Thursday, 19 February 2015

Me, Cannabis and The Law


Hi. I'm Jon Liebling, and I am a Medical Cannabis Patient!

I have suffered with varying degrees of stress migraines, back pain, anxiety and depression and suicidal thoughts for most of my adult life, which I have adequately and effectively self-managed through my choice to consume cannabis.

I discovered cannabis at university, learning 2 things:

1: I much preferred being stoned to being drunk and
2: For the first time in my life, I was able to concentrate and focus on whatever I wanted/needed to focus on, my thoughts were significantly calmer and all the pain in my neck and shoulders vanished - immediately. My social anxiety had also, simply, gone.

The only problems I have ever experienced with consuming cannabis have been related to its legal status:
Firstly as a student, caught in possession where the police took my 14 grams of "Soap-Bar" hash and proceeded to steal half, and then charge me with possession of the other half. I received a fine that I could not afford and a conditional discharge. You know, I wouldn't have minded so much if either they had charged me with the whole lot, or taken my stash and let me go, but to do half of each was simply wrong and frankly criminal.

Secondly when I was about 30 for growing 4 plants, outdoors, on a farm in the middle of nowhere. This time I was threatened with imprisonment but after making grovelling apologies and promising that I would seek help and never do it again, I received another (bigger) fine that I could afford even less and another conditional discharge. This is something that must be considered when listening to the number of "Cannabis users seeking help with their addiction", how many of those were just saying they had a problem to avoid imprisonment? I have to say that this was ultimately an act of perjury in court - of course I wouldn't stop; It is medicine for me and I didn't need any help, I just needed the law to leave me be. My own sense of justice has suffered for those lies for many years. It has always felt like I betrayed my own beliefs, sensibilities and this wonderful, beautiful, medicinal plant.

There were more and on each of those occasions the impact on me was loss of a job or education and loss of motivation combined with an increase in my anxiety, feeling disenfranchised from society and let down by our social and justice systems. Other than on those occasions, I have never really stopped consuming cannabis when I felt I required it. I have never had a problem with it and it has never affected my motivation or anything else negatively. In fact for the last 17 years or so I have built a very good career in IT and until recently was a Senior IT Manager for a well known international retailer and for the last 9 years an attentive, present and good father to my daughter. Before that I was a hard working and enthusiastic Psychiatric Nurse - never a day (or night) off sick! I loved that job until my legal issues made it impossible for me to continue. I've also learnt to dance in that space of time, even getting to the finals of a national competition and in all other ways have remained physically fit and healthy. There are times I don't take it at all for weeks or months, and there are other times when I take it most evenings after stressful days to help me relax and sleep. At other times it helps to remove physical or emotional pain and to manage the rest. It is also the only thing have ever found that will stop a migraine or a panic attack in its tracks.

More recently a number of significant personal life events had a devastating impact on me and my anxiety and depression reached unmanageable levels. I knew I needed help and sought it from my local GP. I was honest with him about consuming cannabis and explained what it had been doing for me most of my life. He did not want to listen and chose to respond by telling me that he would not help until he was certain that I was not "using" cannabis. He also told me that he could not refer me to "Talking Therapies" for the same reason, which would have been exactly what I needed and what I was asking for right then.

In any case, I agreed and completely stopped "using" cannabis as directed by my doctor. My anxiety inevitably increased to the point where I stopped sleeping properly and didn't want to leave my home for anything and my doctor prescribed an anti-depressant medication called Fluoxetine (Prozac) together with Valium (Diazepam) to help me sleep. All the diazepam ever did was knock me flat out and gave me a really bad hangover the next day. I stopped those almost immediately! As for the Prozac, at first whilst having little impact on my anxiety did make it impossible to think, move too much, work or play with my daughter and he told me that the dose may not be right, so he upped it. This made the anxiety much worse to the point where I was planning suicide. The "Happy Pills" had made me happy with my suicidal thoughts - Thanks Doc!

I went back for a check up and thanks to my regular doctor being on holiday was able to get a second opinion. This lovely locum whom I saw in a bit of a state spent some time to actually talk and listen to me. She took me off all medications immediately and stated that there was nothing she felt that prescription medications could do to help me and what I really needed was therapy. "I know", I replied somewhat ironically. She also recommended that as I already knew it worked, and was relatively safe, I'd be better off continuing to take cannabis to calm my anxiety and manage my mood. Unfortunately, as she was worried about the impact on her career, she was unwilling to put this in writing for me.

Now, when you buy cannabis "off the street", you have no idea what strain it really is, what strength it is , what THC/CBD balance it is with no guarantees on quality, no idea what chemicals have been used either to boost growth, or in harvesting to retain smell (sometimes sprays of 'god only knows what' are used to make the product heavier and pretty and sparkly). In addition one has to mix with some questionable people in questionable places which is not great for anxiety or safety, and, of course, the price is ridiculous. So I made a benefit/risk judgement call and decided that I'd prefer to grow my own so that I could guarantee high quality, know exactly what strains I was taking, and grow organically rather than to have to buy sub-standard "I don't know what" from "I don't know who" off the street.

