Cannabis Hypocrisy Protest is huge success!
By Sarah McCulloch
NORML UK undertook to organise the ¨Bedrocan Stunt¨ when it was founded in May 2012. It is something that many activists and groups have talked about for some time, with good reason. The current legal situation is beyond ridiculous. One can import and use herbal medical cannabis legally in Britain, under the terms of The Schengen Agreement – Article 75, as long as, and only if, you have residency in a country where Bedrocan herbal cannabis products are available on prescription. We wanted to highlight this point.
The demo took longer to realise than anyone initially envisaged. Finding EU residents with a prescription of Bedrocan who were willing to come to Britain for the day and use cannabis outside our seat of government was not an easy process and was time consuming. We identified four potential patients, and eventually whittled down to one, who was able to attend. A few weeks before the demo, the patients personal plans changed. Peter Lunk got in contact and agreed to take the place of our other patient. On Monday, two days before the protest and due to a paperwork error, Peter informed us he could no longer attend.
Fortunately destiny handed us a gift and at the 11th hour another patient, with Dutch residency and full paperwork, contacted us to say that she had read our article and wanted to help. As someone who doesn’t usually participate in protests, she wished only to be known as Ms X, which we have agreed to abide by. Ms X has Multiple Sclerosis and uses prescribed Bedrocan to ease her symptoms. The protest was back on and in full effect!
The organisers were there bright and early at the crack of midday and set up our little quadrant of tables and banners. The demo commenced with the NORML UK team and supporters chatting to the public and answering journalists’ questions. The patients who were legally entitled to be in possession of medical cannabis in the UK, Ms X and three patients with Sativex prescriptions, all posed for pictures and discussed their conditions with interested people. Clark, our Medical Campaign Director, also gave numerous interviews about his status as an MS patient, how cannabis relieved his symptoms and his struggle to source it legally here in the UK.
Music was provided by Leon Mook, and there were many photographers snapping away, as well as several documentary film-crews gathering footage. The protest had been timed to coincide with Prime Minister’s Questions, when we had been advised most MPs would be in London to attend. Speeches, from Clark, Greg and Stuart started at quarter past one, when we figured people would be heading out of the House and past our demonstration.
We approached several politicians, not every one of whom we got the names of but all of whom were receptive to our message and willing to discuss the subject with us. Oliver Colville MP attended briefly after an invite from one of his constituents, a member of NORML UK. We also spoke to Lord Brooke (a Labour life peer), who dropped by to see what was going on. Possibly our biggest name, and sadly one we didn’t get a photo of, was Lord Prescott (formerly Deputy Prime Minister under Tony Blair), who stopped for a few minutes to chat to Al about the issues around medical cannabis, and specifically, what changes we wanted to see. Somewhat surprisingly, he seemed quite interested.
Throughout the day we made contact with several politicians and representatives of all political parties, and where we were invited to, will be arranging further contact with those MP´s who expressed interest. We used up our remaining leaflets at the end of the day to hand out to people passing through the gates of Parliament, which we hope aroused some curiosity and has given us a few ideas for future demos.
You may have noticed, there are many photos and reports from attendees, but very little from the mainstream press (other than Guido Fawkes and whatever fortunate journalists were reporting from outside Parliament on Sky News Live that day, as we were visible in the background). As we know, there is a huge bias against cannabis in the mainstream media, and while it’s relatively easy to get yourself on for a debate where opponents can dismiss what you have to say, they’re not so keen on positive news stories.
NORML UK won’t stop trying. Nick Clegg stated publicly on BBC Three’s Free Speech programme the same evening that he believed we should end the war on drugs. We like to think that he had us in mind when he was filming, presumably earlier on in the week. Cheers Nick!
We are extremely grateful to the people who gave their time and effort to make it happen. The Cannabis Hypocrisy Demo working group comprised Jo, Al, Stuart, Sarah Lesley, Chris, Clark and Greg, who all pitched in and spent untold hours researching and planning the wheres and whys of it all. Thank you also to Rupert at Release for all of his advice.
THANK YOU SO MUCH to Ms X, who popped up at the very last moment when we were just about to pivot our demonstration focus to Sativex. This made the day the success it was and is what happens when you are honest and open with your membership.
Thank you to everyone who attended, leafleted and talked with passers-by and the press about why we were demonstrating also to those people who joined NORML UK and bought merchandise. We recruited a dozen new members, raised enough funds to cover the costs of the demo, and of course, engaged with hundreds of members of the public and the political class. We would not have made such an impact without you all.
Thanks also to the police, who largely left us to our own devices. Even when the police did come over to tell us that Black Rod (Lieutenant-General Arundell David Leakey, who is responsible for the maintenence and security of the Houses of Parliament) had ordered us off the land, they gracefully gave in and went away when we pointed out that we were actually on public land and Black Rod had no authority over who could use it. But thanks for trying, General Leakey, nice to know that knowledge of our protest was noted at the highest possible levels!
Putting together a demonstration of this nature takes time. Selecting a suitable location, finding patients, ascertaining a mutually convenient date that we could do while Parliament was in session, checking the laws to make sure the police couldn’t shut us down, buying merchandise, writing and printing leaflets, contacting the press, and publicity, publicity, publicity. Much of this has prepared NORML UK for the future, where we will be able to organise demos with greater ease and speed, especially now we have the prerequisite banners and high-vis jackets. We now know the layout of the area and have the experience of this demo to call on, we are making plans for at least one further demonstration near Parliament, where we can engage in more targeted dialogue with law-makers.
The NORML UK board and team will be meeting shortly for a full debrief, and to plan some campaigns for the winter months, when it is too cold to protest outside. We’ll be following up with the politicians that we met with at the demonstration, and organising the second public meeting in the north of England. We have plans beyond that into 2014, but we won’t disclose them until we have confirmed all the details. We do not wish to give our members and supporters false hope.
Rest assured, NORML UK is on it. 🙂 Join us here.