Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Lies, Damn Lies and the Psychoactive Substances Act

UPDATE 23rd Oct: Home Affairs Select Committee Findings just published: HERE
I wonder if the Government will read, listen and respond!

Besides the fact that Psychoactive Substances Bill is one of the worst pieces of attempted legislation since the Misuse of Drugs Act in 1971 as currently;
  • Psychoactive is not defined in a way which will satisfy the scientists or the courts
  • No one is exactly sure which things are legal and which things are not
  • No one has a clue how police are going to detect or enforce this
The second reading of the Psychoactive Substances Bill in the House of Commons was an eye opening demonstration of how our Government carefully select and accept evidence in support of their actions (or inactions) whilst omitting, ignoring or dismissing evidence that challenges them. Policy driven evidence over evidence driven policy.

NB: The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) (An Expert body who advise the government on drug misuse) strongly recommended the word "novel" be used so as to help with the definition of psychoactive. As they have with most of the ACMD's advice, the Government have chosen to ignore it. 

There are 2 main pieces of data acting as drivers for and underpinning this bill:
  • 129 People Lost their lives to a legal high in 2014
  • Republic of Ireland Implementation is a success as hospital admissions have reduced
Let's have a closer look at this data:

129 People Lost their lives to a legal high in 2014

In the opening words the owner of this Bill, Mike Penning MP, The Minister for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice stated; "Last year 129 people lost their lives in this country because of what they thought was a legal, safe high”

This figure has been taken from the following two documents:

Looking more closely at how these figures were reached tells a rather different story:

"Deaths were included where the underlying cause was drug related and one or more new psychoactive substances were mentioned on the death certificate."

So if a person dies with cocaine, alcohol AND a "legal high" in their system, this will be counted. It is merely an association. It is neither a cause, nor a reason.

Then if we look at how "new psychoactive substance" is defined:

"Some of the more common NPS include synthetic cannabinoids (Eg: "spice"), GHB and its precursor GBL, piperazines, cathinones (Eg: mephedrone, benzofurans), and more recently, prescription-type drugs (Eg: benzodiazepine analogues)
Most of these substances are now controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act (1971)." 

This Bill seeks to ban all currently legal and harmful new psychoactive substances and as such should not count substances that are currently controlled, whether that be through regulation (Prescription medications, Tobacco, Caffeine and Alcohol) or through the Misuse of Drugs Act (1971) (Cocaine, cannabis, heroin, and those recently added above). No further legislation is required for these.

In fact, only 18 of the 129 deaths in England Scotland and Wales involved substances not already controlled within the Misuse of Drugs Act (1971). Of those 18, there was only a single incident where a "legal high" was the only drug mentioned on the death certificate and as there is no autopsy information we do not know if there were any underlying conditions which could have played a part in that death.

So in terms of the headline figure for deaths in England, Scotland and Wales in 2014 that can be reasonably attributed to legal highs is a qualified 1 and not 129 that is being used to justify the need to act quickly. Many organisations, including the ACMD have tried to highlight this to the government on several occasions without success.  

Republic of Ireland Implementation is working

"There were 102 head shops in Ireland at the time [of implementation], according to the Irish police force, and they have now “virtually disappeared”. The number of clients attending drug treatment services had declined: 368 people received treatment for problems in 2011 and that number fell to 220 in 2012"

Ok, Headshops have certainly disappeared, the drugs, however, have not. The treatment figures have been provided by the NPS Expert Panel Review. No one quite understands why the government chose not to engage with the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to provide this expertise on the misuse of some new drugs and instead set up a special hand-picked new panel of other "experts", on whose findings this bill was drawn up.

However, according to the The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA); The EMCDDA exists to provide the EU and its Member States with a factual overview of European drug problems and a solid evidence base to support the drugs debate. Today it offers policymakers the data they need for drawing up informed drug laws and strategies. Its data is used frequently and is quoted in government briefings and the NPS Expert Panel Review documents

"Use of NPS amongst young people (aged 16-24) in Ireland is today the highest in the EU , and has increased since the 2010 ban, from reported lifetime use of 16% in 2011 to 22% in 2014, with reports of a shift to street and online markets" - Source Data HERE

"In Poland where a similar blanket ban was implemented there was initially a rapid decrease in the number of reported ‘legal-high related poisonings’. However, three years after the ban the number of poisonings reports had increased above pre-ban levels, with reports of a shift to street and online markets" - Source Data HERE

To use the "success" of Republic of Ireland as a reason to support this bill is at the very best, irresponsible and rather stupid and at worst, dishonest, which will result in the deaths of many more young people in this country as it has in others.

