Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Write to Your MP - Today

What is Happening?

Six months ago the legalisation of cannabis was debated in parliament with fewer than 20 MPs in attendance and in a back room. Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb was one of the few that attended and now he is at it again.
The former coalition Health Minister proposed a Ten Minute Rule Bill asking for the very same thing to be debated. So what has changed?

Lamb is now armed with two things that neither he, nor any of the other speakers, could avail themselves with at the last debate:

  • He has the independent panel report on cannabis regulation that was published at the beginning of March, commissioned by the Lib Dems which proposes how the legal regulation of cannabis could be implemented specifically in the UK. 
  • He has the near unanimous support of his entire party at their Spring Conference earlier this month. The Liberal Democrats are a major political party, and Lamb’s call now carries the extra weight of far more voices than 200,000 petitioners. There is clearly appetite for this debate, at least among a swathe of the UK population and many cross-party supporters

The Second Reading of this Bill is scheduled for the House of Commons on 22nd April 2016 and what we really need to be doing is to encourage as many of our MPs to take an interest in this Bill and preferably support it.

Here is the proposal in full: 

A regulated cannabis market for the UK

Who will prepare and bring in in the Bill:

Tim Farron (LibDem)     
Nick Clegg (LibDem)
Tom Brake (LibDem)
Caroline Lucas (Green)
Paul Flynn (Labour)
Peter Lilley (Con)
Norman Lamb (LibDem)

How can we make that happen?

Write To Your MP

Now is the time to contact your MP making it very clear that you expect them to attend the debate and you want them to represent your views and if you can, arrange to meet your MP at their constituency surgery to explain things in person. Saying “NO” by email is much easier than saying it to a medical cannabis patient sat right in front of them.

You must include your full postal address and postcode to show that you are a constituent.  Without this your email or letter will be ignored.

An email or a letter is fine, both is even better and a follow up phone call to their office can be very effective in getting a response.

Write in your own words. Parliamentary email systems can identify and delete “Template Emails” to address campaigns by petitioning groups that have inundated MPs with such correspondence.  

Keep your letter fairly brief. Limited to 3 or 4 paragraphs and a single page is best.

A good format for your correspondence is:

Paragraph 1: Why you are writing? What do you want from your MP?
  • I am/want to be a medical cannabis patient who has suffered from (condition) or I am a recreational consumer
  • What do you expect in return - I want you to attend and represent my situation/opinion/position in this debate....) I want you to tell me your position on this subject. I want to arrange an appointment to see you.
Paragraph 2: Details of condition/consumption/why you believe cannabis should be legalised? It does not have to be every angle or every reason. The ones that mean the most to you will do.

Paragraph 3: I appreciate you taking the time to read this. I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you. Grovel (not really)

What do I Write About?

Use your own words; choose from these points if that helps:
  • Legal regulation of cannabis will move the £6bn per year market out of the hands of the criminals, reducing under age consumption and resulting in better quality and known strengths, less prevalence of Skunk and other high-THC strains which are a response to the illegal market. 
  • The potential benefits of taxation of cannabis would allow us to invest millions more in schools, hospitals, drug abuse treatment and re-education
  • Legalising would reduce police costs and time so they can concentrate on more serious and violent crime, whilst improving relationships with the public.
  • It removes the risks relating to dealing with the criminal market for patients in accessing their medicine
  • Provide patients with much needed medicine that is effective and safe
  • It would save the NHS millions of pounds as people would chose cannabis over other more expensive and less effective pharmaceutical medications. An average Multiple Sclerosis Patient costs £30k per year unless they choose cannabis. In US states where available there is 16%-25% take up. With 100k MS sufferers in the UK, that is a minimum of £480m per year, for just MS.
  • Opiate abuse and overdose has reduced by an average of 25% and Alcohol abuse and overdose by 15% in places where regulated cannabis is available as an alternative. 
  • Allows for more research in more places without the 2 year lead time and additional costs of around £160k per year for licences and materials and would encourage competition by breaking GW Pharmaceutical's UK monopoly
  • It would directly and immediately reduce the numbers of trafficked children forced to work on illegal cannabis grows in the UK
  • It's my Human Right
You can link to the following pieces of evidence in your email or letter or add your own but no more than 3 or 4 excellent links.
Lastly and most importantly; 
Do give United Patients Alliance a mention.
Do support End_Our_Pain for legal access to Cannabis as a Medicine

GOOD LUCK! Let us know how you get on.

