A cannabis activist is opening Northern Ireland’s first cannabis cafe for people who have been prescribed the drug.
Alan Robinson (42), who is one of hundreds of registered cannabis patients across the UK, is due to officially open the cafe in Co Antrim in the coming weeks.
Having acquired a former coffee shop in Ballyclare, Alan has been furnishing and decorating the space to create a venue for medicinal cannabis users to meet up and share their experiences.
Alan, who goes by the name NI CannaGuy on social media, says he has been advising people on medicinal cannabis and attempting to break down the stigma around the drug for years.
After regularly meeting people in coffee shops to discuss the herb he decided to open his own place.
He said: “The amount of money Costa Coffee and others got out of me just didn’t add up so I thought it was high time I made my own hot chocolates.
“I believe it will be Northern Ireland’s first legal cannabis cafe, it might be private prescription cannabis only but it’s a hell of a start.
“We can discuss cannabis in a calm and safe environment away from the hustle and bustle of a town centre cafe.
“We’re not officially open just yet but we’re working on getting the space ready and are hoping to hold a launch night soon.
“We just need a few more licks of paint here and there and a few tables and we’ll be ready.
“We’ve got some sofas and chairs in the wee lounge already and we’ve been giving it a few coats of paint.
“We want to create a pathway for understanding and education around the topic as well as providing a safe space for people with a private prescription.”
Alan, from Belfast, plans to officially open the cafe called Stay Medicated in Ballyclare, Co Antrim, in the next few weeks.
Cannabis products were made legal on prescription in 2018; however it remains challenging for many patients to access as they can only be prescribed by a specialist.
Despite this there are thought to be several hundred prescription holders across the UK and Alan says he wants to provide a safe space for medicinal users as well as tackling the stigma around the drug with his cafe.
He continued: “Medicinal cannabis has got a lot of attention recently and with it being legalised on private prescription it has really taken off.
“The main aim is to help people in the community. A lot of people who contact me are strangers to drug culture and are put off by the stigma society has created around cannabis.
“These people need somewhere like this. Many of them have chronic pain or mental health problems and can now get cannabis on private prescription but have nowhere to go to meet others like themselves and discuss their medicine.
“There’s a lot of people out there in that position and what I’m finding from talking to them is they’re all sitting in the house on their own.
“What I want to do is to facilitate them being able to come together and talk to each other about the medicine.
“There’s not a lot of information around for people despite cannabis being around for thousands of years.
“This will hopefully be a bit of a game-changer and a trailblazer, there’s loads of CBD and vape lounges but there hasn’t actually been anywhere someone can take their legally prescribed cannabis until now.
“I would describe myself as a cannabis activist and I try to spread cannabis awareness and slowly but surely we’re getting there.
“A lounge where people can come and use their prescription cannabis, share their stories and get advice is going to be great.”
The venue is a former health and supplement store in Ballyclare and although Alan knows there will be some who take a dim view of what he is doing, he says he is open to conversation on the topic, adding: “I put up a post on Facebook announcing it and it got huge reaction, it was massive, so there’s obviously a lot of interest.
“Unfortunately there will be people who take a negative view but if anybody comes to me with questions either positive or negative it’s still progress because we’re talking about it.
“That was always my main aim to spread awareness and tackle the stigma around cannabis.
“I’m no medical professional and I don’t claim to be but people are contacting me asking for advice and I’m doing what I can to help them.”
Image: Courtesy of Alan Robinson