Able Magazine likes to keep up-to-date with what’s happening with therapies and breakthroughs for disabled people. One of the debates that has been kicked around for years is whether cannabis should be legalised in order to benefit disabled people, specifically for use by people with conditions like Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
As a lifestyle publication, Able Magazine rarely gets involved in matters political – and this isn’t one of them but we do feel that there’s a debate to be had. In that spirit, we’re publishing a piece here by one of our readers, Harvey Leo.
What matters most to disabled people is that ideas and innovations are thoroughly explored. Maybe this is the answer – what do you think?
By Harvey Leo
It has taken us far too long but we are finally ready to all sit round a table together and speak about cannabis like civilised, informed adults. Well, some of us are. Over the past 6 months, the mainstream media have been highlighting the case for medicinal cannabis. In sporadic bursts, we have seen sick people paraded before television cameras and newspaper journalists, letting the world into their most private thoughts and moments, at times leaving them without a shred of dignity. It even reached the cobbles of coronation street when poor Izzy was seen going to her doctor for legally prescribed cannabis spray, only to be told she doesn’t have MS so can’t have it. All to gather as much sympathy as possible to sway public opinion on the only medicine that works for them. Is this what we have become? Human beings begging fellow human beings for permission to be pain free? Who exactly is it that needs convincing of what? This has been the worst kept secret in the history of all secret keeping.
In the UK, cannabis has gone from being the route to all things evil, to the future of medicine. What has changed? The simple answer to that is there is a wave of cannabis legislation happening around the globe and it’s getting harder for them to lie to us about it, thanks to the internet. Opinion shifted, what next? Nothing by the looks of it. Even though a recent all Party Parliamentary Group report on Drug Policy reform has concluded that policy reform in this field is long overdue, with strong evidence from Mike Barnes Professor of Neurological rehabilitation. Their recommendations are that cannabis be included in schedule 4 rather than schedule 1, that the NHS not only prescribe herbal cannabis but also pay for it and the government should decriminalise home growing of small quantities for medicinal purposes. Unfortunately, we have a government that have their heads stuck……… in the clouds (I wanted to write something else there but the publisher made me promise I wouldn’t swear), a pharmaceutical industry sitting on over 40 patents waiting on the big day, and a cannabis community so busy internally combusting over who’s model is the best to push for, they have taken their eyes off the prize. Meanwhile, me and millions like me are still having to risk prosecution and prison time to save our lives and control our pain. It’s time for everyone to wind their necks in and be serious about this.
Five years ago, aged 35, after major surgery I woke from an anaesthetic with psoriasis on my face. Just to let you understand, I went into that operation with nothing but wonky hormones and a bad temper (Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder). Apart from that I was as fit as a fiddle, but now my immune system is eating me alive. It took a few years to be properly diagnosed and they’re still not finished with me but to name a few I have chronic large plaque psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis, coeliac disease, fibromyalgia and every syndrome that comes with that including multi chemical sensitivity syndrome. This makes me either allergic to or severely sensitive to every pharmaceutical drug I am given, with the side effects worse than the damn diseases and personally I’d rather just suffer what I have without anything else adding to it. I have a choice between sitting waiting to die in excruciating pain or medicating with cannabis. I will ask no one’s permission to continue to save my own life. No one on this planet has got the right to play God and tell me I can’t have this medicine. I have no career that can be ruined and no children that social services can take a sudden interest in, so I don’t mind telling the powers that be where they can stick their political correctness and their stupid laws. Do I sound like a woman that needs or wants anyone’s sympathy?
I want to introduce you to Danny, from the north of England. A well-known member of the cannabis community, Danny suffers from fibromyalgia, nerve damage, severe depression and anxiety. Like the rest of us he has tried, tested and gave up on everything legally prescribed for him because the only thing he gets any relief from is cannabis. One night Danny got so bad with pain and had no cannabis to medicate with, he went to his local police station and gave them it both barrels because of the anger he has for being denied access to the only medicine that works for him. I asked Danny if he wants or needs anyone’s sympathy. Again, due to promising the publisher no swearing, I will translate into printable language what Danny said: “I don’t want or need anyone’s sympathy, just my medicine will do thanks.”