I think it is important that you understand that I would not have made this decision if I could not keep it all (logistically) away from my family. I had a house I was in the process of doing up for rent and I knew that it was going to take about a year to complete - perfect! The only person exposed to any risk of any nature was me!

My Favourite Bud
It became quickly apparent that I have a passion and a talent (thanks for the green fingers, mum) and it also became very clear very quickly that I had a deepening relationship with this plant. In fact the mere process of growing was having a very positive effect on my overall well-being and for many extended moments whilst tending my plants or just sitting amongst them I would say I experienced a level of peace and calmness, sadly missing from much of my life. It was an effective medicine and occupational therapy all rolled into one.

Just as the first 4 plants of my grow were beginning to mature, there was a knock on my door, and there were the police who "had received a tip off" and I was arrested. They were more interested in whether I had guns, weapons or was stealing electricity than asking why I was doing what I was doing. I tried to mention my health condition whilst being pinned to the floor and handcuffed, but of course this was totally ignored and my "anxiety" was cruelly mocked. They proceeded to treat me like a hardened criminal and turn a newly decorated house upside down in their search for evidence of my criminality. They have now spent over a year deciding what sort of a criminal I am, whilst withholding my passport, driving licence and my mobile telephone? As you can imagine, this has not done much for my mental well being nor, as previously, my motivation and faith or engagement with "the system".

I have broken the law. This I freely admit. However; 

As far as I am concerned, it is and has always been an unjust law, and I no longer wish to apologise for doing something that improves both my mental and physical well being and does no harm to me or anyone else. I prioritise my health and well being as more important than an unjust law against growing and ingesting a natural and medicinal plant.

When left alone by the law, and in every other aspect I have been and am a productive, tax paying, law abiding citizen, father, son and brother who has never done anything to harm anyone, and don't accept why I, or the countless others who benefit, have to suffer more as a result of this uninvited restriction on liberty. From my perspective, the law itself is a crime. How can you outlaw a plant for goodness sake, especially one with so many far reaching benefits and so little risk. If one believes in a God, then presumably this law implies that God got this one (among others) wrong. It you don't then presumably the blame rests with this beautiful, perfect, little green planet's nature?

Prescription medicine has made me worse. The law has threatened me, hurt me and taken my medicine away. Cannabis has done nothing but help - Ever!

For the time being I await my final hearing in Liverpool Crown Court court on 4th December 2015 where I will be asked to answer to the charge of Production of a Controlled Drug (Class B), and whilst my solicitor tells me it is possible but unlikely that I will be sentenced to any actual jail time for my crime, this charge does come with a maximum sentence of 14 years! Not a very helpful or motivating thing to have hanging over your head.

UPDATE 5th Feb 2016 - I was given a 12 month sentence, suspended for 24 months. No fine. No Community Service. No Ankle bracelet. £100 Victim surcharge. Haven't found a victim yet - other than myself, of course!

I have always been an active and open advocate for legal access to cannabis for adults, and medicinal cannabis for all, but now I have joined a fantastic group of medical cannabis patients at the United Patients Alliance, who seek to advance legal access the cannabis therapeutics in the UK. Here's a little look at our first 6 months:




Isn't it time for change? Why don't you join us?

Jon Liebling - United Patients Alliance
@upallianceuk
@jliebling
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Introducing United Patients Alliance
I am Political Director of The United Patients Alliance. We are a support and campaigning community for 1000s of medical cannabis patients suffering from a range of conditions including; Cancer, Multiple Sclerosis, Fibromyalgia, Crohn’s, Anxiety, Depression, Rheumatoid Arthritis, ME, PTSD, AIDS, Epilepsy, Chronic Pain, the list goes on, all of whom have found that various types and strengths of cannabis consumed in a variety of ways has proven to be more effective medicine than their legal and prescribed alternatives in improving their lives, reducing side effects and treating their symptoms. These patients are forced to either live in unnecessary discomfort and pain or risk dealing with criminals for their medicine and a criminal record for growing it or consuming it.


We launched in June 2014 with the support of Caroline Lucas MP and Professor David Nutt and have since gained the direct support of a number of other politicians, including former drugs ministers, Norman Baker and Lynne Featherstone and Julian Huppert. We run Patient Perspective and Cannabis College events around the UK to give patients a forum for telling their stories and to help inform the public of the proven medical benefits whilst dispelling the myths and half-truths about its harms. We estimate that there are about 1m active and current medical cannabis consumers who would immediately benefit from a change in this dreadful situation. I would argue that in terms of genuine information on medical cannabis, we are fast becoming the UK’s experts on the subject.

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