The Reading of The Bill

So both pieces of data underpinning this bill are fundamentally inaccurate. One might reasonably expect that our Parliamentary process would highlight and address these concerns before the bill could pass - Surely that is what our representatives and commons readings and debates are for, yes?

Well, Monday's Reading of the bill was all the evidence you will ever need to work out the answer to that question:

After Government spokesman, Mike Penning MP completely ignored the initial attempt by Caroline Lucas to raise such concerns, Norman Lamb was the next to try;  “Does he not have any concern that if the effect of the legislation is to hand the entire industry over to organised crime, we may end up with unintended consequences?”

Mike Penning's answer was as short as it was utterly wrong; “It has not happened elsewhere; it did not happen in the Republic of Ireland”

Caroline then tries again;“Why has the lifetime prevalence of the use of novel psychoactive substances among young people there increased from 16% to 22% in the past three years and would it not have been sensible to have done an impact assessment of the situation in Ireland before pressing ahead with the Bill?”

Mike's response is disrespectful, dismissive and irresponsible. He shows no interest whatsoever in the evidence that the bill might do more harm; “The answer is no, because I do not want any more deaths, which will happen if we hold back now and wait for more studies, for more this and for more that.” 

Especially on the basis on 1 questionable death per year if you are not going to accept the evidence of increase in use and harm being presented to you, then taking a little more time to properly understand and confirm the true impact of this bill on the Republic of Ireland before implementing in the UK would surely be the prudent and intelligent path. It might just save some lives.

When Caroline pressed the point once again,  Mike, once again refused to answer or even discuss the data being presented and resorted to a personal insult; “She has a piece of paper in front of her that says that we are all wrong and that she is usual, I am afraid that she is wrong.”

No Mike, she has brought pertinent and compelling evidence to the house which says that this Bill might cause more harm and damage people’s lives and health, and you are dismissing it without any consideration. 

Somewhat ironically, he adds; “At the end of the day, what are we sent to this House to do? It is to protect people, and that is what we will do this evening!”

Long serving Paul Flynn (LAB) asked him about the “ban on khat?”,adding “ The reports are that its use continues, but it has gone underground and become more expensive."

Mike, once again, completely ignored that and all other questions and continued quoting his own unestablished facts and a few anecdotes of harm. He made the point that he knows best as he has been to the Republic of Ireland and "spoken to police and chemists" He appears to be implying that anecdotal conversations are worth more than evidence. Obviously if the opposition to the bill were to produce anecdotal evidence, it would be laughed out of the House. 

Lyn Brown (LAB) took the floor in support of the Bill and re-quoted the same figures as the government had, a number of similar questions were asked trying the other side of the House for a response;

When Paul Flynn repeated the EMCDDA data Lyn did concede that; “it is too early to make a long-term judgement on the success of the Irish model” which is rather odd, being that this bill she is supporting actually makes exactly that judgement.

Norman Lamb asked her; “In Poland, where the same approach is being applied, the number of poisonings has gone up dramatically since the ban came in from 562 cases in 2010 to 1,600 in the first 10 months of 2014. Does that not give her cause to pause in supporting the Bill?

It obviously didn't as she dismissed it as being incomparable to the UK and the Republic of Ireland.

When Norman Lamb repeated the evidence from the EMCDDA on the Republic of Ireland added in the Polish Official Report and added a reference to the Home Office's own International Comparators Report then asked;“Does that not cause the Government to stop and think about the implications of passing the Bill?”, John Mann MP jumped up to intervene, and whilst completely ignoring the other quoted sources, attempted to discredit the EMCDDA and its data. Whilst he was literally yelling about the lack of credibility of the evidence being presented, Norman added; The Government have not carried out any risk analysis of what happened in Ireland since it introduced a ban, but surely that is exactly what they ought to have done.”

John didn't have an answer to that and so sat down for a while before it was his speech during which he belittled and insulted all those opposing the bill and stated that Norman Lamb had “struggled to evidence his case tonight because the evidence is not there” stating that only "academic" sources were valid, then goes on to describe a number of anecdotes from his local constituency to evidence his own points and justifying the last 45 years of drug policy.

