Norman Baker MP has taken the unprecedented step of calling for a rethink of the medicinal utilisation of cannabis. Never before has the UK spoken in such unbridled terms. The government, however, wasted no time in reaching for the stock reply: "We have no plans, *insert generic harm statement* we're winning the war on drugs...blah..." - Basically, any homogenised scrawl will do. We're now at a point where we can have sweepstakes and buzzword bingo based on the Home Office's vapidly generic response.
So, where to start? How best to address a genuinely tricky subject such as medicinal cannabis? Should I throw up a thousand dry and chewy references to peer reviewed studies? I probably should, but from experience it doesn't tend to go down too well. Do we unpick the stitching of the political arguments? This will take more than a blog post to achieve. This then drifts me towards testimony, but how can you tell a life's tale in under thousand words? How do you convey the tumultuous existence of severe ill health? You can't, so I won't. It's not too good for pride to have to spill one's life across a page for the sake of getting a point across, but this is still what we are forcing, as Norman Baker would say, "credible people" to do as they open up about their most private of situations simply so they can engender the conversation needed to highlight the issues of criminalisation of therapeutic cannabis use. I often liken current drug laws to a trawler net, indiscriminately trudging the silty depths of a persecuted ocean of souls.
In The Guardian piece that details Norman Baker MP's letter to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Norman uses language to indicate that he actually understands; no longer is the issue of cannabis use among those with chronic illness reserved for caricatures. Shock, horror, no way, it turns out that ordinary people use cannabis too. Imagine that? Now imagine further, if you will, that even the middle classes use cannabis, many of whom do so to control symptoms from illness. Surely this is the stuff of treason? You'll permit my sarcasm, but one quickly becomes aware that no one actually cares. It's a non-issue. I don't mean to insinuate that no one cares in a cold hearted way, no (well, maybe yes), I just literally mean no one really disputes the issue in polite society. Most people now have a loved one, family friend, a case study -- many of us know someone that's burdened by serious health problems that derives an element of relief using cannabis. Many of us know tales of dear Grandmothers using cannabis in their baking. It's a shrug of the shoulders issue, maybe even a giggle, but we still labour under the weight of criminalising our loved ones who choose this road of therapeutic autonomy. Make no mistake, criminal charges are not something that we can be equally complacent over. This has all become purely political, and while the Conservatives feed carrots to their moral high horse, it's for others to get heavily dumped upon from a great height simply through political apathy.
Little is spoken about in the actual life altering effects that cannabis use can have. In the upcoming film, The Culture High, a documentary that features Sir Richard Branson, Snoop Dogg, Rufus Hound, and many more, a story is followed that may well prove to be quite shocking; these wounds run deep indeed. The prohibition of cannabis has indiscriminately hindered the medical progression of its properties to a near unforgivable degree. Sometimes you have to see the problem to connect with it.
Last month in Brighton I was invited as a panel member alongside Caroline Lucas MP, Professor David Nutt, and Clark French to launch the UPA - United Patients Alliance. Clark French is a young man with M.S whom I've interviewed in the past. Clark has been instrumental in Norman Baker's recommendation and is working with the documentary GrassRoots in efforts to highlight his personal plight. Speaking at the UPA launch, a group designed to act as a union for those with illness that find benefit in cannabis, Clark spoke about his experience in his international travels to obtain the quality of cannabis needed to help with his condition.
"Cannabis allows me to have a good quality of life as an MS patient. After I returned from California, I didn't need my walking stick for a full year."
Since being back in the UK, and reliant on black-market conditions, Clark has relapsed. "My condition has steadily deteriorated and I'm back to using a stick. People like me shouldn't have to travel halfway across the world." Clark goes on to say, "Cannabis prohibition causes enormous suffering to people living with serious medical conditions. Other countries have recognised the medicinal value of cannabis for decades, now it's time for the UK to catch up."
Co-hosting the Brighton UPA launch was 29 year old epilepsy sufferer, Keiron Reeves.
"I was diagnosed with a condition called petit mal in 1988 and throughout my childhood I don't remember much from my childhood and I put this down to the prescribed medication. I didn't get the chance to ride my bike and join in like other children did and this made me feel very isolated as a child."
After using a cannabis oil, Kerion found his seizures were in decline and his quality of life improved to a level that he had never experienced before. "I feel much healthier and more confident in addressing everyday tasks like washing, shopping, tidying, all those things most people take for granted. I owe this all to cannabis. I don't feel that I should have to risk a criminal record just for trying to have a normal life."
We clamour for justifications, to quantify criminalisation of drug possession, we often resort to the mawkish tales of a flimsy 'what if'. We look to how the messages of harms fit the already written and intended rhetoric, but we don't allow a retort with an equally emotive prose based on realism. The disadvantaged sufferers of the 'war in drugs' are as vast as they are diverse; attempts at justify criminalisation inevitably results in a frenzied vision of a drug free utopia. We have to understand that there is no hypothetical here, we're dealing with the cold steel of reality that slices down the artery of society, sparing no social demographic, and rarely granting leniency to any individual. When we don't even blink an eye at threatening the disabled and disadvantaged with a 5 year prison sentence, then we have surely detected a conspicuous impairment in our collective moral judgment. This is but one reason that indicates that the war in drugs has jumped the shark. Who knew that ordinary credible people were criminals too?