Jon Liebling – Political Director of United Patients Alliance
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Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Cannabis Extract and Edibles? Why?

Alex Fraser - Event Director - United Patients Alliance

Cannabis extracts, sometimes known as concentrates are exactly that: concentrated cannabis. As with many legal medicines often it isn’t feasible to ingest enough of the active ingredients when in their natural form. Extracts also provide a much wider scope for methods of ingestion. Oil can be put into caps to be eaten or in suppositories. It is also possible to create a THC-rich form of oil especially for inhaled vaporisation which is proving to be one of the safest and most effective ways to ingest cannabis, as well as the fastest acting, and most effective pain relief available from the plant. All of this is essential to take into account for a medical cannabis patient. 

Eating oil takes up to an hour to take effect. This means it’s impractical for those in need of immediate pain relief (such as myself). Caps are, however, very effective as a course of treatment for the underlying condition and to reduce symptoms over time. There is also the benefit that, when eaten, the effect can last for many hours. For those using it to keep themselves asleep when pain might resurface throughout the night this is very useful. With caps it is also possible to provide a level of pain relief or sedation throughout the day (depending on whether you’re using Indica or Sativa oils). For people who cannot inhale cannabis in any form (due to lung problems) or who cannot ingest via bi-lingual sprays (there are a multitude of medicinal reasons why this might not be possible). Oil caps are going to be the only possible course of medicine for them to get relief without having to bake their medicine into brownies or other foods (an endeavour that costs time, energy and money).

For those who don’t want to experience the “high” from cannabis, suppositories are the only option and again, it must be oil rather than herb that is used. We expect a great deal of medical cannabis use to be done by the over 60’s once legalised (as is the case in many states in the USA that have legal medical cannabis). Many of these people don’t want the heady highs that go with this kind of medication and this can be avoided. Leaving oil illegal will simply mean that this “high-free” option isn’t possible for those that want or need it. Try going to work on high doses of cannabis, it doesn’t work. Suppositories mean one can go about their day, ingest a very high quantity of cannabis but not be seriously inebriated. For those who have cancer but still have to work, putting a canna-cap up their bum before work is a possibly life-saving reality.

One of  other main reasons concentrates are useful is that, for serious conditions and severe pain, cannabis can often not be strong enough in herbal form with people often combining it with opiates. This has meant a reduction in opiate overdoses in states where cannabis has been legalised but with concentrates, a patient’s dependency on opiates can be reduced further still. 

I’ve personally smoked more than a gram of cannabis in a single “joint” and it’s not come close to easing my pain, no vaporisers cater for that size of dose. No vaporiser can fit more than half a gram of cannabis in at one time (to my knowledge). Vaporisable cannabis oil however, can be vaporised in tiny amounts that contain large doses. I have a Dabstorm; an E-cigarette type device that I can use discretely in public. It’s very similar to portable herbal vaporisers I’ve used except that I can fit a tiny amount of herb in a portable vape (about 0.3g at most) whereas my Dabstorm can hold enough oil to keep me pain free for hours, sometimes days, whilst out and about. When at home I can take a very high dose of THC in the form of vaporised oil that would mean smoking or vaporising for at least half an hour solidly. It’s efficient and it’s effective.

