Regular readers will recall a piece we published at the end of 2016 by Able Magazine reader, Harvey Leo, a passionate campaigner for cannabis law reform. In her latest piece for Able, below, she outlines what happened when she managed to get the politicians and other key players in Scotland round the table.
By Harvey Leo
It finally happened. Not quite as planned but we got there in the end. On Thursday April 27th at 9am, the Scottish ‘Dream Team’ meeting took place at the Parliament Buildings, Holyrood on medicinal cannabis reform. Getting everyone in the same room at the same time proved to be more difficult than expected but, with a lot of perseverance and a little help from someone on the inside, the meeting went ahead.
As I put together my final preparations on Wednesday night the magnitude of it all finally hit me. This was it, we’ve got this. That’s when it all started to go wrong. At 8.30pm and 8.45pm I got two cancellations, one of whom was the photographer for the day. My heart sank. Don’t panic, we can work round it. The schedule was rejigged and everything was re-worded and re-printed, I was ready. Then the email pinged. It was Scottish Labour calling off at 11.03pm, 10 hours before the meeting! I wanted to crawl under my covers and cry myself to sleep. Was anything else going to go wrong? Of course it was…
Edinburgh has got to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world; shame about the traffic. Six months of busting guts and bursting blood vessels to set up this meeting and I was late for it. Not just me, half the meeting attendees too. Not a great start but it couldn’t be helped, sometimes things just don’t go to plan and we all had a chuckle about it. When we finally got going there was no stopping us.
I had a great response and received some pretty amazing support after the last article was published in Scotland’s Able. There was the odd insult and the occasional attempt at sabotage thrown at me but nothing that made me lose any sleep. One comment I read in a post really puzzled me though. “I agree that cannabis can be used to alleviate some symptoms but what really OFFENDS me is the cannabis oil brigade who claim it kills cancer. My sister has cancer and is going through treatment right now, I would love for there to be something that kills it but there just isn’t”. It is beyond me why anyone would take offence to this. If she had said ‘I’m angry that my sister can’t have this’, I would have completely understood. Why would anyone be offended at another person saving their own life?
On that note, I would like to introduce a very experienced and fully paid up member of the cannabis oil brigade and member of the dream team, Lynn Cameron. The first thing I want to say about Lynn is that she looks remarkably well for a woman who should be dead. Lynn was given a death sentence when she was diagnosed with a stage 4 glio blastoma multiform brain tumour, known in the medical profession as the terminator because it only comes in stage 4. After combined chemo and radiotherapy doctors told Lynn there was nothing more they could do for her and that she had 6-18 months left to live, so she took matters into her own hands. Lynn began medicating with cannabis oil, vitamins, supplements, essential oils and most importantly an alkaline diet. She has just recently had her fifth clear MRI scan. You would think her cancer specialists would be shouting this from the rooftops, right? Wrong. They can’t and won’t condone her using cannabis oil and natural remedies to save her own life. I thought I was going to have to help the politicians pick their jaws up from off the table at this point, and this was just the start of what we had lined up for them.
Among the professionals who attended the meeting was Consultant Psychiatrist, Dr Fiona Watson, Clinical Director of the Substance Misuse Directorate, NHS Lothian. Dr Watson made a massive impact just by being there. When she opened her mouth and spoke she nailed it for us. Before all the shenanigans leading up to the meeting we were already a man down. Alan, who lives with severe mental health issues, has become a very good friend of mine after we met through dubious circumstances. I have also been lucky enough to meet his family, whom he adores. He has a heart the size of a mountain and talks an awful lot about helping others. This is the reason he was so desperate to attend the meeting; not just to speak for himself but for everyone else in his position.
Unfortunately, Alan is in hospital and didn’t make it to the meeting, so I spoke about the first time I met him. I can only describe it like he was sticking to the ceiling with agitation, he was twitching, jerking and sweating, and talking at 100mph. I saw Alan take a few drops of a thc/cbd 1:1 tincture and within seconds everything changed. I watched Alan with my own eyes, calm down immediately. It was like night and day. Dr Watson at this point intervened and confirmed that Alan responds much better to natural herbal cannabis than he does to conventional medicines because she has also witnessed it with her own eyes. From somewhere at the politicians’ end of the table came the question: “Does it not cause mental illness?” Dr Watson smiled and nodded in agreement when I informed them that CBD protects the brain, rather than damages it. Thanks Doc, you were amazing! Get yourself better soon Alan, we’ve got your back.
