By Sarah McCulloch
To my mind, drug law reform has always been a different sort of thing from cannabis law reform. Drug law reform is usually a step removed from drug use, whereas relatively few people involved in cannabis law reform are not cannabis users. I think it’s for that reason that cannabis law reformers have often gotten a bad rap as drug law reformers globetrot getting paid to talk about how we need to legalise heroin.
Like most of the attendees, I thoroughly enjoyed the NORML UK AGM and Conference. What I was most struck by, though, was that so many of the speakers were from what we would conventionally consider drug law reform, rather than cannabis law reform – speakers like Tom Lloyd, an adviser to the International Drug Policy Consortium, or Annie Machon, former MI5 intelligence officer and now head of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition Europe. It was very powerful to listen to them, and their stories, and their advice to us as a movement.
I’ve been to a lot of drug policy conferences in the last five years, and I always come away better informed, connected and enthused. NORML UK’s bash was no exception. There is no substitute to meeting up in person – no amount of Facebook chat or blogging can make up for a single meeting where activists can get together in a room to share ideas and shoot the breeze. I felt so energised at the weekend meeting activists doing great work from all over the country, from Devon to Scotland.
As well as the credibility bestowed on NORML UK by having such renowned speakers come to our Conference and speak to our members, I also felt that there we had earned that credibility through becoming the national public face of an increasingly strong and well organised social movement. As someone who has been an activist in various movements since I was 14, the best piece of advice I can give anyone wanting to promote their cause is to “make some noise”. It is the loudest, and not necessarily the largest, group that gets the interest, as we can see happening at the moment with the numb-nut EDL. Ultimately, the “only” way that we are going to see cannabis, and any drug, legalised in this country, is when our law-makers do not fear retribution at the ballot box. The British people have to support our cause. And in increasing numbers, they are.
You can see it in the Hyde Park smoke-out this year, when numbers swelled to 10,000. You can see it in the Cardiff March, which doubled its attendance on last year to 1,600. You can see it in the steadily rising polls. The tide is turning relentlessly our way. Why hasn’t this translated into legislation? Well, politicians and policy-makers tell us privately all the time when we’re lobbying them that they support the legalisation of cannabis in theory, but politically it can’t be done. We have won the argument, but the war continues.
It is therefore up to us to bring public pressure to bear so that it not only can be done, it “must” be done.
There’s strength in numbers. No-one wants to be left out of the party. As more and more people march, protest, and frankly, smoke up, and the more ordinary people see that and have the reefer madness myths dispelled in front of their own eyes, the more the support for ending Prohibition snowballs. And the more we see our numbers swell, the more encouraged “we” feel about getting things moving. Marches and smoke outs are as much for our own benefit as activists, as for the press and the public. We need to know that we are not alone. And if we happen to be realising that 10,000 at a time, so much the better.
So we must keep marching, we must keep protesting, and where possible, people should admit and talk about their drug use openly. This year, 100 people came to our conference, 2 film crews and 5 journalists. Next year, we could make it 200 people, 5 film crews, and 20 journalists. We can build a force to be reckoned with in public discourse.
Bottom line, the only way we will see control and regulation, and patients able to grow their own medicine, and communities free of drug-related crime, is to NORMLise the use of cannabis. Join your local Cannabis Social Club, join NORML UK, and let’s “organise”. We can do this.