Cannabis Skunk Sense at the House of Commons

Cannabis Skunk Sense at the House of Commons

Posted On: February 10, 2012
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I was invited by Mary Brett of Cannabis Skunk Sense to attend a meeting of the Cannabis and Children All Party Parliamentary Group.   The meeting was to focus on the story of “Richard – the experiences and struggles of recovery from cannabis addiction”.  It took place the Monday after the Global Initiative for Drug Policy reform issued this statement from a range of current and former world leaders, scientists, medics, law enforcers and academics calling for an end to the ‘war on drugs’.

I had requested to film the meeting but this was declined.

I spend a lot of time with people who use a whole range of drugs and who campaign for the lifting of Prohibition, so it made a change to be surrounded by people who believe that our drug laws should stay as they are and was extremely useful to hear and understand the perspectives of those coming from a different angle.

There were around 20 people present at the meeting which the Chair, MP Charles Walker said was a good turnout for a Monday night. It gradually became clear that most of those attending had been affected by drugs in some way – perhaps losing a child to drug use or having to look after a child who has become very unwell through drug use. Others in attendance work in the field – such as Barry Twigg from the National Drug Prevention Alliance and Mary Brett from Cannabis Skunk Sense. These are people who have been described as ‘monsters’ by some of the pro cannabis lobby so it was interesting to be amidst them in the flesh.

Richard’s Story

The meeting began with an account by Richard – a recovering addict now in his early 40s. He told a story similar to many that can be heard here on Know Drugs.  As a child, he’d had a range of serious health problems and doctors told him his health would mean he would never grow up to do anything successful as an adult.   He was from a family of addicts (mainly alcoholics) and he was sexually abused as a child.  His first addiction was to food and at 18 years old he was 16 stone (224 pounds).  He suffered from eating disorders and was bulllied at school.   He could barely read and write when he left school.

Richard spent evenings with his alcoholic parents in the pub. Though alcohol marred his childhood, it was the drug he started on.  He called it his gateway drug.  This was a theme that would re-emerge heavily later in the meeting but with the finger being pointed at cannabis as the gateway drug.

After developing a heavy drink habit that his liver could not sustain, Richard discovered cannabis.   He said it was the first thing to have made him feel calm.  The voices in his head finally disappeared and for a few years he was very happy.   However, ‘anti-drug’ friends of his pressured him to go back to alcohol for a few years and it wasn’t till he hit 30 that he began a 7 year love affair with cannabis – which he prefers to call marijuana.  In this period he switched from regular weed to smoking skunk.

Richard implied he was using a range of drugs but didn’t name any beyond cannabis and alcohol.   He said we frequently drove while stoned and felt he could only fit in with his friends if he was smoking weed.  Some time after the deaths due to alcoholism deaths of his mother and a friend, Richard hit his rock bottom and found his way into rehab and the 12 steps fellowship.  He is committed to the process and his life appears now to be improving steadily.  Richard’s final words to the meeting were ‘cannabis ruined my life – until I came into recovery’.

The Discussion which Followed

Dr Barry Twigg from the National Drug Prevention Alliance (NDPA) wanted to know whether access to counselling services would have prevented Richard’s problems arising in the first place but Richard wasn’t certain how he would have come into contact with these kind of services.  Dr. Twigg raised the point that ‘education is the problem – education of parents, young people and doctors is lacking.’

A representative from the Redbridge branch of Cannabis Skunk Sense said they have won funding to hold local meetings so that they can give the full facts about cannabis to parents, teachers and any interested parties.  They raised concern that children as  young as 11 were being used to sell drugs.

I had a question for Richard.  He mentioned a range of drugs in his story and it had sounded to me like alcohol was foremost among those that had caused him problems, so why had he chosen to end his speech with the phrase ‘cannabis ruined my life’.    He responded that cannabis ‘ was the drug that brought me to my knees’.

Charles Walker MP

Chairing the meeting, Charles Walker MP – added to this that people who say the war on drugs has failed have not done their research.  They are relying on their experiences from the 1960s and ’70s to make this kind of assumption.  This sentiment was widely echoed around the room.  Richard continued ‘Alcohol was my gateway drug, but marijuana accelerated me into drug using’.

