Former police chief calls for cannabis legalisation at Camden event

The United Patients Alliance met in Camden on Monday

The United Patients Alliance met in Camden on Monday - Credit: Archant

A former police chief has joined terminally ill patients in urging medicinal cannabis be legalised – saying it is an “injustice people are being sent to prison just for helping themselves cope with pain”.

Residents suffering illnesses like multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease and ME issued tear-filled pleas to a packed audience in Camden, as they told of their struggles dealing with their diseases.

They said the use of cannabis to alleviate symptoms had been “life-changing” and was safer than legal drugs prescribed by their doctors. They added that current UK drug laws “urgently needed to catch up with the rest of the world”.

They were speaking at an event organised by the United Patients Alliance (UPA), which campaigns for cannabis to be made legal, in Euston on Monday.

It comes as MPs are set to debate the future of the Class B drug on October 12, after a petition to legalise the use, growth and sale of cannabis was signed by more than 200,000 people.

It’s a moment described by the UPA as a potential “crossroads” for UK drug law reform, and follows announcements from two UK police chiefs that their forces would no longer target small-scale growers of cannabis to instead devote resources to “more serious” crimes.

Tom Lloyd, a Met Police officer for 25 years and former head of Cambridge police, added his voice to calls for legalisation.

Speaking at the event, he said many senior police officers now privately agree with him that drug law enforcement has been a “hugely costly failure”.

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Mr Lloyd added: “As a police officer, when it came to drug law enforcement I did more harm than good.

“It can never be right for the police to arrest and prosecute someone for growing and consuming cannabis to treat serious medical conditions. I don’t use cannabis myself as I’m well enough not to have to, but I would if I needed to.

“Children are at most risk from current drug laws [and] I think more police officers will start speaking out about this.”

Mr Lloyd was recently made the chairman of the National Cannabis Coalition (NCC), an alliance of pro-cannabis groups which intends to ramp up efforts lobbying MPs.

While many countries, including Germany, have relaxed laws on cannabis use, the group faces an uphill battle as the government issued a recent statement which sought to quash any suggestion of a change in law, saying there is “substantial scientific evidence to show cannabis is a harmful drug that can damage human health”.

It added: “Cannabis can unquestionably cause harm to individuals and society. Legalisation of cannabis would not eliminate the crime committed by the illicit trade, nor would it address the harms associated with drug dependence and the misery that this can cause to families.

“Legalisation would also send the wrong message to the vast majority of people who do not take drugs, especially young and vulnerable people, with the potential grave risk of increased misuse of drugs.”

Many of the movement’s potential supporters in Parliament have been Liberal Democrat MPs, a significant proportion of whom lost their seats at May’s general election.

But Baroness Molly Meacher, who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy Reform and spoke at Monday’s event, said more politicians from the other parties were coming round to the idea of legalisation – including some who had been “traditionally tough on drug laws”.

She said: “Cannabis significantly helps people with MS whose symptoms don’t respond to traditional treatments. But cannabis also transforms the lives of people who live with chronic pain, children with very severe epilepsy, cancer patients and many others. Germany is among the EU countries who have legalised cannabis for medical use. Britain urgently needs to catch up.”

Currently, the only cannabis-related drug available to UK patients is Sativex – a spray designed for multiple sclerosis patients. Its expense means many patients are denied the drug on the NHS.

Residents attending Monday’s event, many of whom were in wheelchairs or unable to stand unaided, heard first-hand the struggles patients have faced when trying to deal with the pain caused by their illnesses.

Alex Fraser, who was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease aged 19, said: “I cannot be prescribed any traditional painkillers for my chronic pain. Cannabis is my only medicine, it’s the only thing that’s ever worked. It eases my pain, gives me an appetite, helps me sleep and reduces my nausea. Without cannabis, my life would barely be worth living.”

Jake Barrow, of Manchester, suffers from chronic and neuropathic pain. He said: “To expect anyone to cope or even survive on heavy opiate based medications for their entire lives shows how both cruel and inhumane political ideology can be. We need to remove the stigma from medical cannabis use.”

Other patients, some of whom broke down in tears, said after complaining about the side-effects of legally prescribed medicine, their GPs had privately suggested using cannabis. Another even said sympathetic police officers had allowed her to keep some of the Class B drug when her stash was seized.

The group all urged residents in Camden, Barnet and Haringey to write to their MP to let them know their thoughts before the debate on October 12.

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