Last, but not least, cannabis concentrates aren't identical to cannabis. In two ways:

Firstly, there is some difference in effect. To me a Sativa dab (a single dose of vaporised inhaled cannabis oil made from the bud of a Sativa plant) has a very different effect to any other form of cannabis I've tried. Let’s imagine I’m getting up to get to work, my pain is the worst at this time, I need something with high THC but that doesn’t make me feel lethargic or lazy, that’s going to keep me on my feet as I shower and dress and go about my day. The Sativa dab does this perfectly. Any form of smoked herb makes me lethargic, vaporised herb doesn’t ease the pain enough and if I try to eat any cannabis it will take an hour to take effect. Do you think, if we legalised only herb, that I would revert back to using it? Rather than this particular oil that does exactly what I need, when I need and is available in the UK despite the fact that it’s unregulated and the price is extortionate? Do you think I put a price on being able to get up and get out to work? 

Secondly, Some cannabis extracts are produced using solvents and need expensive, professional vacuum ovens to remove all residual solvents to make these products safe. Here, far more so than with herbal cannabis, a regulated supply is needed. Patients ARE going to use concentrates, it’s a fact. I know very few pain patients who haven’t made the move onto vaporised oils (dabs) and most that haven’t can’t merely due to lack of supply or due to cost. We have a duty to improve these peoples quality of medicines by legalising them all, not just some forms.

Those who have cancer are not going to hesitate to make the RSO or Full Extract oil that they believe will treat them, providing them with safe access is another obligation. These are people trying to find peace in their final hours or prevent a painful death. I’m sure I don’t need to explain how desperation leads to bad decision making. These are the people who are being scammed most commonly, sold oil for ridiculous prices or sold oil that is simply not the product they had thought they were buying. This issue is at the emotional heart of the campaign to legalise medicinal cannabis and desperately needs addressing. Speak to Jeff Ditchfield if you need any more convincing.

At the end of the day, concentrates are cannabis. The two things are the same thing in different forms in the same sense as olive oil is made from olives or butter from milk. If we can provide a wide array of potencies and methods of ingestion with safe, regulated, affordable cannabis concentrates why would we not do so? Why would we limit patients ability to medicate using just one form that works in just one way when we already have multiple forms with many features that make them far more suitable medicines for specific patients, symptoms or scenarios. Why would we not strive to develop regulated outlets for these medicines that patients are ALREADY USING. 

We must be very clear about what we are actually trying to do here: We’re not creating a marketplace, we’re not introducing “new medicines” to the UK. These medicines already exist, there are people making high quality extracts of all kinds in the UK, there are many established brands making edible cannabis in various forms, all illegally. We’re not creating “medical cannabis in the UK”, it already exists, we’re just legalising it, regulating it, and hopefully improving on it. Why would we be happy with anything other than an improvement?

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Help Not Harm in Cork, Ireland

I had a fabulous time in Cork on Thursday meeting energetic, focused, passionate, professional and motivated campaigners. I think progression in Ireland is assured with these peeps running the show.

In the afternoon the Help Not Harm team together with SSDP IE held a "Call to arms" meeting at the Cork Institute of Technology which was attended by around 70 people to rally interest and support for their new medical cannabis campaign hosted by Daniel Ciemiega and with talks from Brian Houlihan, Tom Curran and Myself.

In the evening, the very first campaign meeting was held at Graham De Barra's great little office and was packed to standing room only. Joining #HelpNotHarm and #SSDP were numerous motivated and passionate individuals and organisations including CISTA NI, NORML IRE,  United Patients Alliance, The Green Party and a local councillor too.

Everyone around the room gave an intro about who they were, what their goals, or the goals of their organisation were and it was clear that there were a very diverse range of desired outcomes in the room.

Graham set the stall out right from the very beginning; this was not to be a meeting about our differences but about all that we had in common. The purpose was to gain as much support as possible for this initial medical cannabis campaign and start making plans.  For most, this was simply the best path to getting what everyone wants and the rest accepted that whilst it may not be what they ultimately wanted it was a good step in the right direction and they would either actively support and help or at the very least, not do anything to campaign against it. This way, it would be (at different levels) a benefit to all involved.

"From this point on everybody involved needs to leave their personal goals and egos outside. For this to be as successful as it can be we need focus only on the goals of the campaign and any dissenting opinions left to be expressed in private"

"We should all respect each others opinions and deal with each other in a professional, supportive and collaborative way"

This took about 10 minutes. Everyone agreed.  No-one left the room. Now the planning could start.