Our government have shown utter contempt for evidence based policy, have shown absolutely no compassion or intelligence and have shown that no matter how compelling evidence is, if it is against their policy they will dismiss or ignore it, no matter how many people might be harmed as a result. 

Jon Liebling – Political Director of United Patients Alliance
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Monday, 19 October 2015

Psychoactive Substance Bill - Commons Second Reading - 19th October 2015

Psychoactive Substance Bill

Commons Second Reading - 19th October 2015 

Thanks to for Photo

Ironically on the same day that the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), which has shaped much of global drug policy for decades, call on governments around the world to decriminalise drug use and possession for personal consumption for all drugs the UK has the Psychoactive Substances Bill due for its Second Reading in the House of Commons today: Link HERE

If this bill passes it will cause more health issues than any it attempts to resolve:

  • The Irish 2010 blanket ban closed down most of the ‘head shops’, but the market simply moved to criminal underworld and online. 
  • Psychoactive Substance use in Ireland has increased from 16% in 2011 to 22% in 2014, with use amongst young people (16-24) the highest in the EU. 
  • A third of young people say obtaining previously legal Psychoactive Substances within 24hrs is ‘easy’
  • Poland’s blanket ban temporarily decreased ‘legal high related poisonings’.
  • Previously legal Psychoactive Substances remain available via international online markets
  • 3 years later poisoning reports are above pre-ban levels
UPDATE 23rd Oct: Home Affairs Select Committee Findings just published:HERE
I wonder if the Government will read, listen and respond!

I listened to the evidence given by Mike Penning at the Home Affairs Select Committee a couple of weeks ago on Psychoactive Substances:
Firstly the deaths, as reported by the government, linked to these substances was 69 in 2014, but a closer look at those deaths shows that in 68 of those cases there were illegal drugs in their systems as well so is not an honest way of presenting those statistics.
You can find Professor David Nutt's analysis on these figures as reported in the Guardian HERE! 
Secondly, He made a number of references to the Irish implementation and repeated how concerned the government are that people are dying and being harmed by the use of these substances, however he does not seem to be aware of what is actually happening in both Ireland and Poland who have also introduced a similar bill. The UK’s Psychoactive Substances Bill is not based on any proper assessment of those countries’ blanket bans implemented some years ago and for which there is good information already available:
Source documents and a great summary from Transform, HERE

According to these recent experiences this bill is causing more harm and more deaths in both Poland and Ireland since its introduction.
If our government really do care about reducing the harms being done by these substances, then they need to review these reports and stop this dangerous bill, else they will be causing yet more more harm.

Jon Liebling – Political Director of United Patients Alliance
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Friday, 16 October 2015

Which MPs Attended the Cannabis Debate - What Now?

The Cannabis Debate in Westminster 12th October 2015 - Photo from IBTimes

Complete List of MPs Who Attended The Debate:

Lyn Brown - LAB West Ham (Shadow Home Office minister)
Lisa Cameron - SNP, East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow
Nigel Evans - CON Ribble Valley (Chair of the debate)

Paul Flynn - LAB Newport West
Cheryl Gillan - CON Chesham and Amersham (Chair of the debate)
Lady Sylvia Hermon - IND North Down
George Howarth - LAB Knowsley
Rupa Huq - LAB Ealing Central and Acton
Norman Lamb - LibDem North Norfolk
Peter Lilley - CON Hitchin and Harpenden
Caroline Lucas - GREEN Brighton Pavilion
Anne McLaughlin - SNP Glasgow North East
Dr Paul Monaghan - SNP Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross
Mike Penning - CON Hemel Hempstead (Home Office minister)
Dr Daniel Poulter - CON Central Suffolk and North Ipswich
Graham Stuart - CON Beverley and Holderness
Andrew Turner - CON Isle of Wight

Please note that 4 MPs were there because they had to be rather than wanted to be:

  • Lyn Brown was there as a shadow Home Office minister. 
  • Nigel Evans and Cheryl Gillan were there because they took turns to chair the debate.
  • Mike Penning was there as the Home Office minister with responsibility for drugs policy.
You can watch this whole debate (For a little while) HERE
You can read my summary and opinion HERE

If you wrote to your MP and they did attend the debate, please write again to offer your thanks, though of course, if they did speak, feel free to pick up on any points they might have made. 