Dermid is a husband and a dad that suffers from chronic arthritis in all major joints, severe psoriasis and fibromyalgia. Through not having any success at all with conventional medicines and feeling written off as a lost cause by the NHS, Dermid did what any other normal person would do and went looking for his own solution. He found, yes, you’ve guessed it, cannabis. I also asked Dermid if he wanted or needed anyone’s sympathy. He only needed two words for his answer and they weren’t “go away”.
On my quest to find intelligent life form in the Home Office I contacted their press office and requested an interview with someone, anyone. The lovely Richard took my call and informed me he wouldn’t be able to get anyone for an interview because of a busy schedule, but if I emailed my interview questions over to them he’ll get them answered for me. Delighted I was, could the home office be ready to give me an exclusive? He even phoned me to tell me the email was in my inbox waiting for me so I thanked him for all his help and he kindly replied “It’s no problem we like to treat everyone the same”. Exclusive? Don’t be silly! There’s a reason I had them down as my guaranteed no camp right from the off. Ten questions that if were any more direct would have poked Richard in the eye and this is my “exclusive”. A Home Office spokesperson said:“This Government has no plans to legalise cannabis or devolve drug control. There is a substantial body of scientific and medical evidence to show that cannabis is a harmful drug which can damage people’s mental and physical health”. Quest failed miserably. In other countries cannabis is reported to be killing cancer, helping autistic children speak their first words and walk their first steps, stopping epileptic seizures in seconds and reducing them from hundreds a day to none, lowering pharmaceutical drug addiction and overdose, controlling pain for billions, I could go on all day! But the minute Westminster have anything to do with it, it becomes the devil. Ever get the feeling you’re chasing your tail?
Taking the Lead
Scotland seem to be taking the lead on this one with the SNP at their recent conference voting overwhelmingly in favour of decriminalising cannabis for medicinal use. Gillian Stranock is a member of the SNP, a married mum of two, owns a village post office and has been a qualified nurse for 14 years. Busy woman! Over twenty-five years ago, she worked in the community as a social care officer. Many of her clients suffered with MS. “I remember the first time when I was told by a colleague, there’s a funny smell in the house we were going to. This client smokes dope. My colleague had known about it for quite some time and explained to me that it was the best relief from the pain and the spasms associated with MS, and that the usual pain management drugs had little effect on the client.” Throughout Gillian’s nursing career, she continued to discover the use of cannabis in patients with many other medical conditions and tells me “These people aren’t ‘addicts or stoners’. They have simply found a treatment which helps them manage their condition better than the conventional medication regimes still prescribed. I am astounded that twenty-five years on very little has changed, this is a health issue and should be treated as such”. Gillian talks about the legally prescribed cannabis spray Sativex that is produced here in the UK. “How ridiculous is it that we have this drug in Britain, and yet it is not prescribed for patients with MS throughout Britain? The price of this drug is £375 for three ten millilitre units”.She’s spot on when she adds “How can that possibly be sustainable for the NHS at that price?” Future MSP?
We have a lot of very sick and disabled people in this country who don’t know what’s what or where to turn. We have mainstream media telling us cannabis is the new wonder drug. We have numerous baronesses, lords, MPs, medical professionals, scientists and police chiefs all recommending we should be allowed to grow small quantities of our own cannabis for medicinal use. To top it off we have the SNP who are essentially the Scottish Government, voting in favour of decriminalisation of medicinal cannabis. So, what’s the problem? Let’s get growing! Wait, stop the bus. Not so fast. The UK government still have cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug and will send the police round to kick your door in, slap the bangles on you, take you away, lock you up, then destroy your medicine after turning your house upside down. It’s best to just sit and suffer your excruciating pain, or possibly even die waiting on everyone coming to a decision, rather than break the law and become a criminal. We can’t have that now, can we?
I think it’s time we brought some politicians into the conversation. I’ve decided to stick with the Scottish politicians as there seems to be a clear will to decriminalise medicinal cannabis in Scotland. Although the SNP have passed a motion in favour of decriminalising cannabis use for medical purpose, presently this cannot happen as this is not a devolved matter in Scotland and as stated above, Westminster are refusing point blank to devolve it. It didn’t take long before I had the interviews all lined up. SNP, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Scottish Greens, Scottish Conservatives and the Scottish Government. At this point I’m considering reporting the opposition, Scottish Labour, as a missing person. That is, until after many emails and phone calls with the promise of their participation from the press office, the final email arrived. Apparently, the opposition don’t feel people living or dying in unimaginable pain is a priority and have yet to decide where they stand on the matter. They thanked me for giving them the opportunity to participate and offered me a spokesperson quote which reads as follows: “Scottish Labour’s shadow cabinet will be considering this matter in the coming weeks”. Were there three of you up all night coming up with that quote? Not good enough Scottish Labour!
