Whilst we all had a great day of peaceful protest, making friends and raising awareness, it was a big disappointment that Paul Flynn's #ElizabethBriceBill didn't even get a reading. However, it's not all bad news; it did get a new date, it's not far away and I've got a feeling........
So what happened? Why did this happen? What's next?
Three weeks ago, the Legalisation of Cannabis (Medicinal Purposes) Bill 2017-19 was actually scheduled in 6th place which wouldn't have stood a chance of being read on the day, but just after a long conversation about it all with Paul, he said he was going to try to do something about a few of the bills that were ahead of it.
The very next day 3 bills, all from the same MP, had been moved out and now there were just two left ahead of ours. Thanks Paul! I think?
This was now starting to look quite hopeful, though it was feared that the first bill on the schedule for Organ Donation was so popular amongst MPs, with many wanting to speak on the subject, that it might use up all the time available in the session which closes at 14:30 sharp, but that fear was wiped away within a short time when the first bill was passed early on. It seemed by this point that we could get the 2nd bill on the schedule done and dusted and get right on to Legalising Medical Cannabis.
The Overseas Electors Bill started to drag painfully on....and on....and on as each MP spoke at some length, particularly and perhaps ironically 2 Labour MPs, Sandy Martin MP and Cat Smith MP. It became increasingly clear that the bill we were all waiting for would run out of time. Paul became so frustrated, he raised a point of order, quite aggressively too: Go Paul!
When Paul and Tonia Antoniazzi MP came down to speak to the huge numbers of patients and supporters who braved the journey and the cold for our #PatientsAtParliament 2 rally in support of the bill, they were both still fuming that members of their own party had effectively filibustered the bill. You can hear what they had to say about it below.
Why did this happen?
What could possibly be gained by Labour MPs filibustering this bill? If they wanted to stop the bill from progressing, they could have allowed it to take place and had it voted down, which would have really killed it and we would have to start all over again. However, all they have actually achieved is to push the reading of the bill back a few months to July 6th.
Inside the world of party politics, there is still a fear that being perceived to be "Soft on Drugs" by the public leads to a measurable drop in support. This fear was validated most recently when the Liberal Democrats announced their support for the full legalisation of cannabis which was shown to have a small but never-the-less significant negative impact on their votes.
An effective way of tackling this, would be if the two main parties who both have yet to review their positions on cannabis as medicine, worked together to change their respective policies at the same time thereby de-risking and de-politicising the whole subject making it much easier to support as a government. That really is how it should be. This is about patients getting legal access to a medicine and not politics.
I was told (by a source) about an internal memo that was distributed to Conservative MPs the night before the bill suggesting that it was probably not going to be read and they should not plan to attend. Knowing full well that this memo would get seen by Labour, they are now free to either allow the bill to progress and attempt to get it passed, knowing that it would not get Government support or filibuster the bill this time to set a new date giving them time to talk and come to an agreement.
This sort of collaboration does happen from time to time and for me, this is the only feasible explanation that makes sense of what happened on Friday.
What happens now?
The #ElizabethBriceBill has now been rescheduled (pun unintended) for July 6th 2018, which is only 4 months away and rather appropriately is also the late Elizabeth Brice's birthday. Good omen? Another good omen is that our Queen will be giving Royal Assent to the legalisation of cannabis in Canada a few days before then too. "Before July 1st" in the words of their Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
But perhaps the biggest clue to why things have changed is the two senior MPs, recently appointed as Co-Chairs of the APPG for Drug Policy Reform alongside Baroness Molly Meacher: Crispin Blunt MP (Conservative) and Jeff Smith (Labour (Whip)). United Patients Alliance will be meeting with both of them in early March after which I hope to be able to give even more positive and detailed news on progress.
We will probably start to see this being played out in front of us over the next few months, in the media and in politics. So if you start to feel there is rather more positive news and press, somewhat more positive statements on the subject from government and shadow ministers and more stories about medical cannabis patients - then we can be pretty sure that we are on the path to real progress, real change. Legal access to cannabis therapeutics could be just a few months away.
Roll on July 6th and #Patientsatparliament 3 (of 3!)