On Friday the 23rd of February a large number of medical cannabis patients, caregivers, family, friends and supporters gathered around Parliament to support Paul Flynn's Medical Cannabis Bill. The atmosphere was one of positivity and community. The vast majority of attendees relished in a bit of peaceful civil disobedience, sharing and sampling meds, discussing activism, the law and politics in good spirits. Even when the Bill was not read, the mood was still one of solidarity and collective determination.
We are and always will be a peaceful organisation that calls on patients to tell their story and to inform and educate both the public and the authorities. We want everyone to feel safe attending our events. We will always strive to defend patients detained whilst medicating on their way to or from the event, or victims of random stop and searches. At last year's Green Pride event (hosted by Brighton Cannabis Club) several individuals were arrested for possession and fined, and we were able to raise the money to pay their fines within a matter of days. We don't believe anyone should be arrested for cannabis possession.
We truly believe change in the UK is possible with better education, understanding and by communicating with the authorities. We are not alone-- we need only look to Durham and Teeside Cannabis Club's recent success at gaining the support of their local police forces. It's not our place to say that direct action should never be an option; however, as the UPA is made up of a majority of sick people, this isn't a direct part of our ethos.
Why can't sick people participate in direct action? Of course we can but as we are people who need cannabis to maintain our quality of lives, it would be irresponsible of the UPA to encourage patients who need cannabis to partake in direct action. Patients risking arrest could lose medicine they rely on which is currently illegal to possess, resulting in disastrous consequences and potential criminal records which could affect them for the rest of their lives.
It is our responsibility at the UPA to make sure that all patients are as safe as possible during peaceful disobedience and activism.
The UPA liaises with the authorities in the weeks and months prior to our public events to ensure a peaceful, friendly atmosphere and the safety of the attendees. Friday was no exception. We had arranged that the small area around the George V statue was one where we could publicly demonstrate without intervention from the authorities. To their credit the authorities kept up their end of the deal. Patients were able to freely medicate, we had a few small plants on the UPA and UKCSC stalls to show people and in the end, no one was arrested within the confines of our event.
Unfortunately, some activists have taken to trying to discredit the UPA for not encouraging members and supporters to be arrested in relation to an incident at the recent protest. The UPA would like to apologise for any upset our initial statement regarding this incident may have caused. We are not afraid to admit when we have made mistakes and we hope that a similar sentiment will be shown by other activists. We are on the same side and have the same goal even if we disagree on which route will get us there the quickest.
Anyone wishing to avoid arrest should refrain from informing police directly of their intent to supply anyone with cannabis. Possession of cannabis is currently illegal and people who do not wish to be arrested should stay close to the main rally. It is our opinion that acts of defiance rarely gain the cannabis community any favour with the public, the authorities or the media: the very people we are trying to convince of the legitimacy of our cause. Although we are of course unhappy that the police chose not to use their discretion and were heavy-handed with some patients and activists, we understand that the law has not been changed yet, which just goes to reinforce why our campaigns are so important and why we must focus on the future and changing the law.
UPA Patron and Former UK Drugs Minister Norman Baker said:
"In my time at the Home Office I worked with a number of Conservative ministers including Theresa May. It is my opinion that presenting the medical need for patients with particular conditions to be able to access cannabis is the only way in which their minds might be changed. This is why I was pleased to become a Patron of the United Patients Alliance, to help the people who need it most to access cannabis as a medicine."
"It is an unhelpful distraction at a serious rally for anyone to tell a police officer they are intending to supply cannabis. Arrests and subsequent police involvement does nothing to advance the cause and may even damage it. It is also unlikely to have helped Alfie's application for a Home Office licence to treat his seizures."
It is disheartening that the Bill wasn't read on Friday, even more so that it was filibustered by a Labour MP. Medical cannabis is an issue that is clearly dividing the Labour party. Let it not divide our community. We have more MPs voicing their support than ever before, and medical institutions such as the MS Society and the WHO are getting on board. We are hosting ground-breaking events such as the recent Northern Irish Medical Cannabis Summit and we have the first ever medical cannabis Bill in parliament with a new date of 6th July for the next reading.
With the home office granting Alfie Dingley a temporary licence and him legally accessing Bedrolite on the NHS, there has never been a better time to join the cannabis campaign. We would like to take this opportunity to show our support for, and thank Alfie's mother Hannah Deacon for her tireless work for her son. This is a huge step and may help many other patients to gain legal access to the medicine we so desperately need.
There is a lot to get excited about and many great reasons to come together in solidarity to peacefully support the Bill on the 6th of July. We hope to see you there with us.