Mary Brett of Cannabis Skunk Sense talked about the on-going fights she is having with the website FRANK as they omit to tell the truth about cannabis.  She hypothesised that civil servants block everything she is doing.    She cites the major report she wrote which has 30 references proving cannabis is a gateway drug.   She said that when she had gone back to look at the FRANK site again, they had added some of the information she sent them about the risks of cannabis.   Mary urged those present to write to their MPs about FRANK.   She described the case of a parent she knew who’s child had read advice on the site to ‘use less strong cannabis’ and who is now psychotic.  Mary felt this parent has a case for a lawsuit against the FRANK website.

Mary Brett, Cannabis Skunk Sense

Throughout the meeting there was talk of lack of drug education and counselling services for teens and parents and complaints that the services needed to alleviate the problems around drugs are not being provided.  Much of this debate would have sat quite comfortably in a room full of what those at this meeting call ‘the Legalisers’.

One attendee suggested that the distinction between cannabis and skunk be made more clear as ‘people dont’ realise how much more dangerous it is now’.   He described friends of his who had smoked cannabis in the 60s and 70s and were fine, but who’s children are ‘going dotty’.   Charles Walker MP again made the point that our drug laws are based on experiences of those in the 1960s and ’70s and that they are are out of date.  He said people are in denial and they only think it is acceptable to use cannabis if  their information about the high grades currently sold is out of  date.  He stated that ‘Legalisers are talking about cannabis, not skunk’.

I asked whether the Committee would be issuing a statement in response to the Global Initiative for Drug Policy Reform statement and Walker’s response was ‘The good news is that most people who sign these letters don’t work in Parliament, so their votes don’t count.  A list of names on a piece of paper doesn’t count for anything’.   He added that he has firm assurances from the Government that they do not plan to change drug policy so there is no need to issue any kind of response to the Global Initiative.  In fact, responding to a statement calling for an end to the war on drugs only gives it credibility so since the cards are all in the hands of defenders of the status quo (and to Walker’s knowledge that will not change in the life time of this Parliament), the best way to proceed is to ignore it – and Government would be wrong to engage with ‘these people’.

Walker added that a few Lib Dems supported changing the drug laws but did not mention their September  vote to explore decriminalisation of all drugs.

Mary Brett went onto talk about research done by Robin Murray into THC (the active ingredient in cannabis).  He had  dosed people with the compound until they became psychotic.  Mary’s conclusion: if you take enough, you WILL become psychotic.

There was consensus in the meeting that those who felt it was ok to use cannabis simply hadn’t done their research and that more education was needed.  It was stated that people who smoke cannabis and say they are ok – are wrong.  Charles Walker said ignorance was to blame, not ‘badness’.    There was some shock and amazement at the meeting that even parents ‘in good jobs’ let their children drink alcohol and smoke cannabis.

One man said he felt there should be an officials response to the Global Initiative for Drug Policy Reform because ”we’re bombarded by names in the press saying legalise drugs and if we’re not combatting this, these people get credibility.  We should be counteracting it.  Otherwise how do we persuade parents and teens that taking drugs is dangerous?”

Charles Walker responded to this that the Legalisers were getting a rough ride in some newspaper editorials, such as this from Peter Hitchens.

There were other areas in which the discussion became very similar to one you would hear amidst pro-reformers: mention of shame around drug use being behind a reluctance to seek help or advice if a problem arises and the merry-go-round nature of their discussions –  they call year after year on government to assist with better drug education and treatment options for young people but this falls on deaf ears.

In a discussion after the meeting, the arguments of ”Legalisers” were discussed and dismissed.

  • Legalisers say drug cartels are given money by the current legal status of drugs, but alcohol and tobacco are still imported illegally
  • Legalisers say that legalisation would mean we could better protect under 18s – but children can easily buy cigarettes and alcohol
  • Richard Branson (one of the signees on the Global Initiative Document) has an agenda – his appeal for drug law reform is in keeping with his companies’ target audiences
I put it to a group at the meeting that I felt that people on both sides of the drug law reform debate had certain things in common: such as a genuine desire to protect children.  The response to that from Charles Walker left me stunned:  He said “Some legalisers are cynical and use children as a cover for their own agenda.” I asked what that agenda might be and he said ‘It’s so that they can use their drugs of choice with impunity.”
This post is by Cara Lavan, one of the founders of the Know Drugs project.