influencing Researchers
For cannabis and drugs policy reform, out of 650 MPs, there could not have been a worse person to seize power than Theresa May. There are a few who come close on both Tory and Labour benches but no one who has such a long record of bigotry, denial of evidence and refusal even to consider the subject.
To be fair, I am a member of the Conservative Party, which to many people involved in the cannabis campaign is a mortal sin but my advocacy is based on science and evidence, not tribalism or wider politics. In any case, though many find this fact hard to accept, there has always been more support from Tory MPs than Labour. Highly influential and senior Tory MPs such as Crispin Blunt, Peter Lilley and Dr Dan Poulter are powerful advocates for reform. I firmly believe that the only sustainable route to legalisation is commercialisation and the left wing, nanny state, anti-business types are already pushing the ‘Big Cannabis’ scare stories.
So what can we do and what are we doing to advance our cause in these dark days? Theresa May always has been secretive, inaccessible, unresponsive and entirely disinterested in any opinion except her own. How can we possibly make any progress with a PM who has already shown she is prepared to cover up or falsify evidence and defines herself by her belief in a supernatural power?
There is more support for cannabis law reform in Parliament than ever before. It is now official policy of both the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party. The support from Scotland is far more valuable than that from the discredited LibDems. With the added factors of Brexit and Scottish Independence, the SNP is in a powerful position to advance its policies. Also, in Ireland, both north and south, public support for medical cannabis reform is exploding. Michelle O’Neill, SinnFein’s new leader, has pledged medical cannabis reform if she is re-elected (though she has no power to do so!). Her negotiating position is immensely strong now that the problems at Stormont, the rise of Sinn Fein and the Brexit factor all combine to make a united Ireland a real possibility.
During the coalition government from 2010 to 2015, few doors were closed to us. Over that period, CLEAR conducted more meetings with ministers and senior politicians than the entire UK campaign had achieved in 50 years. Because we had support from the LibDems, and introductions from the Deputy Prime Minister, even Tory ministers were ready to see us, even if they were merely paying lip service. That all stopped with the election of a majority Conservative government and after Cameron stepped down the doors were slammed in our faces, bolted and double-locked. The campaign has been in the doldrums ever since. Or has it?
The last major achievement of the last few year’s campaigning was the release of the APPG report on medical cannabis in September 2016. Alongside it, Professor Mike Barnes, CLEAR advisory board member, published his review ‘Cannabis: The Evidence for Medical Use‘. To all impartial and reasonable observers, these documents should have initiated positive government action towards reform, even if it was only very limited in scope. But no, Theresa May didn’t leave it to Amber Rudd, her successor as home secretary, she stepped straight in herself on the day of publication, before she could even have read it and dismissed the report out of hand. This echoes the apocryphal story of James Callaghan, then PM, throwing the 1969 Wooton Report in the bin without even opening it. Such is the inertia and prejudice that has not softened at all amongst the bigots despite 45 years of science and research proving that there are better, safer, more beneficial options available on cannabis.
For now, individual lobbying of MPs is our only route to power. Over the years we have refined our approach to this and we know what works. Getting into ping pong correspondence with an MP is a waste of time. An initial letter or email needs to be followed up with a face-to-face meeting and a determined focus on getting a tangible result. What sort of result you should look for depends on your circumstances but getting your MP to arrange a meeting with a government minister should be your goal.
If you’re a medical user then you’ll want to meet a health minister, preferably the Secretary of State, if not a junior minister or perhaps an advisor to the Department of Health. Work with your MP to achieve the best result you can. Your MP doesn’t necessarily have to agree with you about cannabis but they should facilitate your communication with government, that’s their job. If you’re more interested in the economic or social benefits to be gained from reform, you could ask for an introduction to the Chancellor, a treasury or business minister, or someone at the Cabinet Office who is involved in policy development. CLEAR can usually provide someone to accompany you on meetings but this must be arranged in advance and agreed with your MP or whoever your appointment is with. Alternatively, we can provide advice over the telephone on how to approach the meeting, what to ask for and what evidence or supporting material to take with you.
If the Government Won’t Regulate Cannabis Then We’ll Do It For Them
With an intransigent government that does it all it can to evade engagement on this issue, there is more that CLEAR is already doing. If the government won’t take responsibility and regulate cannabis, then step by step we are going to do it for them. Someone has to, there is far too much harm and suffering caused by present policy.