Over the next 90 mins everyone gave input. Lots of great ideas and given the context as above, feedback was challenging but kind and respectful and by the time the meeting drew to a close we had a great set of ideas, actions, owners and the beginnings of a great and collaborative plan.

Some groups committed to more, some to less, but the one thing that was assured was that Help Not Harm has the entire community behind it and as such gives it the very best chance to be successful and will inevitably move the whole conversation many steps forward and in double quick time.  

A win for Help Not Harm.  A win for all groups involved whatever their own goals and most importantly a win for medical cannabis patients in Ireland.

Thanks for inviting me, guys. I look forward to working closely with you, and getting United Patients Alliance IRE up and running.

Jon Liebling – Political Director of United Patients Alliance
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Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Leap Day Launch for LEAP UK

Today United Patients Alliance were asked to speak at the Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) UK Launch in the houses of Parliament.
Clark French, Founder and MS Patient, and Faye, Rheumatoid Arthritis Patient, spoke amongst Senior Police officers, experts in drug policy reform, Doctors, MP's, authors, former soldiers and medical cannabis patients from across the globe. We stood together to call for the war on people who consume drugs to end.

It was both an honour and a privilege, huge thanks and respect to Jason Reed and the Leap UK leadership for arranging this event together and for such a fantastic launch. Inspiring.

Neil Franklin US Exec Director of LEAP opened the proceedings talking about how the so called "War on Drugs" had been the most destructive policy since slavery with US prison population rising from 500k to 2.3m with 80% of drug crime inmates being black.

Anna Machon who used to work for MI5 added that during the financial collapse of 2008 without illicit drug money giving them liquidity many more banks would have collapsed illustrating how the Criminal market for drugs now amounts to around $435Bn annually.

Norman Lamb MP spoke up emotionally in support of drug law reform. Coming from a background in Mental Health and as Health Minister for the Liberal Democrats he has seen first hand the damage that the current system of prohibition does to patients already suffering from illnesses and those unlucky few who become addicted and get a criminal record instead of the help and support that they need. He highlighted his parties commitment to the full regulation of cannabis in the UK.

Then we we were taken on a journey from the Poppy Fields of Afghanistan right through to the devastation of lives and families at the other end;

Patrick Hennessey, an ex-officer in the Grenadier Guards fighting in Afghanistan explained how some of the worst fighting took place in Helmand province, where the US army destroyed Opium farms which is the only major industry and economy. The locals and farmers had no choice but to fight back to protect their lives and livelihoods making the war significantly worse.

Johann Hari, author of "Chasing The Scream" then pointed out that there are now 10000 drug related murders in us every year, whereas, Switzerland, who legalised heroin for all addicts has seen ZERO deaths and violence since then and 70% of the public are in full support of this policy. In Portugal where all drugs were decriminalised in 2001 have seen drug harms reduce by around 50% and even those in opposition at the time now support this policy as they have seen how everything the prohibitionists feared have NOT materialised and everything the reformers predicted has been absolutely true. "Legalisation restores order, to the existing anarchy of prohibition"

Hubert Wimber from LEAP in Germany talked about their experience of opening safe consumption rooms for IV drug users, since which they have seen Zero deaths, 100k needles off the street and no public disorder issues - Highly successful harm reduction

Jim Duffy and ex-police officer from Strathclyde noted that drugs have got effectively MUCH cheaper, purer and available since the drug war started in 1974.

"In 1974 we always talked about a £10 deal, which given inflation should now be £147. It's not. We still talk about a £10 deal"

He added that back then Scotland had a finite number (a few hundred) of Heroin addicts all being adequately managed through prescription, but overnight they were all criminalised and had their support taken away. Scotland now has 55k addicts with deaths every day.  

Ex-Officer and now Police and Crime Commissioner for Durham, Ron Hogg, spoke about how the our problem with Alcohol costs the UK around £11Bn a year and whilst echoing support for the principal of decriminalising personal possession through the new Psychoactive Substances Act, highlighted how this is going to make an already impossible task for the police even more difficult. He then went on to explain his "Checkpoint" initiative where consumers are directed to support services rather than through the criminal justice system they are seeing only a 2% re-offending level, which against a national average of 39% represents an incredible result.