Drawing the Line
Out of all the interviews, as much as it pains me to admit this, my favourite was with Miles Briggs of the Scottish Conservatives. Miles was down as my other guaranteed “no camp” after a previous experience with a conservative MP. Much to my surprise, himself and the Scottish Conservatives are now very much in support of medicinal cannabis, quite a turn around. But that’s where he draws the line, he is still opposed to recreational cannabis because of the reported harm it can do. I was curious to know what Miles thought of the APPG report recommendations that medicinal users be allowed to grow their own cannabis. Miles has a problem with this because he is very concerned that if in the same house there is another adult who uses cannabis recreationally, they will have easy access to it. Miles to his own admission is new to all this and has quite a bit to learn. Don’t worry Miles, we’re going to be great friends so I’ll keep you right. Compassion and the Conservatives should be banned from ever appearing in the same sentence together. Just not in this case. I genuinely heard compassion from this man in what he said and the way he said it. Maybe you should do some in house training for your colleagues Mike. Scottish Labour are you paying attention to this?
The Scottish Greens, in general just want to do good by everyone, which is the reason why they are fast becoming a popular vote in Scotland. In a world where there is horrendous amounts of money being spent, searching for another planet to vacate to when they finally destroy this one, the Greens would rather fix the one we already have. Not a bad plan if you think about it. Their position on cannabis is simple. Decriminalise, regulate and licence. Councillor Martha Wardrop told me “There is enough evidence now for us to be going forward with this, you just have to go to the recent APPG report to see that we are so far behind other countries on this”. Martha doesn’t just see the immediate benefits of medicinal cannabis. She spoke very passionately about how it could help financially with other services such as social work, social care, policing, housing and education, not just the NHS.
The Scottish Liberal Democrats were by far my easiest interview. Their Health Spokesperson, Alex Cole Hamilton MSP was a delight to speak with and he really made me laugh with his continual digging at the SNP/Scottish Government. I have been asked to tell the SNP directly from him that “It’s about time you got on board with this”. SNP, consider yourself told. Alex has very strong views on full cannabis legislation and isn’t afraid to voice them. In his opinion the criminal element needs to be completely removed to keep people safe, it must be regulated, tested, and taxed in line with tobacco and alcohol. He said “Medicinal cannabis must be implemented IMMEDIATELY. At the end of the day we have to start respecting patient choice; that comes first”. One of the questions I asked Alex was should one pharmaceutical company be allowed the monopoly on cannabinoid therapy in this country and I must applaud him for his honesty in answering this. “I have always been quietly sceptical about the pharmaceutical industry as a whole and I think not enough is being done to police it”. Well said that man!
I’m going to throw a bit of Marmite into the mix now. When I’m holding the conversation, I think everyone should get their say, not just the big guns. I approached a party who although don’t have any sitting MSP’s or MP’s, have always had cannabis legislation at the top of their party policies. “Can I speak to Tommy Sheridan please?” “I’m sorry, Tommy’s up to his neck preparing lawsuits against Rupert Murdoch for the next few months but he asked me to speak to you for him.” Love him or hate him, Tommy Sheridan of Solidarity has done more campaigning than most over the years and is responsible for many parliament motions on cannabis, calling for tolerance zones across Scotland from as far back as 2000. Doesn’t sound so daft now, does it? I had a very lengthy conversation with his colleague Bill Mair on the subject after he was moved to tears at the recent Solidarity party conference by Lynn Cameron, a woman who credits cannabis oil and herbal remedies for helping her beat a diagnosis of Stage 4 Glio Blastoma brain cancer. Not something you hear every day, right? Well it should be. Bill tells me it’s something they will never stop fighting for until this country does what’s right. I wish everyone was capable of your empathy Bill.
