Cannabis Hypocrisy Protest labelled a huge success, athough mainstream media blackout would suggest otherwise
By Deej Sullivan
The fight for fairer treatment and more sensible laws for cannabis consumers was taken all the way to Westminster last Wednesday as an estimated three to five hundred people descended on Parliament from all over the country to attend NORML UK’s Cannabis Hypocrisy Protest.
The purpose of the event was to highlight the blatant hypocrisy and discrimination present in UK cannabis laws. Under current legislation it is illegal for any citizen of the UK to possess or consume cannabis, despite the fact that under the terms of the Schengen Agreement it should be possible for a medicinal user in this country to obtain a prescription for cannabis from a country with a less archaic view of cannabis, and bring it home to the UK to consume without hassle. Our Government however have decided, in their ultimate wisdom, to interpret this agreement in a different way to every other country that signed up to it. For some reason our elected representatives have decreed that whilst it is lawful (albeit difficult) for a medicinal user from, say, The Netherlands to bring their Bedrocan prescription to the UK for 30 days, it is unlawful for a UK resident to do the same.
The main reason for this is presumably that the Government don’t want to lose face. According to their scheduling system for drugs, cannabis has no accepted medical value. So to allow patients to use it would undermine their position and make them look silly. Except that they already allow people to use it in the form of Sativex, a tincture of whole cannabis extract suspended in alcohol with a dash of peppermint. So to any sensible person they already look fairly silly at best and utterly inept at worst.
One of the problems with Sativex, aside from the fact that it can cause irritation and mouth ulcers in many of the people who use it, is that it is extremely expensive. As a result most Primary Care Trusts refuse to allow their GPs to prescribe it. Only around 10% of Multiple Sclerosis sufferers in the UK have been able to access this drug, despite scientific proof that it can be extremely effective in combatting the symptoms of this awful and debilitating disease.
Yesterday’s protest highlighted these hypocrisies by bringing together people who use cannabis to treat a wide range of illnesses (as well as for recreation), and individuals who are allowed by law to use either Sativex or Bedrocan in this country. One group are labelled as criminals by the Government and society, whereas the other are free to use their medication without the stigma of criminalisation and everything that goes along with it. Present at the protest was a UK national with Dutch residency (who asked to be named simply as Ms X) and patients who are lucky enough to live in a postcode where they can be prescribed Sativex. In real terms there is no difference between these individuals and those of us who are prohibited from using cannabis and are forced to do so with the threat of arrest and incarceration permanently hanging over us.
The protest itself started just before midday, when the team from NORML UK arrived to set up an information stall and a few banners and flags alerting the general public to our presence. The numbers quickly rose as a great many supporters began to arrive from all over the country, and were swelled further by the constant stream of people heading to the information stall to find out what the commotion was all about and ask questions. Many of these curious people stayed for a smoke, and at least 50 signed up for more information, with plenty even choosing to become members there and then.
Because the protest was held during Prime Ministers Questions, when most MP’s are ‘at work’, there was plenty of opportunity to speak to those people who actually make our laws. Throughout the day recognisable faces were spotted from past and present cabinets, and were promptly given informational flyers and asked questions about their views on cannabis. Among them were John Prescott, Lord Brook, Ming Campbell and Charles Clarke who all went away with some new information to ponder. In addition to those, Oliver Colville, MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, came over for a chat and agreed to raise the issue of medical cannabis use in Parliament. A meeting is in the process of being arranged with myself to discuss how best to word his question to the Prime Minister.
One of the highlights of the day were the speeches given by NORML board members Greg de Hoedt, Clark French, and Stuart Harper. All three spoke with great passion and enthusiasm to a large and appreciative crowd, and even managed to inject some humour into what is in reality a very serious subject. Perhaps the most well received was Clark, who is himself an MS sufferer and has been denied Sativex by his PCT on the basis of cost, despite them being willing to pay thousands of pounds for a form of chemotherapy which could leave him in a coma. This is an absolutely outrageous state of affairs and is something that hopefully made a few people think differently about what we are trying to achieve.
Later on in the day a group of NORML activists moved to one of the main entrances to parliament and handed out a large number of leaflets to members of the public and any MPs who were entering or exiting the building. The response was largely positive but a large number of those leaving refused to take the information being offered them and one even shouted the age old claim that cannabis ‘causes schizophrenia’ and another stated that one of his friends ‘died from cannabis’, the usual ambiguous rhetoric churned out by the grossly misinformed leaders of the country. Clearly there is still much work to be done educating people to the scientifically established facts!
Overall the day was considered a great success. The turnout was excellent, there was no trouble from police or anyone else (other than two police officers who tried to tell us we were on private land, but swiftly left after being schooled by the ever-energetic Alan Pavia), and our key messages were delivered to a lot of people who will now go away with a better knowledge of the hypocritical and discriminatory nature of current cannabis legislation. There was even a very moving and poignant moment at the end of the day when a group of Ghurkhas, who had been holding their own protest around the corner, walked past College Green. Everyone still at the NORML protest promptly stopped what they were doing, turned and applauded. It was a great example of solidarity between two groups of people who have been treated unfairly by a Government that claims to act in the best interests of its citizens but which in reality upholds laws which cause more suffering and harm to the populous than they prevent.
Allen St Pierre, Executive Director of NORML US, said of the protest; “NORML commends the men and women of NORML UK for conducting a creative, peaceful and informative press conference featuring medical patients who stand to therapeutically benefit from having legal access to physician-recommended cannabis products.
“With ten European Union countries currently allowing their citizens with a medical need for cannabis to possess a legal source for the herbal drug, Canada’s adoption of medical laws over a decade ago and now twenty of America’s fifty states allowing patient access to medical cannabis, we strongly encourage the current British government and its regulatory agencies to create viable, affordable and safe avenues for the UK’s sick, dying and sense-threatened medical patients who possess a physician’s recommendation to access cannabis,” said Mr St Pierre.
Thank you to everyone who attended and made the protest the great success that it was, we look forward to seeing you at future events as we continue to fight against the UK’s unjust and destructive cannabis laws.