You can read the full transcript of the debate HERE 

If your MP did not attend the debate, particularly if you wrote asking them to, it is your right to ask for an explanation firstly as to why they could not represent you and what they plan to do to support you going forward and secondly to demand that they request from the government a detailed, evidenced and reasoned response to all the points raised within the debate.

Write (again) To Your MP


  • Google your MP’s name to find their personal websites and more contact details.
  • Write a letter to your MP at: House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA
  • You must include your full postal address and postcode to show that you are a constituent.  Without this your email or letter will be ignored.
  • An email or a letter is fine, both is even better and a follow up phone call to their office can be very effective in getting a response.
  • Write in YOUR own words. Parliamentary email systems can identify and delete “Template Emails” to address campaigns by petitioning groups that have inundated MPs with such correspondence.  
  • Be Polite. You might feel REALLY angry, but in a communication to your MP this is unlikely to get a response.
  • Keep your letter fairly brief. Limited to 3 or 4 paragraphs and a single page is best.

We had a great many of you writing to MPs before the debate and whilst there was little to be positive about, it is the perfect time to double down, keep up the campaign and write again.

A good format for your correspondence is:
Paragraph 1: Why you are writing? What do you want from your MP

  • I wanted to thank you for attending/I was disappointed you did not attend
  • What do you expect in return - I want you to tell me your position on this subject. 
  • I want to arrange an appointment to see you.
  • I want you to demand a proper answer from the government

Paragraph 2: This is the body of your letter.

  • What is YOUR interest, are you a medical cannabis patient.
  • What are YOUR reasons for wanting change.
  • What were your thoughts on the debate and which aspects need challenging and which you feel were inaccurate and need further explaination
  • Refer to my summary, or others if you need some tips

Paragraph 3: I appreciate you taking the time to read this. I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you. Grovel (not really)

Lastly and most importantly; Do give United Patients Alliance a mention.

GOOD LUCK! Let us know how you get on.

Jon Liebling – Political Director of United Patients Alliance
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Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Summary and Opinion - Parliamentary Debate On Legalising Cannabis - October 12th 2015

Parliamentary Debate in Westminster Hall - October 12th 2015

There are 4 things that I and all the medical cannabis patients that United Patients Alliance represent and ultimately the estimated 3.6m cannabis consumers will take from the debate that took place in Westminster Hall on 12th October 2015

  1. The government don't care about evidence
  2. The government believe that banning things works in spite of all the evidence to the contrary (see point 1)
  3. The government wish to continue criminalising all cannabis consumers even if they have a medical need (see point 1)
  4. The government's petitions process is nothing more than smoke and mirrors
Shifting the Debate into the small Westminster Hall did give the public an opportunity to attend the debate in person, though it was "rammed" and most, including myself could not get a seat, however it does also speak of the priority this debate was given, and being that a very small number of MPs actually attended the debate, perhaps the government got exactly what they wanted. The problem with this is that the 221 000 people who signed the debate, the estimated 1m medical cannabis patients and the estimated 3.6m UK citizens who consume it regularly certainly did not and will be deeply disappointed about that and disillusioned further regarding the democratic and petitions processes. 

Summary of the main points and contributors during the debate

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab) leading and opening the debate spoke in detail about the ineffectiveness of the existing policy and the succession of governments who have dodged the issue for over 40 years:
"The [Government's] response could have been written 20 years ago. It does not reflect our current knowledge and experience or the serious case that has been made for decriminalising cannabis......No Government have had the sense to introduce a policy that could be described as intelligent.
We jail more people as a proportion of the population than anywhere else on the planet, except the United States. We end up with all the problems that emanate from the abuse of drugs, but we gain none of the medical advantages that we would have if we liberated people so that they could use their medicine of choice. The Home Office has admitted [in the International Comparator's Report 2014] that there is no correlation between harsh punishment, harsh penalties and the use of drugs."

He then went on to talk about what has happened in other places that have made changes to policy:

"People in America suggested that if cannabis were decriminalised for recreational purposes, there would be all kinds of consequences, but in Colorado and Washington, decriminalisation of cannabis took place a year ago, and the disasters have not occurred. The evidence shows no spike in cannabis use among young people and no increase in road fatalities. What there has been, of course, is a large reduction in the criminal market"

He finished off his opening statement thus:

"Cannabis is the oldest medicine in the world. It has been trialled and tested by tens of millions of people over 5,000 years. If there were any problems with natural cannabis, that would have been apparent a long time ago. The case for medical cannabis, including in its natural form, is overwhelming. It is barbaric to deny people their medicine of choice. There can be no justification for doing that."

Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con):

"My constituent Bernadette McCreadie suffers from Crohn’s disease and psoriatic arthritis, and she is
allergic to most of the pharmaceutical medicines that are prescribed—in fact, they have given her ulcers. She has found effective pain relief only through cannabis"

Mr Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con):

"When looking at the evidence, I conclude that we need not just to decriminalise cannabis, but to legalise its sale and use"

"the medical arguments are overwhelming. I cannot think of any good reasons for not allowing the use of cannabis and its derivatives for medical purposes"

"A Lancet review of all the medical evidence on the use of cannabis said that “on the medical evidence available, moderate indulgence in cannabis has little ill-effect on health, and decisions to ban or to legalise cannabis should be based on other considerations.”

“It’s surely better that it’s readily available but regulated, than unregulated and readily available anyway. The increasing strength of cannabis is a symptom of prohibition, much as people switched from beer to spirits in prohibition America, because it was easier to make and transport.
The truth is that it is only the criminalisation of the supply of cannabis that makes it into a gateway drug. Because cannabis users can obtain it only from illegal sources, they are forced into contact with the illegal gangs that will try to persuade them to move on to hard drugs. Prohibition of cannabis drives soft drug users into the arms of hard drug pushers. Only by providing some legal outlets for cannabis can we break the contact between cannabis users and those pushing cocaine, crack and heroin"

"Our Government should stop hiding behind largely spurious and bogus health concerns which at very best are greatly exaggerated and at worst, non-existent.It is policy-based evidence—evidence that has been looked for to justify a policy, rather than being found and leading to a policy. It is similar to the sort of thing we find in the global warming debate

Dr Paul Monaghan (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (SNP):

"I have had the privilege of being the director of the Inverness Multiple Sclerosis Therapy Centre. Cannabis has brought some relief to some sufferers of MS, and I am anxious to support those individuals."

"Cannabis is already an important medicine. The many applications of cannabis as a medicine are impeded by its inclusion in schedule 1 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Schedule 1 drugs are controlled substances considered to have no medicinal value. A simple change to schedule 2 would recognise the drug’s undoubted medicinal value and place it on a par with opiates. It would also enable research to be carried out into the vast potential for a range of medical applications and facilitate relief for thousands of people, including the many who suffer from MS and epilepsy who are not helped by other medicines"

"More than 20 states in the USA have provision for the supply of medicinal cannabis. In Europe, medicinal cannabis is produced in the Netherlands, and it is available on application by a physician in the following European countries: Italy, Finland, Switzerland and Germany. Recently, Canada also legalised the use of medicinal cannabis."

Dr Daniel Poulter (Central Suffolk and North Ipswich) (Con):

"Many people see cannabis as a harmless substance that helps people to relax and chill—a drug that, unlike alcohol and cigarettes, might even be good for their physical and mental health. I will come to the point that that is clearly not the case"

He then went on to echo quotes the Royal College of Psychiatrists web page which says,
“Over the last 15 years, skunk has invaded the street market and its THC content is about 2-3 times higher than the ‘traditional’ cannabis used in earlier years. There is growing evidence that people with serious mental illness are more likely to use cannabis or have used it for long periods of time in the past.

However he does them go on to recognise that there is a legitimate discussion about reverse causality or whether people with these disorders use it as a medication?"

He also accepts that the current situation impacts medical research which he said needed to be looked at so we can provide easier and more effective support of the potential medical benefits in pain control in terminal and progressive illnesses.

"A number of studies in the United States have shown that cannabis has potential medicinal benefits for pain relief in palliative care, so will we in this country be able to consider some of those issues? If we can help patients use pain control better to manage the symptoms of terminal or progressive diseases or illnesses, that has to be a good thing. We would not want the unintended consequences of the current legal framework to get in the way of achieving that."

Please note the the research to which he is referring is from 2002 since when there have been many, better and more up to date papers and research pointing to exactly the opposite. I have asked him why he feels that 13 year old research really is the best evidence he could find. I have sent him a few more recent studies such as this one from Keele University. 600000 people over 7 years.

Norman Lamb (North Norfolk) (LD):
"If a product is potentially dangerous, it is better to purchase it in a regulated market, with controls, rather than purchasing it from a criminal? It is precisely because of the potential health risks to that make me conclude that cannabis should be treated as a health issue, not a criminal justice issue. Surely it is absolutely inappropriate to criminalise people the way we do at the moment."

