As many patients in the UK find themselves frustrated by the division of opinion (and hence availability) regarding Sativex, some will undoubtedly be tempted by the relative simplicity of growing their own medication, but this comes at a cost of a different kind. Currently there are no laws pertaining to the right for anyone to cultivate cannabis (bar a couple of pharmaceutical companies) and anyone found to be ignoring the rules is likely to find themselves in jail pretty rapidly…or so you would think.
Terminally ill Jonathon Yates, 65, was arrested after more than 30 plants were discovered growing in his home. He made no attempt to remove his liability for the plants, but instead explained that he was growing them in order to provide himself with pain-relieving medication to reduce the symptoms he experienced following radiation therapy for tongue cancer. This was not the first time that he had been caught cultivating, yet Mr. Yates felt that it was worth the risk of jail to provide him with a better standard of living. Previously prescribed medication, including Morphine, had not provided him with adequate respite from his pain and he found that the side-effects were less than desirable. Not wanting to fund the black market, he obtained a selection of seeds and set up a secret grow room in his house.
When he arrived in court, it was expected that he would receive a custodial sentence due to his previous conviction and the quantity of plants he was cultivating. Despite his obvious disregard for the law, however, the presiding judge refused to convict him and instead did something that is incredibly rare these days: listened to his conscience. Judge William Hart recognized that the defendant was suffering from an ‘exceptional set of circumstances’ and expressed his deepest sympathy for his situation. Faced with the evidence and medical testimonies, Judge Hart stated that it was his ‘humanity and compassion’ that meant he could not pass a harsh sentence down to Mr. Yates and he went on to explain that he firmly believed that all courts should remember that these were essential components of any hearing. Too often the letter of the law is followed without due care and consideration for the individual case, so it is incredibly refreshing to see that some of our legal representatives are still human after all.
This is, of course, a very rare case and it is doubtful that many other people would find themselves on the receiving end of such a kind-hearted ruling. As it stands, the UK is fighting against outdated views and a government ruled by two-faced politicians who would rather punish patients instead of providing them with the opportunity to choose their own form of medication. Despite the wealth of evidence in favor of cannabis as an alternative to pharmaceuticals, they still have to live with the Draconian laws of the land. But there are some other glimmers of hope to keep the dream alive.
In late 2013, a British patient was prescribed cannabis by his GP in order to help with a whole range of health issues that he had suffered from for many years. Instead of following the standard route of pharmaceuticals, his doctor found that cannabis offered a more effective method of pain relief than the excessive combination of painkillers he had been previously prescribed. Following further research into various strains and producers, the doctor organized for the patient to collect a prescription for ‘Bedrobinol’ from a pharmacy in the Netherlands and spoke to the Home Office to clarify exactly what was being planned. Once everything was agreed, and all the relevant documents were to hand, he set off to Amsterdam and then made his way to the city of Groginen. The collection was simple and straight forward and he then simply had to bring it home and get it past customs. In what is a rare event for any traveler, he made his way to the area where you declare anything which may need verifying and was completely open with the customs officials. They looked at the documentation (and the weed) and sent him on his way.
As it stands, this was another isolated event (which has since been repeated by a handful of patients) but what we are beginning to see are small steps towards change that actually fill me full of hope for the future (despite the fact that it is officially illegal for doctors to prescribe cannabis). Britain is often seen as a leader for other parts of Europe and the knock-on effect of any change in law could be a real catalyst to any other country which is dead-locked in the age-old debate. Perhaps the greatest challenge that any country faces is getting the people at the top to actually listen to the evidence and follow through with their ideas, instead of back-tracking and avoiding the big questions. So, who do we turn to next?
Step forward Norman Baker, politician and all round brave soul, who has thrown down the gauntlet in the hope of reigniting the debate for drug policy reform. Mr. Baker has listened to campaigners from CLEAR and accepts that there are numerous medical conditions which can be treated with cannabis more effectively than with traditional medicines. He sees that the lack of regulation is the main cause of many social issues relating to cannabis and suggests that, without a complete switch in policy, the current system is causing far more harm than good. Whilst this is an important step in the right direction, there is still a mountain to climb before the summit is reached and the green flag is placed proudly for all to see. If all the efforts made by the Home Office and the politicians to keep cannabis illegal were put towards the opposite side of the argument, victory would have been achieved a long time ago. The fight goes on, but at least we may have a few more allies as we push forward.
Originally published in Weed World magazine Issue 113