The campaign has at last moved away from the hopeless hippy image of the past. CLEAR has been instrumental in achieving that in the UK and it means that we are now becoming mainstream. Cannabis is an important issue for everyone, users or non-users, parents, doctors, politicians and, of course, hippies, whether they wear a suit or a kaftan. In the US, organisations like NORML, the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) and Moms for Marijuana have already transformed the image of cannabis and cannabis users. In Europe, I am confident that the temporary blip in Holland will soon pass while Copenhagen, Switzerland, Italy, Spain and former Eastern bloc countries like the Czech Republic are leading the way with intelligent and progressive policies. Israel's medicinal cannabis programme is establishing a model that others will soon follow.
The Home Affairs select committee inquiry into drugs policy is a huge opportunity and I am immensely proud of the way that CLEAR members and supporters have responded. No one knows what its outcome will be as far as cannabis is concerned but make no mistake, when reform does finally arrive, this is how it will happen. The government, ministers and the Home Office have been knowingly telling lies about cannabis for years. They need an excuse to let them off the hook and perform a U turn. A select committee report is exactly the mechanism that will allow this to happen.
Why have our political leaders been so dishonest with us?
Principally out of fear of the Daily Mail whose mendacious campaign against cannabis we are finally starting to bring under control. Although the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) is undoubtedly a corrupt and dishonest organisation (it works in the interests of the press, not the public), CLEAR's determined and consistent flow of complaints is having a big impact. That is why we will continue until the PCC finally bites the dust. Its replacement will undoubtedly be a lot tougher and I look forward to drafting my first complaint to it. The days of liars like Amanda Platell being able to get away with falsifying scientific evidence are over. I should think the PCC's replacement is probably about a year away yet.
Another reason is to please their chums in Big Booze and to secure lucrative directorships for themselves once they retire from politics. One source of much of the improper influence over government is the Portman Group, an incredibly wealthy, shadowy lobbying organisation for the alcohol industry. These people are the real drug pushers that no caricature can properly describe as evil as they actually are. They really do push this most poisonous of all substances with no concern at at all for the millions of lingering deaths that it causes across the world every year. They deliberately promote it to and make it more palatable for children. They manipulate and distort markets with impunity and deliberately to get people addicted to their product..
I shall never forget when England won the Ashes a year ago and the BBC News headlines had Andrew Strauss chortling in delight and screaming that his celebrations were going to involve "loads of alcohol". This was prime time television, while the kids were watching and it is deeply, deeply shocking when you consider how poisonous, harmful and deadly that particular drug is. I should make it clear that I am not anti alcohol. I enjoy strong lager, red wine and, particularly, Irish whiskey but all drugs should be appropriately regulated with accurate information and harm reduction advice. I say it was as irresponsible for Strauss to say what he did and for the BBC to broadcast it as if he had been advocating heroin use.
The final reason I advance is Big Pharma, specifically GW Pharmaceuticals. I have changed my view on this over the past year. I used to think that Big Pharma in general was preventing access to cannabis as medicine but I think I was wrong. GW Pharma, Echo Pharma and now Kannalife prove that pharmaceutical companies are perfectly happy to market cannabis medicines. The problem is that GW has a corrupt and fundamentally dishonest relationship with not just the British government but also, at least the Dutch and US governments and the DEA.
Inexplicably, except in the context of international corruption, GW obtained a licence from the DEA to import its genetics from Hortapharm in Holland. It conned the British government into believing that Sativex was somehow not cannabis and now the Home Office has become complicit in the deception that Sativex is an extract of just two cannabinoids and has no psychoactive effect. Ministers and senior civil servants have got themselves locked into the lie that "cannabis has no medicinal value".
This is one reason I do expect change in the availability of medicinal cannabis quite soon. The ACMD has recommended that Sativex be re-scheduled schedule four of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Ministers have bee sitting on this now for nearly a year. If it is re-scheduled as anything else but cannabis it will be a lie and I expect legal action against the government if it tries to get away with it. That will certainly be CLEAR's plan if we can raise the necessary funds. However, the optimistic view would be that a helpful select committee report will enable them to come clean and accept the fact that cannabis does have medicinal value.
The pressure CLEAR is already applying to the Home Office directly and through the High Court will also help with this. Litigation from sick people who want access to their medicine as prescribed by a doctor is, I believe, going to prove to be an irresistible force.
As for recreational use or the sort of regulated system that CLEAR has proposed, I believe that depends on the US. Now more than 50% of Americans think marijuana should be legalised. 77% believe that medical marijuana shoud be available, it is only a matter of time. 2012 will undoubtedly bring more medical marijuana states and it is possible even full legalisation in one or more states. There is a mass of litigation in the US about the crackdown on medical marijuana and I believe that some it will succeed. More importantly, I think it is quite likely that Obama will return to his more positive position as the election approaches. He needs young voters in which the proportion in favour is even higher. Some have suggested that he might try to ride in like a white knight to "rescue" the medical marijuana industry and that is the sort of political trick I could see him conjuring up.
I'm afraid I don't see much hope from the legalise cannabis e-petition. I doubt that it will even make the necessary 100,000 signatures. That level has been set ludicrously high when you consider that the equivalent in the US only needs 5,000 signatures in a country with four or five times the population. CLEAR will continue to support the petition but even if we were to get a parliamentary debate, after it would need to come something like a select committee inquiry so we're already there. The petition has already been overtaken and superseded.
One very exciting possibility arises in just a couple of weeks. Week commencing 23rd January, the Sentencing Council will publish its new drug offences guidelines. I am pretty confident that it will formally recommend medicinal use as substantial mitigation for any cannabis offence . Even more exciting, I think there is a very good chance that the recommended sentence for growing two or three plants will be either a discharge or a minimum community order. That will effectively amount to decriminalisation because neither the police nor the Crown Prosecution Service will be interested in pursuing such offences. Although the guidelines are out this month, I believe they will not come into force until three or six months later. As a minimum they should produce some consistency in sentencing so that anyone growing will know how to avoid a severe sentence.
So 2012 holds a great deal of promise. I think the greatest enemy of reform is tribalism. Both CLEAR and I have been attacked by some cannabis users and growers as the enemy because of our tax and regulate proposals and particularly the idea of licensing for home cultivation. This attitude is so short sighted and exactly what has stopped us form making progress up to now. Of course, I would like to see cannabis treated as carrots or tomatoes but it isn't going to happen. Sticking to this obstinate, tribal position is delusional and self-defeating. We need to grow up! We need these sort of constructive proposals to move the issue along. There is not going to be a revolution and however unfair it may be, if you have to pay a hundred quid or so for a licence to grow your own, it's going to be a lot better than the present situation!
If the cannabis campaign is still seen as the bunch of hopeless hippies that it has been for so long then we will get nowhere. Making our message mainstream is key. That is why CLEAR needs and deserves your support.