"I am acutely aware of the co-morbidity of mental ill health and drug use, but often people who suffer from mental ill health resort to cannabis for relief. Then we choose to criminalise them. It is a remarkable thing to do in a so-called civilised society."

"Senior politicians are frequently challenged about their use of cannabis and other drugs in their teenage and early adult years. Those who admit to such drug use laugh it off as a youthful indiscretion, apparently comfortable with the fact that tens of thousands of their fellow countrymen and women—usually people less fortunate than the politicians who reach the top of Government—end up with a criminal record for doing precisely the same thing."

"Change is happening, and I desperately want the United Kingdom to consider the evidence and not base policy on fear, stigma and prejudice. The case [for legalisation] is overwhelming. I urge the Government to act and listen to the evidence"

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green):

"This Government, like successive Governments, have set their face against the evidence? If we look
at an evidence-based approach, there is absolutely no correlation between a drug’s legal status and the amount it gets used. In other words, prohibition simply does not work"

A quote from David Cameron 2005:
“Drugs policy has been failing for decades. We need fresh thinking and a new approach. It would be disappointing if radical options on the law on cannabis were not looked at.”

"Sadly, all too many politicians do once they have secured power—ignored the evidence and, in the face of what can be a hostile media environment, retreated to the status quo"

"I am fully persuaded, because a strong evidence base justifies looking in much more detail at exactly how we should regulate the production and supply of cannabis for medicinal purposes."

"Successive Governments have used carefully calibrated snapshots in time in an attempt to illustrate that the laws are working to reduce drug use, but if one looks at overall trends over time the only thing that is really certain is that there is no link between illegality and use"

Dr Lisa Cameron (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (SNP):
She says people with long term mental illness are more likely to have taken cannabis. She also cites a study that suggests adolescents that use cannabis daily are five times more likely to develop depression later in life.

she did have to admit that her conclusions did not take into account wider statistics that do not support them.

Anne McLaughlin (Glasgow North East) (SNP):

Anne McLaughlin pointed out the divide in how drugs can affect the life chances of middle class and working class young people caught doing drugs. She says working class young people are much more likely to have trouble getting work with a drug conviction.

She also claims, probably correctly, to be the only MP in the room with a Rastafarian partner. While she says he doesn’t take cannabis, the drug is a part of his religion - and he asks where his civil liberties lie in that respect.

She believes that there should be more research on the issue

Lyn Brown MP (LAB)

Spoke of a postcode lottery in policing and convictions, and racial and socio-economic disparity. She said that criminalisation hinders job prospects and whilst she doesn’t want to see cannabis legalised for medical use as we have Sativex she urges change on this aspect to free up access to this prescription medicine. 

Mike Penning MP (Hemel Hempstead) (CON) and Minister for State for Justice

Justice Minister Mike Penning refused to consider the decriminalisation of cannabis though did make small and coded references to “looking at evidence” for how the current act is affecting people.

“I am not going to stand here and say we are going to legalise cannabis. From a moral position, from a government position, from a personal position.”

He did concede that there may be scope for doing research on the effects that some of the legislation has had:

“There is conflicting evidence in studies across the world.”
He says in Portugal they have a completely different strategy with their health service, and its “too early” to see what’s happening in Washington.

He was interrupted once by Caroline Lucas who with incredulity stated that:
It was shocking that despite his lip service to the medical professionals who spoke in the debate, Penning appears to have “little interest in the evidence” available.

In  his closing argument, Paul Flynn begged the government to "think again and help MS sufferers to ease their pain" - to a quickly admonished round of applause from the public gallery.

and added “Does anyone believe that that law is sensible? That law is an ass! For so long, this House has been held back from full-scale reform by the timidity of Members of Parliament, because of a reluctance to reform for fear of being attacked by the media and losing votes. Now is the time for compassion and courage"

I agree with him!