Dr Michael Shiner from Stopwatch explained how rather than helping, "Stop and Search" was a significant source of harm having a disproportionate impact on minority communities and leading to increased risk and violence. Ge also added that in his opinion the path to full drug law reform would have to be achieved through "piecemeal" steps in the UK.

Finally we heard a deeply emotional talk from Rose Humphry's from "Anyone's Child" describing how a fear of criminalisation delayed her first child from calling 999 whilst overdosing and how her second son had also overdosed thanks to not knowing the purity due to criminal supply.

A fantastic day in Parliament with intelligence, pragmatism, realism and a great deal of emotion discussing Drug Law Reform has given us all a great deal of hope that times are finally changing and we can look forward to a new world of Evidence Based Policy and a great deal less harm.

Jon Liebling – Political Director of United Patients Alliance
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Tuesday, 12 January 2016

2015 - A Year in Cannabis and Politics

2015 - A Year in Cannabis and Politics

Thank goodness for the cannabis!

United Patients Alliance
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This is what I have been doing in 2015 as Political Director of United Patients Alliance.

This was a great year of relationship building and preparation for real change. I've made a lot of friends, and one or two enemies it would seem (Prohibitionist, David Raynes has a file on me apparently!), met a large number of people who think they are important (there's a lot of those in politics!), oh, and quite a few who actually are. ;)

The first and foremost thing about 2015 I want to mention is the friendliness, compassion and support of all of the UPA family. In some ways, personally, it has not been the greatest of years, but it has been a great help to be surrounded by such lovely people. Thank you all.

UPA UK Tour Jan 2015

The year started off with the very first UPA UK Tour which saw us bring our Patients Perspective and Cannabis College events to Cambridge, Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham through which we gained the direct support of a number of senior politicians and members of the Criminal justice system, including Tom Lloyd, of course, who now chairs the brand new National Cannabis Coalition and Julian Huppert MP both pictured here with Alex Fraser, Clark French and myself.

Cambridge Patient Perspective Event

You can read a full write up here: United Patients Alliance 2015 UK Tour

Green Party Conference 

From there it was Conference season and UPA were invited to man a stand at the Green Party Conference where we were able to talk at length with Caroline Lucas MP and Natalie Bennett who both restated their full support for what we do and promised that The Green Party would continue to help and support us when they can. We got a very warm welcome from pretty much everybody who came to, or was brought to our stand. Big thanks to Sarah Dougan and Craig Crawford for helping out throughout the event.

Green Party Conference Jon and Craig with Nathalie Bennett

Patient Delegation to Drugs Minister Lynne Featherstone MP

In February, I was part of a patient delegation to meet with the new Drugs Minister, Lynne Featherstone who took over from Norman Baker after his resignation.  
The agenda was deliberately narrow in order to just discuss the plight of medical cannabis patients in the UK and whether a process could be approved for importation of Bedrocan Products for patients. Lynne listened to all patients and was certainly very sympathetic and committed to further investigations but did caution, that she might not be in that position come the General Election. 
Unfortunately she was right, and along with many other Liberal Democrat MPs we had made friends with over the year to date, including Julian Huppert and Norman Baker, she lost her seat in the commons though don't be too upset for her, she is now a Baroness.

Home Affairs Select Committee on Drug Policy

Home Affairs Select Committee - Drug Law Reform
The next major political event was the Home Affairs Select Committee for Drug Policy attended by, not least the Bolivian Ambassador who talked about the damage that Global Drug Policy has done to his country over the years. Ironically, this meeting was on the same day as Bolivia's annual and traditional Coca-Leaf chewing day. International law actually makes every participating citizen of Bolivia a criminal on this day.