Aileen Campbell, Minister for Public Health and Sport for the SNP Scottish Government told me ”This area is currently reserved, but we would like it devolved so the Scottish Parliament can consider it in future should it choose to do so. However, we also need to recognise that problem alcohol and drug use is a health issue. That’s why we transferred responsibility for drugs policy from justice to health ministers earlier this year. In the case of illegal substances Police Scotland clearly have a role to play and we work alongside them as they enforce the law.” Aileen has also noted the findings and recommendations from the recent APPG report and will be watching the situation closely. As it stands just now the Scottish Government can’t take any action on this because Westminster are blocking them. Why would they do this? Because Westminster know any changes Scotland make, they would have to follow or there would be hell to pay. Nicola Sturgeon, you know how you like to pick a fight with Westminster? This is the perfect opportunity for you.
While interviewing the political parties, there was something specific I wanted to know. Should Police Scotland be involved in this conversation? Everyone agreed they should with Alex Cole Hamilton stating “Absolutely they should, they are the ones that have to enforce these ridiculous laws”. Another fine point well made by this man! I’d now like to welcome to the stage, Police Scotland. Oops my mistake, Police Scotland are currently on a break and won’t be gracing us with their presence, meddling in politics is none of their concern. They’re probably in the canteen sitting next to Scottish Labour, who don’t like meddling in politics either. This has nothing to do with politics, this is life or death for some people so it’s about doing what’s right. They have however issued me with an official statement.
“Cannabis is a Class B drug, controlled under the provision of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (UK wide legislation) and its possession, supply and production are criminal offences throughout the United Kingdom. Should any amendments or changes be made to the misuse of drugs act, Police Scotland will work within any new legal framework. Cases where people are found in possession of cannabis are treated on a case by case basis. Police officers report the full circumstances of the case to the Procurator fiscal for consideration. In all instances the police response will be proportionate. With regards to cannabis based medicines, any enquiries have to be directed to the National Health Service or the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.” Passing the buck much?
Point number one. I personally know the bit about cannabis possession being treated on a case by case basis to be a load of rubbish. Standing swaying on a pair of crutches, full of Pethidine and Valium after an endoscopy and stomach biopsies, not half an hour home from day surgery and a full explanation of why I use cannabis still wasn’t enough to stop two of your officers charging me under the misuse of drugs act and reading me my rights. Even though I clearly wasn’t misusing it! Nor did it stop the next two officers from turning up at my house a few hours later to make sure I wasn’t smoking anymore cannabis. Which of course I was . My guest and I were subject to another body search in my kitchen and our cars were searched. A few weeks later I received a fine of £80.00 in the post from the procurator fiscal. It then took me seven months to have this charge dropped and the fine annulled. Is this your idea of dealing with cannabis on a case by case basis?
Point number two. Your advice to contact the National Health Service and such, made me laugh so hard I nearly fell off my chair. These people have been suffering for years and are dying, they have exhausted every possibility the NHS and Private Healthcare have given them. Trust me when I say they have already spoken with their consultants and specialists about cannabis but NHS workers are prohibited from telling you anything other than the government’s stance on it or they could lose their job. What part about cannabis being their last and only option left is it that you’re not getting? I will only be too happy to explain it for you.
Everyone please meet who I will be referring to as Bill. I must change Bill’s name because he is an ex police officer who suffers from Secondary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis. Over the years, Bill’s condition has progressed from relapsing/remitting MS to the progressive form and it came with increasing pain and a severe deterioration in his mobility. He has been prescribed a great many medications to slow the progression of the disease and to try to control the symptoms, all of which carried some incredibly unpleasant side effects for him which seemed to replace any perceived relief. My heart went out to Bill when he told me “The police know the laws concerning cannabis are wrong and they need to start speaking up about it”. Bill now lives in constant fear of losing his pension because he medicates with cannabis, the only medicine that works and lets him live a relatively good life considering the hand he’s been dealt. This needs to stop. Police Scotland this is one of your own, are you honestly going to leave him behind?
During another bout of insomnia I had a crazy idea that turns out to be not so crazy after all. One member from each party, one member from Police Scotland and a few medicinal cannabis users all sitting round a table, coming up with a plan on how we sensibly take this forward as a country, together (AKA the dream team). Much to my surprise the politicians have agreed to it! Police Scotland said if I manage to set up a meeting I’ve to let them know the details and they’ll consider attending, they could quite possibly redeem themselves here. I get the feeling they think I’m not capable and don’t believe I can pull this off. That’s fighting talk where I’m from, this meeting is so going to happen, get used to it my friend.