The CBD Market
Through 2016 the CBD market in the UK really began to take off. These are products derived from industrial hemp, grown legally under licence that offer many of the therapeutic benefits of cannabis. They should, in fact, be more accurately termed low-THC cannabis as apart from crystals and a few, rare examples of isolated CBD, they are whole plant extracts and contain all the cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids and other compounds found in the plants from which they are made. Therefore they offer many of the ‘entourage effect’ benefits but with very low levels of THC. It was obvious though that this market was heading for problems. More and more dubious suppliers were starting up, many making brazen claims for the medical effects and benefits of their products and many without any product testing, quality assurance or honest customer service. The law was then and always has been crystal clear, you cannot make medical claims for a product without it being properly licensed or regulated. Inevitably, in June 2016 the MHRA stepped in and sent threatening letters to a number of CBD suppliers.
CLEAR took the initiative. We wrote to the MHRA requesting a meeting. We engaged with the leading CBD suppliers and our advisory board members Professor Mike Barnes and Crispin Blunt MP were quickly on the case. The story has already been extensively reported but now, nearly a year on, our efforts are coming to fruition. We led the approach to the MHRA and in the process created what is now the Cannabis Trades Association UK (CTAUK). It is now recognised by the MHRA, it has established a code of conduct and it is now the gold standard of quality, ethics and legality that can give anyone buying CBD products real peace of mind. There are still cowboys out there, making false claims, selling products that offer no real benefit and even endangering their customers with products that are illegal under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 or the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016. Now though, customers can go to the CTAUK website and choose a supplier that is operating legally, ethically and within the regulations that the industry itself has established. We expect the MHRA very shortly formally to endorse CTAUK members as legitimate suppliers of CBD products as food supplements.
Neither can we accept the government’s irresponsible and cruel policy towards people who need cannabis as medicine. So CLEAR has taken a further initiative. After Theresa May’s dismissal of the APPG report, we approached the Royal Colleges of medicine. We pointed out that whatever the government might say, around one million people are using cannabis as medicine. Doctors have a duty and an ethical responsibility to educate themselves on the subject and be able to provide properly informed care to their patients. Our efforts have borne fruit. Professor Mike Barnes and I have worked with Professor Nigel Mathers of the Royal College of GPs (RCGP). We will be producing a draft set of guidelines on medicinal cannabis for GPs which will go the next meeting of the RCGP Council and is planned for publication in June 2017. If the government won’t do it, we will and the medical profession agrees with us. This will be the greatest practical advance ever made in medical cannabis in the UK.
Educating And Influencing Researchers
The UK is the most prolific source of research into the harms of cannabis, particularly the tenuous links between cannabis and psychosis. Despite dozens of studies, mainly from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College Hospital, this has never been shown to be any more than statistical correlation. Most of these studies are confounded by tobacco use but the latest work from Professor Sir Robin Murray and his team shows an even stronger correlation between tobacco and psychosis than cannabis.
Across the world, UK scientists have become notorious for this scaremongering which seems little different from the ‘reefer madness’ hysteria. To be fair, much of this is down to the UK media which has barely advanced since the 1930s in its reporting. It provides the environment in which researchers are able to gain funding for research into cannabis harms but hardly ever for cannabis benefits.
CLEAR is now working with the Institute of Psychiatry to develop a new and more balanced way of surveying the effects of cannabis. Dr Musa Sami has asked us to advise on the construction of a questionnaire on which the Institute will base its future work.
When Mike Dobson first called me a few months ago and told me he had an idea for gaining legal access to cannabis in the UK, I was, of course, sceptical. CLEAR has frequently been approached with hare-brained and convoluted plans for avoiding the law that prohibits cannabis. Without exception they have all been bonkers.
Within a few minutes though, I could see this one was different. In the past, most of these ideas have been around sidestepping the law by claiming ‘freeman’ status, the suggestion being that statutes, laws made by Parliament, are only enforceable if you have consented to them in the first place. Some claim to have succeeded in using this to defeat charges for growing cannabis, even having their harvest returned to them by police. I can’t verify any of these stories but I’m quite sure the courts are littered with the broken dreams and delusions of those who have tried to go down this path.