Jacqui is another remarkably gutsy woman that I’ve had the pleasure of becoming friends with over the past wee while. It’s not very often I am stunned into silence but that’s exactly what happened the first time I spoke to Jacqui. This woman is a fount of knowledge but what’s more impressive is how easily it rolls off her tongue. Living with an array of congenital health issues, including Raynauld’s syndrome and Multi Chemical Sensitivity syndrome, nothing could have prepared her for the shock that was in store for her. Not just one rare form of breast cancer but two, one on each breast and one rarer than the other. Triple negative metaplastic on her left breast and invasive ducal carcinoma HER 2+ on her right breast. They weren’t finished with her. She was then diagnosed with the genetic Brca 1 which spread to her lymph nodes. Jacqui is being kept alive, like Lynn, by cannabis, an organic alkaline diet, vitamins, supplements and essential oils.
That’s not where Jacqui’s story ends. Nearly two months ago she got the knock at the door we all dread. Two of Her Majesty’s finest to investigate a report that she was growing cannabis in her loft. No warrant was produced but she invited the officers in, believing they were going to use their powers of discretion once they’d heard her explanation – but not even when she told them she is a terminal cancer patient and she needs it to stay alive. Good cop, bad cop had turned up that day and bad cop read Jacqui her rights. Bad cop then tried in vain to get a warrant to search Jacqui’s property but was denied it for nearly 12 hours. You know that bit where everything you say can and will be used in evidence against you? Jacqui spoke to bad cop for 12 hours educating him on everything cannabis and he had to write it all down. High five Jacqui! Like a dog with a bone he just wouldn’t let it go, even though he was never granted his warrant for a search. Jacqui was taken to the police station where she was put through the most degrading and humiliating experience of being strip searched and then put in a cell.
Still not done yet. Knowing he would never leave her alone until he got what he wanted, Jacqui agreed to a search of her loft where she not only grew the cannabis, but also her organic vegan diet. They took everything, including all her vegetables and equipment. In a nutshell, they took away her lifeline and smiled at her while they were doing it. Not content with the deplorable treatment they had already inflicted on Jacqui, they topped it off with prosecution and court dates. She will be attending her first court appearance in August. If that doesn’t make you angry, what the hell is wrong with you? Luckily for Police Scotland, they had decided not to come out and play with the rest of the country that day. I think we would have had to tie Jacqui to the chair if they were there, after what they have put her through, do you blame her?
For six months, I have begged and pleaded and even tried shaming Police Scotland into taking part in all this, with no success. A week after the meeting I woke up in a stinker of a mood, everything had finally caught up with me. It was inevitable someone was going to be on the receiving end of my foul mood, but who deserved it most? Police Scotland, without a doubt. Detective Inspector Allan Elderbrant who leads Police Scotland’s Harm Reduction Team had the unfortunate job of calling me back. I could have handled the call a lot better, but by this point I was full throttle heading for a meltdown. At the start of the call we were just going around in circles because he wasn’t saying anything I wanted to hear. Even though my manners were very questionable, Alan listened to me then offered to come and meet with me.
Breakthrough at last? Nope, it was just a chance for Alan’s boss to tell me to my face: “No, we will not be getting involved: we will enforce the law until the day it is changed”. No matter what I said it didn’t make a difference, they were there to tell me ‘no’. That and that they didn’t like being told to grow a backbone and stand up for what’s right in the last email I sent them. Apparently it’s better if you work with the Police and not against them. Ironic really considering that’s exactly what I’ve been trying to do for the last six months and have been greeted every time with a door slammed in my face. There I was sitting in front of two of the highest-ranking coppers in the country telling them that I break the very laws they say they will execute to the letter, and they spit the dummy out at me for telling them to grow a backbone.