I exchanged a few pleasantries with Julian Huppert MP, Tom Lloyd, Prof. David Nutt and Baroness Meacher all of whom hold progressive, intelligent, informed and pragmatic views of drug policy in the UK. It was an honour to meet Rt Hon Keith Vaz MP with whom I don't share too many political similarities, but I have a huge respect for his tireless work in Parliament. I also had the questionable pleasure of meeting our 3 main campaign enemies in Sarah Graham, David Raynes and Neil McKeganey. It seems that along with Conservative Women Mary Brett and Kathy Gyngell, who said she did not attend at is was unfairly unbalanced, that they are the very best that prohibitionists have left to make a case. If that's true, I really don't think we have too much to worry about in that regard.

Though at first it seemed like there were a number of things missing from the programme, such as a specific focus on Medical Cannabis or a section on the financial impact of drug policy as it was focussed on the Harms of drug use. By the end, however, I was very pleased that so much was actually covered or at least touched on in the presentations and discussions.

It was noted that the audience and speakers balance was biased in favour of pro-reform however I see little other in this than merely reflecting the natural bias of the facts, experience and science of the debate as well as a true reflection of public support. It was no surprise that the few individuals who were promoting the status-quo represented the least factual arguments. I would have to say that intelligence won the day, but don't get me wrong, at the end of the day, this committee has little power if the government are not listening. Let's see how it progresses in 2016.

The General Election and Guildford Patient Perspective

Then we started moving into General Election time, which makes getting the attention of politicians particularly difficult as they focus on those things that are and always have been higher priorities to win votes. The other issue is that if 1 politician is invited to an event during this time, ALL candidates must be given the opportunity to speak.
The event that stands out during this time is the Guildford Patient Perspective where we managed to get all but one of the local candidates, not surprisingly, it was the Conservative candidate and eventual winner that did not attend, but it was great to have all of the others show their support for legal access to cannabis therapeutics. 

LibDem Candidate Kelly-Marie Blundell at our Guildford Event

Big thank you to Kelly-Marie Blundell (LibDems) for speaking and for subsequently introducing me to more senior members of the LibDem party, including both Tim Farron and Norman Lamb, whose leadership hustings I was able to attend and speak to them about United Patients Alliance and what we are campaigning for and we have the full support of both potential leaders and the entire party as they are now committed to immediate medical access whilst recommending a Royal Commission into general cannabis use and overall drug policy. I have also spoken with Norman Baker and Tom Brake, the LibDem Chief Whip. These conversations along with Tom's Lloyd and the NCC's influence have resulted in a number of new and exciting initiatives to which UPA are wanted and invited, but more on those later.

Of course, then came the General Election which I'm probably not alone in saying was a disaster. Not only did the Conservatives win with a majority but the Liberal Democrats, with whom we had made so much headway had all but vanished, from 50 seats to just 8. I would like to extend congratulations to Tim Farron for becoming Leader of the somewhat smaller Liberal Democrats. I look forward to working more with you and your party in 2016.

Thankfully I have also been communicating with a few Labour Lords and a couple of Senior Labour MPs and we were on the cusp of being invited to meet the commons front bench and be given a stand or the stage at the Labour Party Conference. Unfortunately with the changes in leadership and all their current internal problems they decided to go into a period of navel gazing but promised to re-engage fully in 2016....if they survive?

I'd like to open some doors into the SNP this year. They are all rather quiet on the subject. Not a priority. There are a few SNP MPs who spoke positively during the debate. Anyone from their constituencies that would be willing to write a letter or two - Get in Touch!

Not made too much progress with the Conservatives! Of course!
Though VolteFace has an interesting story worth thinking about: Gove and Prison Reform

National Cannabis Coalition

A potentially game changing initiative was born in 2015 – The National Cannabis Coalition. With former Chief constable, Tom Lloyd unanimously voted in as Chair and supported by board members from across most of the major campaigning groups. This creates an opportunity that I dare to say has never happened before; All (almost) activist and campaigning groups working together and supporting each other to help us all achieve our goals. Even though we might not all agree on what is the right approach, focus and priority or indeed methods – the one thing that I am sure that we can all agree on is Legal access to cannabis for all adults and as a medicine for all. Having such a collaborative organisation with a credible and respected Chair in Tom Lloyd has already caught the interest of a number of media and politicians and helped open a number of doors. More to come certainly from the NCC in 2016.

