Ex Head boy kills himself due to outdated cannabis laws

By Clark French

Edward Thornber who sadly killed himself over court summons for tiny amount of cannabis.

Edward Thornber

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.

Devon and Cornwall PoliceAlthough 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.

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  1. This isn’t about the law around cannabis, it demonstrates more about this kids mental stability that, at 17, he wants to kill himself because of a court summons. Shame on you for using his death to further your cause.

    • The “justice” system is medieval, draconian and completely unjust. Most people are fairly aware of this, and the stories about what goes on in prisons are pretty horrific. If you’ve ever been incarcerated you know that the truth is even worse than fiction at times. This child was afraid of the isolation, imprisonment, violence and often rape that go along with getting sentenced to prison. Then when people get out they get to enjoy a lifetime of struggling to survive because their criminal record precludes them from much of “decent society”. He didn’t know what was going to happen to him, just that all of it was bad.

      Was his reaction appropriate? No, not really; it is however understandable if you take a less Pollyanna view of what being dragged into court for a drug possession charge actually means.

    • It IS about the law around cannabis and anyone with any amount if intelligence can see that. This is absolute proof that anti-cannabis laws do MUCH moreharm than good. Tell us all what good this summons did?

    • Shame on you for saying such idiocy. Yes, if Cannabis was legal, he would have had free access to the MOST MEDICINAL PLANT ON EARTH, and certainly would still be around us. And SHAME on the VICIOUS LAWS OF CANNABIS PROHIBITION, and everyone supporting such nonsense.

    • Shame on the system that let this happen. It is a difficult and tragic story. But it is true that without cannabis prohibition there would have been no court summons in the first place. I do not think it is shameful in anyway to point out the obvious.

  2. I support the legalization of cannabis 100% and I am sorry but this has barely anything to do with cannabis and is not appropriate for this website. I will say the same as I said to the mainstream media stories, you do not know this person and his reasons for killing himself, it has been loosely connected to the possession of cannabis but that simply would not be enough to drive someone to suicide, without further problems. This is in no way beneficial to the cannabis cause. The amount of youths which are arrested for cannabis possession is uncalled for, and unjust but nobody in their right state of mind would think it’s worth killing themselves over what would be a relatively short term stay in a low risk offenders institute if anything, but more likely he would walk away free than the hundreds of, particularly black and lower class youths this happens to all of the time. Seriously, this doesn’t do much for the cause. I don’t believe anyone can truly know this persons reasons.

  3. ” Shame on you for using his death to further your cause ” ? . BOXXY – You say that now but if one of your kids ( if you have or plan to have any ) kill themselves for being caught with a small amount of cannabis I wonder if you will still hold the same view as quoted above . His mothers age change in the law is futile as if caught a year later when he was 18 he might still have killed himself there is no difference in a 17 and 18 year old . I agree with Clark that his mother has totally missed the point and made no difference because she went after the wrong law .

  4. sadly both answers are correct – it seems to be a reflection of his mental state and an indictment of our society’s attitude to drugs. All the campaigning and fear tactics did not instil a fear of cannabis in this young man only a fear of being caught.
    My condolences to all involved

  5. And all of u people harping on we gotta watch out for our kids,well I bet u wish for safe access now sorry for ur loss it didn’t have to be like that if these polititions would get off there ass and do what they need to do SAFE ACCESS,

  6. And how long is this gonna drag out til u people in congress figure out the money, and where it goes meanwhile the people have spoken loud enuff for Safe Access just do it and get it over,or u will have more deaths u can’t hold back on what the people want,,

  7. Poor kid, I find it hard to believe a drug charge would be a direct cause in this case. It by no means should be included on this board even it was the trigger to his unstable ending. This is a mental health issue that was missed.

  8. As a Psychologist and a firm believer in the legalisation of many recreational ‘drugs’, particularly marijuana, I felt I had to comment on the above story.
    Whilst I wholeheartedly agree that to be summoned to court for possession of a personal amount of marijuana is completely unfounded and wrong, I feel it is unfair to say that ‘…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.’
    Every human being has the innate basic instinct for survival, and for a human being to take their own life, demonstrates a much more deeply rooted Psychological issue than that aforementioned.
    The stress of receiving the wrongful court summons may well have been ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back’, but I don’t doubt that there will have been a number of other factors that contributed to this young man’s suicide.
    I have smoked marijuana for 8 years and I am aware, as many others are, that drug induced psychosis does exist, for pre-disposed individuals. This is not to suggest there is sufficient grounding for the plant to be criminalised; as I feel no ‘weed smoker’, no matter how prolific, could ever do themselves the equivalent physical or mental harm that an alcoholic could, with a legal substance.
    But, perhaps, if this young man was regularly smoking marijuana, and was predisposed to mental instability, that could have played a part?
    In short, what I am trying to say is that although the court summons was completely unfounded (as I believe all laws surrounding marijuana are), for this to cause suicidal tendencies in any human suggests much deeper rooted Psychological issues. And I do believe this story should not be being used to further the case for marijuana legalisation. If anything, it could dramatically reduce the credibility of what is an extremely valid cause and argument.

  9. If there were no shame in cannabis use then he would not have killed himself. The U.S. government is at fault for decades of mind-control propaganda which convinces people to feel ashamed about having control over one’s own body.

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