So there you have it: that is Police Scotland’s approach to protecting and serving the most vulnerable people in our society. Oh, I nearly forgot, they also didn’t like the part in my last email where I said I would be empty-seating them at the Holyrood meeting to show up everyone that had refused to participate. Looks like there’s going to be another empty seat at the next meeting, I’ll be sure to get a photo of it this time. Alan did suggest taking the case to the Partnership for Action on Drugs in Scotland, where it could be talked to death some more and have meeting after meeting to discuss it and then in two years still be no further forward with it. Thanks but no thanks, people are dying and suffering, we are not prepared to wait any longer.
Giving the politicians their due, they were outraged at what Jacqui is going through. Outraged enough to suggest a pilot scheme that would allow doctors and health professionals to recommend or prescribe cannabis to patients. If the patient has it recorded in their notes that will also enable the police to take no further action. Nothing is set in stone but it’s a start and could be workable until we get drug policy control devolved in line with health powers. (Something we are never going to get if Brexit is hanging over our heads – it’s worth too much to Theresa May in her negotiations.
Miles Briggs and his winning smile had left by this point, so we all enjoyed a wee bit of Tory bashing. This was the opinion of every politician left in the room, which, in itself, has got to be a first: a room full of politicians agreeing on something. It’s not something we wanted to hear though, since some of us haven’t got years to wait.
That only leaves us with one option: legal action against the UK Government. We do not want to go down this road, none of us want to spend the next few years of our lives in court, but we will if we have to. Especially if they think we are just going to settle for the pharmaceutical products, Bedrocan and Sativex. Apart from the fact the NHS could never afford the bill, that would be them playing God and deciding who gets it, when they get it, what they get and how much of it they get. Drip feeding it to us through the pharmaceutical industry isn’t even up for discussion, this is about getting the right to grow our own cannabis and medicating when we need it. And they were told that.
In the weeks leading up to the meeting I had been getting advice from The Law Society of Scotland, who suggested a few angles we could take with this. Pharmaceutical, medical, drug offence and criminal law were all suggested, but the angle I feel is most important is the Human Rights one – the right to life. I contacted one of the top Human Rights solicitors in the country who also gave me some good advice. When I put this to the politicians, I don’t know about anyone else but I was pretty gobsmacked by their response. I hope it didn’t show. They agree it’s our only hope and think we should consider it. Now as much as it’s great to have their support on this, am I the only one who thinks it should be them taking legal action against the UK Government on our behalf and not giving us a pat on the back and wishing us luck with it? As soon as I got home I phoned the solicitor, informed them of what was discussed at the meeting and asked for their legal representation. In principle, they have agreed to represent us, we only have the small matter of financing it now. I am currently getting professional financial and legal advice on the best way to do this.
We had a very late edition to the dream team, and what an addition it was. A young man called Daniel Forest who is on the STUC Youth Committee, achieved something that was nothing short of spectacular a few days before the meeting was held. We couldn’t not invite him. At the annual STUC conference 2017 Daniel put forward a motion to support the appropriate and safe use of medical cannabis, to give GPs in Scotland the autonomy to research, recommend and prescribe cannabis and for Police Scotland to have autonomy not to pursue criminal action against medical users. It passed with major support from the Unite and Unison Unions, two of the Unions that represent most of our doctors and healthcare workers. Judging from what I wrote above, I think they heard you Daniel, so well done you. At one point during the meeting he made it perfectly clear to Maree Todd, MSP for the SNP that they can do this and fine well they know it. He was like a wee terrier going straight for the jugular. Like the rest of us he’s now running out of patience.
