Tuesday, 1 December 2015

In Response to Tom Lloyd of the National Cannabis Coalition

Tom Lloyd (respect) wrote an article explaing why he feels it better to focus first on increasing availability of cannabis for medical purposes and below is my reply: 

Hi Tom: in your article you say " achieving legal access to cannabis for medical purposes for all is much more likely to be achieved sooner than legal access to cannabis for “recreational” purposes. " Thus perpetuating the myth that "recreational" use is not medically beneficial and that "medical users" do not take cannabis "recreationally" and furthermore that there should be some distinction in law and Human Rights between people that claim there use is purely one or the other, and you have neglected the religious or ritualistic, social users.

As I have said before, I know many people who may have called themselves recreational users but later in life realised medical benefits, myself included, as well as many of the leading campaigners; I also know people that use cannabis primarily for easing medical conditions who go on to use more cannabis simply to get high.

I do not understand, apart from the compassionate mitigation, why people should technically be regarded as a medical user up to the point where they get high, or a recreational user up to the point they relalise medical benefit or need. To me it unduly complicates matters.

In 1971 cannabis was banned as a medicine and one of the reasons given that it was being "misused" recreationally - hence the "Misuse of Drugs Act".

I can only see that the distinction when calling for medical cannabis will result in just that - more extracts and derivatives produced and marketted by pharmaceutical companies - as the Minister promised at the end of the cannabis debate in parliament recently.

You liken it to answering the questions you found easiest first, in exams. Yes we do that and for me it also worked well. But you say also "in case we run out of time". But surely there is no time-limit on repealing bad law? That cannot be a reason to focus on what "you" see as the easiest task first. To a person in dire medical need, clearly medical access is more important; to a man that has lost his freedom, job, maybe future career, insurance, travel experiences, maybe medical access is less important.

Certainly in The Netherlands, Portugal, Uruguay, now Jamaica and Canada, and some states and countries, "medical access" has not proceeded general law reform. In others it has.

But increasing medical access does not mean allowing people to grow their own, just as medical access to opiates has never eased the law on poppy cultivation and opium production.

Increasing medical access, if it comes first and leaves general decriminalisation behind, will whilst increasing the possibility of prescription products (noting how difficult it is for some people to get Sativex and the reluctance of even Dutch doctors to prescribe Bedrocan, will indeed remove the mitigation for those in dire medical need who cannot get the prescriptions and choose to grow their own, whilst leaving everybody else without the "acceptable" medical needs out in the cold.

An umbrella is supposed to protect us from the rain or sun. Should an umbrella be used to protect some first and hopefully come back later for the others, now wet (punished) when what we really want and need is an UMBRELLA THAT WILL COVER ALL.

Tom, you wrote "Frankly, it’s easier to arouse public empathy for a suffering child or disabled adult being helped by cannabis than it is for someone who “simply” wants to get stoned. That may not be fair, but it’s reality."

Yes it may well be easier to arouse public empathy for a UK suffering child than a foreign one stuck in the desert miles away, beyond our vision or experience, that not being fair but being a reality - but is it JUST? The easiest route, the route of less resistance, would be to sit and do nothing at all.

You wrote "successive governments have operated in an evidence-free zone. " That must be changed before any laws are being changed, not by any attempt to side-step, and that may well mean a new Government.

So how about a campaign based on Justice, or lack of it, when punishing a person for possession or cultivation for own use, where there are no victims, whatever the acclaimed reason for use, parallel for public empathy with a similar situation with, say, mint, or coffee? How about revealing the injustice in the punishments?

So in my life I chose to use cannabis - I suffer from no dreadful ailments as far as I know - I am not a follower of any religion or cannabis-ritual. Today I have a pain in my back, I use cannabis and the pain goes away. Tomorrow I have no pain, I use cannabis to get high. I know of no doctor outside of California that would give me a prescription for cannabis just because I woke up today with a pain in my back.

Fred has MS. He finds greater relief from smoking cannabis. He feels much better. He does not feel he needs cannabis right away for his MS. He decides to use cannabis to "get stoned" (another phrase for feel better). How should the law treat him if he is found growing cannabis?

Tom, you wrote "Once medical use of cannabis becomes widespread I’m sure that the resistance to consumption for all other purposes will fade much more quickly."

So is there a case where that has happened? I speak of opiates and opium again. Legal access to medical opiates has been with use for decades, yet it has led to no easing of the law on possession of opiates or heroin. Cocaine also. Amphetamines too.

In fact it has simply reinforced the false distinction between users and put the medicines firmly into the hands of profiteering drug companies.