The big difference with Mike’s plan, his ‘scheme’ as I like to call it, is that instead of evading, avoiding or dodging the law, it actually uses the law itself to provide legal rights to grow and possess cannabis.
The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 empowers the Home Secretary to issue licences in respect of cannabis. These could be for cultivation, production, possession, supply or any other activity such as import or export.
This scheme involves setting up a company to cultivate cannabis and produce cannabis products under licence from the Home Office – the ‘Licensed Supplier’. Providing the various licence conditions are complied with, the Home Office cannot unreasonably refuse such a licence. If it does then it will be subject to judicial review. The licence conditions that need to be met are security and the prevention of ‘diversion’ of the cannabis into illicit or unlicensed hands.
The next step is to set up another company where it and its shareholders, guarantors and/or members are licensed to possess cannabis – the ‘Membership Company’. Again, providing the licence conditions are complied with, the Home Office must issue a licence and if it refuses judicial review proceedings can be brought. Sensible and responsible rules must be put in place so that members only consume cannabis in private with necessary security precautions.
The genius of Mike’s scheme, now coming to reality with the first Membership Company, the Preston Cannabis Club, is that it uses the law exactly as it is intended, to ensure that the only people cultivating, producing, supplying or possessing cannabis are licensed to do so.
I have consulted informally with several lawyers and there is no doubt that this scheme holds promise. Whether it works out remains to be seen. CLEAR is putting its weight and support right behind the scheme as a responsible and lawful way to enable legal access to cannabis. I would expect initial resistance from the authorities but if we are right, it would mean Parliament would have to pass a new law to prevent this happening. In my judgement that is unlikely and, in fact, the demonstration of such a legitimate route to cannabis would get the government off the hook of its present, unsustainable policy.
Watch this space. CLEAR is now actively involved in supporting this venture and we will keep you fully informed.
Unsurprisingly perhaps, the response to the recent call from MPs and peers to legalise cannabis for medicinal use has come straight from the top. Theresa May’s longstanding reputation as a denier of science and evidence on drugs policy is reinforced by her peremptory dismissal of the expert report. It seems that, at least in the short term, the UK government is sticking by a policy that is discredited, ridiculous and deeply cruel.
It fell to Sarah Newton MP, minister of state at the Home Office, to respond to a parliamentary question from Roger Godsiff, Labour MP for Birmingham, Hall Green.
“To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, if she will respond to the recommendations of the report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy Reform Accessing Medicinal Cannabis: Meeting Patients’ Needs, published in September 2016.”
“The Prime Minister responded to the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy Reform’s report ‘Accessing Medicinal Cannabis: Meeting Patients’ Needs’ on the 27 October.
Cannabis is controlled as a Class B drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and, in its raw form, currently has no recognised medicinal benefits in the UK. It is therefore listed as a Schedule 1 drug under the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001.
It is important that all medicines containing controlled drugs are thoroughly trialled to ensure they meet rigorous standards so that doctors and patients are sure of their efficacy and safety. To do otherwise for cannabis would amount to a circumvention of the clearly established and necessary regime for approving medicines in the UK.”
In other words, this is nothing more than a re-statement of the same position that the UK government has held since 1971 when legal access to medicinal cannabis was halted. Quite clearly the government has given no consideration at all to the vast amount of scientific evidence and international experience that has accumulated over the last 45 years. The latest report which took nine months to produce, took evidence from over 600 witnesses and included a review of over 20,000 scientific studies is simply cast aside. To be honest, I doubt whether it has even been read by Ms May or anyone in the Home Office or Department of Health. This is the standard that now prevails in the UK – government of the people by an unaccountable, out-of-touch, unresponsive cabal of individuals elected by a deeply flawed system that gives democracy a bad name.
On the face of it, the claim that all medicines must be thoroughly trialled seems plausible – but it is not. It is a misleading half-truth clearly intended to squash the call for access to medicinal cannabis by painting a false picture.
Doctors are allowed to prescribe any medicine, licensed or unlicensed, as they see fit, based on their own judgement. But prescribing of cannabis is specifically prohibited by Statutory Instrument despite the scientific consensus that it is far less dangerous than many, probably most commonly prescribed medicines.
So it’s not a level playing field. It’s a policy that is based on prejudice and scaremongering about recreational use of cannabis. Ms Newton’s answer is at best disingenuous but then she probably doesn’t even realise that herself. For many years Home Office policy has been systematically to mislead and misinform on cannabis and evidently under Ms May’s successor, Amber Rudd MP, such dishonesty continues.