My Summary:

The debate has provided a huge amount of compelling evidence and from the MPs who were present, took part and who I would like to extend the thanks of all United Patients Alliance patients for their passion and commitment. The government through their Minister for Justice, Mike Penning have once again ignored justice and have stuck firmly to their evidence free position without offering any reasonable or rational justification. He seemed particularly proud of the information, based on 14 year old, inaccurate research from a single organisation, The Royal College of Psychiatry, which presumably he had to try really hard to find but ignores the comments from these other expert organisations:

For Mike Penning to say "I have every sympathy for my friends and members of my family who have had MS and the terrible pain and anguish that they go through because of an incurable disease. So I start from the premise of having sympathy"

and then to ignore most of the points raise and restating the government's intention to continue their criminalisation is uncaring, ignorant, insulting and ultimately totally unsympathetic. My Penning, you are a hypocrite and a liar and you should be ashamed of yourself. 
He did concede that legal medical access to cannabis based pharmaceuticals and addressing the research difficulties were things for them to “look at”, he completely ignored every other point made which challenged this harmful, costly and ineffective law. 

We, the 3.6m regular cannabis consumers of the UK demand that the government provide a detailed, referenced and properly considered response to all the points raised within the debate. Anything less would show this process to be nothing more than smoke and mirrors. 

I would ask them directly the 2 questions asked by Norman Lamb to which Mr Penning refused to answer:

  • ·         Does the Minister really think it is appropriate to give someone who is perhaps suffering from mental ill health a criminal record?
  • ·         Can the Minister give any explanation of why it makes sense for that more dangerous product to be legal while a less dangerous product is illegal?”
We really must NOT let the government get away with ignoring this very important issue any more, The evidence of the medical, legal, financial and social benefits is available and unquestionable and the evidence for its harms, sparse and flaky at best. The evidence for the damage that prohibition causes to a significant proportion of the 3.6m cannabis consumers in the UK is irrefutable But the worst of it is that there are up to 1m active British citizens who consume cannabis to help with their medical conditions, 30000, we know of, with the blessing of their doctors, choose to consume something that helps them manage their symptoms, treat their illnesses and improves their lives will still be forced to live in discomfort and pain or risk accessing a criminal market and run the risk of criminalisation for doing so.

It is time to redouble our efforts. Write again to MPs and demand a proper, respectful response. Be in their email boxes, in their media, in their offices and in their faces. We absolutely will not stop until they listen and ACT.

Jon Liebling – Political Director of United Patients Alliance
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Friday, 9 October 2015


Press Release


No Embargo:

Pro-Cannabis Groups Grow and Gather Together for Monday's Debate in Westminster Hall

On Monday 12th October MPs led by Labour MP Paul Flynn, a long serving advocate for cannabis legalisation, will debate the Sale, Production and Use of Cannabis after the petition that raised over 221 000 signatures. 

All the Pro-Reform cannabis groups across the UK who speak for the wider community who are now all affiliated with the National Cannabis Coalition, announced last week by Tom Lloyd (Chair), will be holding a peaceful and educational event, with the full support of local police from 11am in Parliament Square to show support for a change in the law, help inform the public and make our voices heard by our elected representatives. From around 3pm there will be talks from all of the groups and from recreational consumers, growers, lobbyists, campaigners, activists and medical cannabis patients throughout the day and we expect a large turnout.

Tottenham Cannabis Club would like to express their BIG thanks to all people from all groups who have come together to put this event on:
“We are about educating the people of the UK and about the great powers that this great plant has. It has been seen to kill cancer cells in the lab. We are about bringing all the cannabis communities together to stand as one to accomplish this change in the law”. #TTCC

Founder of United Patients Alliance and Multiple Sclerosis patient Clark French says:
"Cannabis is medicine for thousands of UK patients suffering from chronic conditions, it is both cruel and callous to seek to arrest someone for consuming something which makes them feel better, we demand the government listens and changes the law to reflect the science and allow legal access to cannabis for all UK citizens who wish to benefit from cannabis' therapeutic potential" 

Political Director of United Patients Alliance, Jon Liebling asks "What compassionate society would allow the criminalisation of patients for consuming something with their doctors blessing that helps them manage and treat their illnesses and improves their lives? We demand that cannabis be removed of Schedule 1 of the misuse of drugs act 1971 so that doctors can legally recommend it as a treatment option and not have to fear losing their job for doing so"

Stuart Harper, Political Liaison Officer from NormlUK stated that:
"The regulation of cannabis in the UK is long overdue. For access to such a safe therapeutic substance to have been restricted for so long is a travesty. Providing relief and relaxation to millions, cannabis is the second most popular recreational substance after alcohol. To assume that this kind of market is safer or more restrictive when conducted in the illegal shadows, when compared to the legal and age regulated markets in countries and states from the EU to the US, is sheer folly. The time to regulate cannabis is now, and NORML UK welcomes this debate into the ending of the criminalization of cannabis consumers."