You cannot have an umbrella group that appears not as an umbrella but simply as a campaign to enable sick people to get umbrellas prescribed by doctors whilst others get punished for even trying to make their own shelters from the storm.

Tom, respect what you are doing, retain your sympathy for those that are sick, but maybe more sympathy for all that have been, are being and will be, unjustly punished; until you have that sympathy we cannot expect the public to share it.

The pharmaceutical companies realise the potential profits just as did GW and their share-holders: I attended a share-holders meeting once, on behalf of another; there was no mention of cannabis medicines except GW's Sativex - it was ALL about money!

Those businesses have power to campaign for the legalisation and acceptance of their products, they do not need our help and they will not help us either - campaigning for general easing of the law could, if successful, bite into their profits if we can all legally grow our own.

I would like to see a group actively campaign, as a first step, for a halt to punishing people for possession or cultivation for own use unless there is a victim shown.

I believe that would be a true umbrella movement.

AS it stands, NORML, UPA, to some extent UKCSC and even CLEAR, dreadful as they are, focus mainly on medicinal users and NCC is running the risk of being seen as doing the same - it is in my opinion and umbrella group for medical cannabis campaigners and as such maybe should be looking for support in the drugs industry.

In reply to  https://tomclloyd.wordpress.com/2015/11/19/cannabis-for-medical-purposes-first-a-winning-strategy/

Cannabis for medical purposes first – a winning strategy?

One of the many things I have learned in my time as a drug policy adviser is that there is considerable room for improvement in the way in which we campaign for change. I could ponder the effectiveness of different tactics such as public demonstrations in the form of picnics, public consumption of cannabis to commemorate key dates and signing petitions. I could, but I won’t.   Instead I want to look at the aims of drug law reform with particular reference to cannabis and how best we can focus the campaign.
I’m pretty sure that we all want legal access to cannabis for adults and legal access to cannabis for medical purposes for all. Of course, while closely linked, there are two clear and separate aims articulated in that vision for a better future. That presents us with options for developing a successful strategic approach; do we concentrate on both, or one at the expense of the other or do we time our efforts to deliver consecutive rather that concurrent impact? How best should we shape our campaigning strategy so that we achieve maximum change in minimum time?
Years ago, when sat for academic exams (with some success I modestly add!), I followed the wise advice from my father to read through all the questions, choose which ones to answer and then do the easiest ones first as your brain, subconsciously, got to grips with the harder ones. That system also meant that you didn’t run out of time, and lose certain marks, to write down the answers that you knew. In other words concentrate on the “easy” wins as a priority.
I see a real parallel in the campaign for cannabis law reform. In my view, and following the example of significant progress in the US, achieving legal access to cannabis for medical purposes for all is much more likely to be achieved sooner than legal access to cannabis for “recreational” purposes. I do not say that one is more important than the other, although that could be argued, as both are about unjust restrictions on human behaviour, but I do say that aiming for an “easier” target makes sense provided it does not harm the chances of succeeding in the more challenging quest.
Although there is a growing body of evidence to show that prohibition is a hugely costly, counter-productive and harmful failure facts alone are not enough to deliver change; successive governments have operated in an evidence-free zone. We need to go further and engage with people’s imaginations, arouse their emotions and empathy through telling compelling stories about real people. Of course we have to marshal the facts to challenge the lies, myths and distortions of the past 40 or so years of media coverage but our approach should also appeal to emotion and compassion in order to deliver change. Frankly, it’s easier to arouse public empathy for a suffering child or disabled adult being helped by cannabis than it is for someone who “simply” wants to get stoned. That may not be fair, but it’s reality.
I know there will be some (many?) who will feel that a narrow strategy focusing on medical use alone would be a betrayal of the many millions who do not consume cannabis for medical reasons. My argument is that this approach will hasten, not slow, the opportunity for legal enjoyment of cannabis for the full range of reasons: enhanced spirituality, creativity and enjoyment of music for example, as well as for relaxation and calm. Think of it, perhaps, as a wedge driven into the wall of prohibition at its weakest point; bringing the whole edifice down with the minimum effort, maximum impact and in the shortest time.
A focused, determined campaign to achieve legal access to cannabis for medical purposes could unite the cannabis law reform movement, harness tremendous energy, expertise and commitment and, after decades of lack of progress, deliver the change we all want and need.
Once medical use of cannabis becomes widespread I’m sure that the resistance to consumption for all other purposes will fade much more quickly.
I’ll now stand back to await the cries of protest that I’m sure to have provoked…

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