With not much time left I was asked what model we would like to see Scotland consider. That’s easy: Colorado, all day long. On being asked why we chose Colorado I had great pleasure in letting our Jim take the floor. Jim Duffy represents LEAP UK (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) and is ex-Strathclyde Police. The man knows what he’s talking about and gave them all his knowledge on the Colorado model. It was the quickest I’ve heard Jim speak. They got to hear about not just the benefit to patients, but to the whole state. Thanks to the tax generated from cannabis sales, the state is thriving. Schools, universities, police service, hospitals and fire service all benefit from it. I got to hear first-hand what cannabis has done for Colorado when I spoke with Abbey Borchers, who is the Deputy Director for the Colorado Governor’s Office of Marijuana Coordination under Governor John Hickenlooper. I joked with her that I was going to put all our politicians on a plane and send them over so she can show them all how easy it can be done. Abbey very kindly offered to reach out and help advise them where she could. I’ve made it easy for them, they are not going to get an offer like that every day.
The meeting came to an end with the agreement that we would all meet again in seven weeks after the elections, to discuss the progress each of us has made and hopefully come up with a solid plan for the pilot. Hopefully, there will be a few extra bodies round the table at the next one, but you will just have to watch this space to find out who… Not a bad result, don’t you think??
Outside the Parliament buildings, a protest had been organised by a lovely young couple called Michael and Dionne. They didn’t just organise the protest, they were on hand to help with anything that came up. I got a chance to speak to them both on the day to find out what was driving them on so much, I didn’t expect to hear anything so heart-breaking. Michael explained to me the fire in his belly comes from watching his dad live with Multiple Sclerosis for the past 16 years. Michael’s dad has tried every pharmaceutical drug available to him, with no success and horrendous side effects. He was left in the position a lot of people with MS find themselves in, having to go to drug dealers to buy the only medicine that helps them. A few years ago, his dad broke down in tears in front of Michael and told him he was ready to die, because his mobility was compromised he could no longer go and get the cannabis he desperately needed. Michael made his dad a promise that day, that he would help to make sure he had the cannabis he needs. Lo and behold, the famous knock at the door… The plants were taken down and removed and all the equipment was confiscated. Michael was charged and gave no comment apart from telling them he will have his day in court with his dad as his first witness. Who’s in the wrong here, Michael, the people who are forcing him into this position, or the ones who execute these corrupt laws?
Dionne lost her dad to Multiple Sclerosis just two years ago, he was only 44 and left behind a wife and three kids aged 17, 19 and 21. Terrified to use cannabis because it was illegal, Dionne’s dad suffered a great deal. With her mum also disabled this put a lot of strain on their very young shoulders as Dionne and her siblings became their parents’ carers. Then they lost their mum. In the space of two years, both their parents were gone. At the age of 21, Dionne is studying engineering and holds down a job, while trying to cope with her loss. She has no choice but to do so, if she wants to keep a roof over their head. Thanks to the new rules that came into play recently restricting housing benefit with an age requirement, they are no longer entitled to the benefit that would enable them to remain in the family home. The only way Dionne and her siblings cope mentally and physically with the anxiety and trauma of it all, is with cannabis. “We are illegally healing what’s left of our family with cannabis and we should be allowed to do so without fear of prosecution. Pharmaceutical drugs made me feel suicidal, but cannabis makes me feel like me again”, she said.
If a lot more people were as enthusiastic and dedicated as this young couple, we would have had legislation a long time ago. Michael wanted to wish his dad a very happy 50th birthday with the message “Happy birthday auld yin, love ya”! Consider it done from all of us.
FULL LIST OF MEETING ATTENDEES:
Jenny Marr, representing MSP Alex Cole Hamilton, Scottish Liberal Democrats
MSP Miles Briggs, Scottish Conservatives
MSP Maree Todd, SNP
MSP Anas Sarwar, Shadow Health Minister, Scottish Labour (sent apology)
Councillor Martha Wardrop, Scottish Greens
Stuart McLean, Solidarity
Dr Fiona Watson, Consultant Psychiatrist, Clinical Director of the Substance Misuse Directorate, NHS Lothian
Gillian Stranock, Registered Nurse
Jim Duffy, LEAP UK (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition), ex Strathclyde police officer
Lynn Cameron, terminal brain cancer survivor
Jacqui Ritchie, terminal breast cancer survivor
Lynn Anderson, mental health patient
Harvey Leo, campaigner with fibromyalgia and coeliac disease