Jo Martin founder NormlUK Women's Alliance and Fibromyalgia patient, said: 
"We feel that this debate is long overdue, we hope that the tired excuses for prohibition are ignored, and open and honest debate, based on scientific evidence and research, about both the harm caused by current laws and the benefits of an open and regulated system. We represent all women who wish to see urgent change to our cannabis law , whether they consume cannabis or not"

Greg de Hoedt, President of the (80) UK Cannabis Social Clubs argues self regulation is already working: 
"Both social and medicinal consumers of cannabis have formed private member cannabis social clubs to remove themselves from antisocial circles and funding organised crime. There are now 1000 of these social clubs in Spain where patients grow plants collectively and share the costs taking the excessive profits away from it. The Government are too late on this issue"

 Jack Bean from Birdfeeders explains that they are: 
"Aiming to change the public persona of the cannabis user through community work and support of local and global charity events, Pushing for the Cannabis community to work together supporting all routes to gain access to medical and recreational cannabis and assuring those for whom cannabis is right, that we have nothing to be ashamed of for our choice of medication and relaxation"

Gareth Pitchy from Headbox says:
"Here at HeadBox we fully support the legalisation of cannabis for recreational and especially medicinal use. Too long have people been made to suffer as a result of prohibition in the UK by being criminalised for simply self medicating with cannabis or using cannabis as a recreational alternative to significantly more dangerous drugs such as alcohol and tobacco. The cannabis laws in the UK are absurd and need changing before more peoples lives are destroyed as a result of prohibition."

We have seen a significant change in the attitudes towards cannabis over the last few years especially with regards to its medical benefits. Many recent polls suggest that more than 50% of UK citizens support legalisation with many more supporting immediate medical access for patients. 
There are now 24 US States and 10 EU countries with legal access to cannabis therapeutics and now that Oregon have become the latest on 1st October this year, there are 4 US states and many countries globally who have legalised and regulated cannabis for all adults and none of the "reefer madness" fears have materialised and in fact the impact has been overwhelmingly positive with crime, car accidents, drug and alcohol related deaths, addiction and even prescription drug misuse falling significantly not to mention the very welcome increase in tax revenue, all of which has been ring fenced for Schools, Education and Health. It is estimated by the Independent Drug Monitoring Unit that a regulated market in the UK would realise around £6bn - £10bn annually through criminal justice system savings and tax revenue.

Baroness Meacher, Co-Chair of the APPG for Drug Policy Reform has said:  
"Cannabis significantly helps people with MS whose symptoms don't respond to traditional treatments. But cannabis also transforms the lives of people who live with chronic pain, children with very severe epilepsy, cancer patients and many others. Germany is among the European countries who have legalised cannabis for medical use. Britain urgently needs to catch up."

The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Drug Law Reform has over 100 members across the House of Commons and Lords and is growing all the time and every major political party with the exception of the Conservatives have voiced their support for medicinal cannabis and Drug Law Reform with the LibDems and The Green Party putting it in their manifestos, whilst the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn said during the leadership debate:
"I don’t think there should be criminalisation of something that is used for medicinal purposes, it is obviously beneficial to many people, particularly those suffering from MS, and I think we should be adult and grown up about this in society and decriminalise."

Many of the Police and Crime Commissioners, most notably Ron Hogg, have aired their view that the enforcement of this law must be de-prioritised to allow time and resources to tackling and investigating crimes that directly impact the public such as burglary and other violent crime.

Chair of the National Cannabis Coalition and former Chief Constable of Cambridgeshire, Tom Lloyd stated in a recent public meeting:
"Let's be clear, it can never be right for the police to arrest and prosecute someone for growing and consuming cannabis to treat serious medical conditions. Legal access to cannabis for all adults and legal access to cannabis for medical purposes for all."

We all urge our MPs to take part in a grown up, evidence and compassion led debate. The Prohibition of cannabis has been a pointless and costly failure which continues to damage the lives of many thousands of people every year by arresting them for choosing a safer recreational alternative to alcohol (114 times safer, according to recent peer reviewed research) and threatening medical cannabis patients who consume to alleviate their pain and suffering.

The science and research behind the benefits of cannabis is irrefutable, the claims about its harms overstated and misguided. It's illegality is defenceless by any discernible measure and will inevitably end. Why not Monday October 12th?