The Blog

Open Letter to Winston Matthews - Prisoner Number A8167CK

Dear Winston Matthews, Words simply cannot express how I felt when I learned of your incarceration.

Dear Winston Matthews,

Words simply cannot express how I felt when I learned of your incarceration. You are currently serving 16 months in prison. Your crime? The cultivation of cannabis to treat your pain. Like many, you are more than aware of the harmful legacy that pharmaceutical drugs can bestow; those that have been locked in a long term struggle with illness can empathise in just what prescribed drugs can do to one's body. Many prescribed drugs - especially painkillers and anti-inflammatories - are organ toxic. The decision to use cannabinoids as an effective and comparably safer source of relief is an issue that those with any degree of humanistic integrity do understand. I have yet to come across a single person that still advocates the imprisonment of cannabis users who suffer with M.S, AIDS, cancer, M.E, crohn's, Parkinson's, chronic pain, and an array of other life-affecting conditions.

There is a folly of belief in this country that cannabis users have been decriminalised. Moreover, the general populace is seemingly fully unaware that those with conditions that I've previously mentioned still do receive the full weight of judicial reprisal. Within my public travels of drug policy, I still have to relay the arduous facts that the disabled and chronically ill are still in harm's way of the current law, and fully face the repercussions of imprisonment; when met with this oblique aspect of justice, a true sense of disdain emits from every person that I have met with. You, Winston, point out to this country that we do not have just laws that serve to protect the vulnerable.

Despite the medical and scientific world attesting to cannabis' benefits in the treatment of pain, and a number of other ailments, the UK government have abjectly failed to investigate this area and decided to put up roadblocks at every given opportunity. It falls to you, Winston, to reap the misfortune of a scientifically illiterate and questionable regime.

Your imprisonment is stringently opposed by an array of organisations and senior opinion formers; this is inherent within the broad remits of groups such as: Transform, Release, Beckley Foundation, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Drug Equality Alliance, RE:Vision Drug Policy Network, and the Global Commission on Drug Policy that includes eminent members such as Sir Richard Branson and Kofi Annan. It may be of further interest to the UK public that Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, LEAP, also do not support that incarceration of any non-violent drug user; LEAP UK speakers are comprised of senior police personnel.

You have qualified and prominent supporters on your side, Winston.

Are you aware, Winston, that as you serve 16 months in prison, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies - one of the oldest and most respected global health organisations - have recently supported reforms to our drug laws? You may have also missed Sir Ian Gilmore's recent article in the British Medical Journal. Sir Ian, the outgoing president of the Royal College of Physicians, has once more tried to engender an appropriate discussion on drug policy. Sir Ian has backed reforms for many months now. It's somewhat ironic that the Government took heed of Sir Ian's distinguished advice with regards to alcohol minimum pricing; they've basically said, "We need to listen to Sir Ian Gilmore, his advice should be implemented." -- For once, I'm inclined to agree with the Government; the advice of Sir Ian should be heeded and not cherry picked to suit arbitrary policy.

It's fairly apparent that I am emotionally invested in your case, Winston. Many ill persons face one of two options: preserved and prolonged life by choosing a comparatively safer method of symptom control, or face the loss of liberty. Not to mention, the families & loved ones who also suffer and face equal punishments simply through being supportive in the quest for self-preservation. It's of obtuse irony that the law is, questionably, now on your side too. The new Sentencing Council Guidelines firmly state that medical mitigation should be a factor when sentencing a cannabis possessor or cultivator. Your sentence was handed down before these new guidelines came into affect. This said, it still doesn't stop a few rogue judges interpreting their own laws and embarking on capricious crusades.

The only positive that's come from your loss of liberty is that I have bear witness to your friends, family, and people that don't even know you, that have banded together to raise awareness to your plight. They have rallied to your aid by sending you letters, offering an array of support, and tried there utmost in rectifying your invidious situation. There's copious campaigns and Facebook pages in humble attempts to assist you in your next battle of financial stability. These are the hidden costs of our drug laws.

I have poured over the minutia of your 'crime' - I still fail to see any victim other than yourself. You decided to grow your own source of cannabis so as to sever links to criminality and to avoid enforcing the black market; your self-sufficiency served only to give you a longer sentence. You cultivated within the privacy of your own home, and had no affect on any other person -- your only desire was to treat your pain. As stated, I am yet to meet anyone who agrees that the ill and infirm should go to prison for autonomy in their symptom relief. The UK Government are increasingly out of touch with their constituents: a recent poll by the Liberal Democrats for Drug Policy Reform confirmed that 70% of the public support reforms to cannabis laws. Our Government are certainly behind the rest of the progressive world who are readdressing their drug laws. You, Winston, serve as a reminder to this country that we are far from a fair and just society, and for this I am truly sorry. My only hope is that you can act as a catalyst in evoking the national discussion that we truly need. I wish you well for your appeal on April 19th 2012 and hope justice will finally be served in your release.

Yours sincerely.