Something will eventually force the government’s hand to change its absurd position on cannabis. Sadly the very last consideration will be scientific evidence or the will of the people. Such factors hold no sway with UK governments. Only when enough of the political elite open their eyes and examine their conscience, or some key individuals or their family members, experience the need for medicinal cannabis will change become possible. Alternatively, political upheaval may present an opportunity. The Liberal Democrats were too cowardly, weak and concerned with building their personal careers when in coalition to advance the cause they now so bravely advocate. Perhaps the SNP, with 56 MPs, all in favour of medicinal cannabis may be our best hope.
Sarah Newton is merely a puppet of the Home Office bureaucracy. Theresa May’s mendacious position on all aspects of drugs policy is well established and she is as stubborn and bigoted as they come on such matters. Only when she, in person, is subject to sufficient pressure will this cruel, ignorant and hateful policy change.
It suits supporters of Netanyahu’s gangster regime to characterise any and all opposition to it as anti-semitism. It’s also true that much of that opposition and emotional outrage is badly framed and expressed so that it can be easily or deliberately misinterpreted as opposition to the Jewish people and their religion. But the Israeli regime itself plays fast and loose with the confusion between state, race, nationality and religion. It twists and distorts anything to justify its apartheid policy and genocide of the Palestinian people.
Personally, I see very little anti-semitism. In fact I cannot remember the last time I saw any words, behaviour or actions that could properly be described as such. On the other hand there are daily examples of the brutal discrimination, oppression, murder, land theft and extra-judicial execution of Palestinians.
So I call total balderdash on the invented stories of anti-semitism within Labour. In this instance, I believe Jeremy Corbyn and Shami Chakrabati are absolutely in the right. Of course, there are the loony left extremists in Labour who are a danger to the whole of our society. They undoubtedly push their delusional agenda of a Jewish banker mafia but they are bonkers anyway. We all have to deal with their idiocy on a daily basis. The far greater danger they pose is their already-achieved elimination of any effective parliamentary opposition.
No, the accusations of anti-semitism, including from the Home Affairs Committee, come from the pro-zionist apologists for Israeli war crimes. I really don’t believe that amongst decent, honourable British people of all political persuasions, there is any significant anti-Jewish prejudice or actions. Obviously I’m not saying it never happens but it’s largely Israeli government propaganda.
The answer is to root out the corrupt Israeli lobby in the UK Parliament and in US Senate and Congress. Stand up to Netanyahu and the despicable conduct of so many in the Knesset. Give the Israeli people back the freedom to live in peace with their neighbours and for the nation to flourish without the hatred and oppression which constrains it today.
CLEAR is the largest drug policy reform group in the UK with more than 685,000 registered supporters. It was formed in 1999 and its main aim is to “To promote as a matter of urgency and compassion the prescription of medicinal cannabis by doctors.”.
Crispin Blunt is a graduate in politics from the University of Durham and an ex-Army officer. He has represented the constituency of Reigate, Surrey as a Conservative MP since 1997. He is presently chair of the foreign affairs select committee.
He commented on his appointment:
“I am pleased to join the board of CLEAR. It is wrong that people with a range of conditions are missing out from medicinal benefits of cannabis because of the UK’s out-of-date drug laws. We need a new approach and a sensible regulatory system to support patients and their healthcare professionals in accessing safe and effective medicinal cannabis products.”
Mr Blunt’s appointment comes a few days in advance of the publication of a Parliamentary report on medicinal cannabis. It is to be announced in the House of Lords, committee room 2 at 11.00am on Tuesday 13th September 2016. Alongside the report, Professor Mike Barnes, the world-renowned neurologist, who is also a member of the CLEAR advisory board, will be publishing a comprehensive review of the evidence of the medicinal applications of cannabis.
Peter Reynolds, president of CLEAR, said:
“This is what we need, a forward-thinking, Conservative MP, Crispin Blunt, alongside an eminent scientist and clinician, Professor Mike Barnes. Very shortly, we will also be appointing a human rights barrister to our advisory board. We aim to shake up the cruel, anti-evidence policy that denies British people access to cannabis as medicine. The UK is in the dark ages on this compared to most of Europe, the USA, Canada, Israel and Australia.”
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.