By Clark French
Teenager Edward Thornber from Didsbury, Manchester seemed to have the world at his finger tips. He was an ex-head boy, a talented lacrosse player and, at just 17 years of age, had a long life to look forward to.
Edward tragically hung himself two days after wrongly receiving a court summons for being caught smoking cannabis in Cornwall in 2011. Nigel Meadows, the coroner, concluded that there was no direct link to the death by Devon and Cornwall police. Pannone LLP, the law firm acting on behalf of the Thornber family, believe that he should have only been given a caution and have said that “there were at least seven opportunities to spot and rectify the error that was missed”.
Edward’s death epitomises how wrong the current laws surrounding cannabis in the UK are. It is a complete tragedy that someone as young as Edward, and with such great prospects, could have been so distraught from receiving a court summons that he could take his own life. While I do not think that a 17 year old should be smoking cannabis, this tragic death does raise the question – would the same thing have happened if cannabis possession was not a crime? Would his family have had to go through such an ordeal when they lost Edward? The simple answer is no. If the possession of cannabis was not a crime Edward would not have been the target of any court summons in the first place, and would not have hung himself after receiving the summons.
This is a textbook case of the harms of prohibition and shows exactly why NORML-UK are seeking to change the law. Edwards mother Ann said “we want to ensure the failings in procedure that we believe ultimately led to our son’s death do not happen again and lead to another tragedy”. Here at NORML-UK we stand in solidarity with the Thornber family. It is extremely important to point out that cannabis prohibition actually creates much stigma around using cannabis.
Despite the scientific community continuously rating cannabis’s harms as less than those of caffeine and prescription medications such as Ritalin; the media and government continues to spout all sorts of anti-cannabis propaganda to try to justify the current laws which cause much more harm than cannabis itself. This is creating a real problem where people will end their lives rather than face that stigma.
Edward’s mother Ann has led a successful campaign to get the home office to change the law regarding 17 year olds in custody. One of the factors behind Edward’s suicide was the fact that, as a 17 year old, he was treated as an adult. This meant that no parent or guardian was informed of his caution; something which Edward’s parents believe would have saved his life, as he would have been able to talk through what had happened rather than suffering in silence. The fact his parents campaign has lead to the law being changed is a great achievement and shows that people with determination can make a difference.
Although the story has had a lot of media coverage, one question no one has asked, is ‘why was he issued a court summons for cannabis in the first place?’ He would not have if it had been alcohol he was caught with, so why then was a 17 year old given a court order for something that causes less harm then the legal alternatives? While I applaud his mother for the work she has rightly put into campaigning for the law to be changed, I feel she and the media at large have ignored the fact that if cannabis possession was not a crime in the first place then this tragic loss of someone so young would never have occurred.
A 17 year old should not have been arrested for possessing 50p worth of cannabis – nobody should have to suffer the traumatic experience of being summoned to court for a crime which has no victim. It is abundantly clear that the laws regarding cannabis have lead to the tragic loss of someone so young.