Consider this as me publicly challenging you all to keep to your word. I’m giving you all plenty of notice that the meeting will take place in February. That gives me enough time to liaise with all your PAs and pick a specific date that suits everyone. No changing of minds, no call offs, no dogs eating your homework and no budgies dying. Nothing will be accepted except everyone in attendance, don’t make me come and get you. That includes you Police Scotland. Alex Cole Hamilton, you were the most enthusiastic about this so you get to help me make sure everyone attends. Miles, your words were “count me in, enough is enough we need to all start being sensible about this”. You’re in charge of booking a room in Holyrood. Scottish Labour, if you have managed to get your house in order by then you’re in charge of making the tea. Do you think you can manage that? An official request in writing for a government minister to attend the meeting has been sent and Ben MacPherson MSP has very kindly agreed to represent the SNP party. Pat Lee will be representing Solidarity and there are a few other names and professions I am awaiting confirmation on. I’d like to add at this point something else that Councillor Wardrop discussed with me that I feel is very relevant. She believes that this conversation needs to be going further and directly reaching the services and people that would be most affected by any change in the laws concerning cannabis. Family networks, home carers, social services, and most importantly GP’s are the people on the front line and in Martha’s opinion should all have a say in this conversation. I can’t think of an argument against that Martha and that’s why I have invited Gillian Stranock to attend the meeting and she has very happily agreed.
The cannabis/hemp plant has in the region of 10,000 uses. Medicines, fuel, feed, fabric and building materials, the list goes on. It is one of the fastest growing industries in America with the rest of the world catching on and reaping the benefits. This is an industry that could save lives, fix our NHS, fund our vital services, cut unemployment and look after our most vulnerable. Mother Nature didn’t get it wrong, we could flourish. Doesn’t it make you wonder why our government aren’t jumping all over this, choosing instead to keep the plant illegal? Think about it, do your own research and make up your own mind. It’s very refreshing. My final question is for Theresa May: Are you really going to let Nicola Sturgeon beat you to this?
I am not a journalist or reporter. I am a sick woman sitting in a living room with a smart phone who has had enough. This article isn’t perfect and I’m sure there will be more than one person willing to point that out and tell me what I could have done better. Apart from the words spoken by the good people I interviewed, everything else is MY words and MY ideas. All of this wouldn’t have been possible without the massive amounts of help I received from some very special people. To everyone who participated in this article I appreciate all that you have done, without you it would still be an idea bouncing around my marshmallow brain. To all the very patient members of the press offices who have had to put up with me, Eileen, Pete, Adam, Tim, Mark, Kieron, Richard, you are my heroes. I know I promised you all that you would never hear from me again, well that was just a wee white lie, I’m going to need your help more than ever to get this over the finishing line. See what happens when you spend too much time round politicians? You pick up their bad habits! Adele from Police Scotland, you had it the worst and my heart goes out to you, it really does. That’s why I’m apologising to you in advance.
I have not been paid to write this article and I don’t have any personal political agendas, or any other agendas for that matter. No one has been paid to participate in this article and the magazine have very generously donated pages and web space. Just look what can be accomplished when a group of people who are interested in nothing but the greater good come together. And it didn’t take a budget of £250,000 either. Just a larger than usual phone bill and a massive fibromyalgia, coeliac and psoriasis flare up. I can live with that because “It’s a beautiful thing”!
Reported medicinal benefits
The APPG commissioned Professor Mike Barnes, Professor of Neurological Rehabilitation and consultant neurologist and consultant in rehabilitation medicine to conduct a review of the evidence. After analysing over 20,000 scientific studies his report concludes that there is good evidence that medical cannabis helps alleviate a wide range of symptoms such as chronic pain, including neuropathic pain; spasticity (often associated with Multiple Sclerosis); nausea and vomiting, particularly in the context of chemotherapy; and in the management of anxiety.
Professor Barnes also said that he believes that “With greater research, it has the potential to help with an even greater number of conditions. But this research is being stifled by the Government’s current classification of cannabis as having no medical benefit.”
Cannabis use is legal in several countries although different regulatory approaches mean that in some places, for example, possession is limited to a few grams and there are also likely to be laws concerning the sale of it, growing of it, transporting it and so on. Also note that in different countries, some, all or none of these factors may, or may not be ‘decriminalized’ meaning that laws are not rigorously enforced.
In the UK cannabis is a Class B drug. Possession is punishable by five years in prison, while those caught supplying it can receive a 14-year sentence. It is likely that any changes in the law would ensure that the drug is not legalised for recreational use.
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