Guardian - Former Police Chief Chairs National Cannabis Coalition

Product Earth Expo

The next major event was the Product Earth Expo in June. This was a fantastic first event of its kind. It was great to see how the entire hemop and cannabis industry is coming along. The artistry, the engineering and the manufacturing, the genetics, the technology and the horticulture. It was also pretty cool to be at an event where lighters and rolling papers were so cheap too.

Those who stood up to speak did so with so much reason and passion, so much compassion and so many ideas for activism and campaigning. The message is hopeful, it is heartening and the volume is rising.

I'm really looking forward to seeing it become bigger and better in 2016. I hope more people in the UK can see, that a large and wide population of cannabis consumers and enthusiasts is a peaceful, accepting and welcoming community.

Full write up here: Product Earth Hemp Expo

Labour Leadership Hustings - Sky News

When the Labour Leadership Hustings started, what we really needed to know about the potential leaders was their position on cannabis. With a stroke of luck along with relentless posting, tweeting and letter writing, United Patients Alliance had our question asked of the leaders live on Sky during the debate. Happy to say that all of the candidates showed willingness to listen and one or two showed a drive towards change but the very best comments came from somewhat of an underdog at the time but ultimately their new leader in Jeremy Corbyn:

“I don’t think there should be criminalisation of something that is used for medicinal purposes, it is obviously beneficial to many people, particularly those suffering from MS, and I think we should be adult and grown up about this in society and decriminalise.”

I could have hugged him!

Legalise Cannabis Petition and Debate

Of course, no 2015 summary of the Legalise Cannabis Campaign would be complete without referring to the petition which raised nearly 240k signatures and was debated by MPs in Westminster Hall in October.

As with all successful petitions, the Government give their initial response at 10000 signatures: Here is my retort to the Government's initial response.

And a full write up of the actual debate here: Parliamentary Cannabis Debate

Camden Patient Perspective with Baroness Molly Meacher

In preparation for the debate we put on a Pre-Parliamentary Meeting in London with special guest speakers Baroness Molly Meacher, Tom Lloyd and Paul Birch from Help not Harm (Aka: CISTA).
This event was bursting at the seems and appeared in local and national press as well as the whole thing being recorded for the BBC. The footage taken still, unfortunately, is waiting to be aired – watch this space.

Camden Patient Perspective with Baroness Molly Meacher

David Casarett MD - Maidenhead Patient Perspective

In November and with thanks to CISTA/Help Not Harm we had the privilege of meeting David Casarett MD who has just written his new book Stoned - A Doctor's Case for Medical Marijuana. He spoke at our first Home Counties Event in Theresa May's home constituency, Maidenhead. His book can be found here.

He makes the case for how to speak to Health professionals about the benefits of cannabis and stresses the importance of highlighting risks - perhaps even exaggerate them a little. This approach is reflected in his most excellent book about his own personal journey from finding cannabis as a medicine as a joke, to writing a book and training doctors around the world about the medical benefits - It's a great read.

David Casarett - Maidenhead Patient Perspective

Patient Delegation to meet with Nick Clegg MP

UPA Patient Delegation to Meet Nick Clegg
With the assistance of Tom Lloyd and the NCC we were able to take a patient delegation to meet with Nick Clegg MP and his advisors. He is considering supporting a public awareness campaign about the medicinal benefits of cannabis and wanted to hear some powerful stories to give him some broad idea of the current problems that patients face in the UK and give him some anecdotes to use in media interviews and his regular column in the London Evening Standard. I expect to see a write up from him shortly.

Nick endeared himself to the delegation through asking intelligent questions, and his willingness to listen, sympathise and even learn about extracts, growing and various ingestion methods: We even taught him what a "dab" is!

He listened and encouraged everyone:
"This has been a really valuable meeting for me, and I have learnt a great deal about this in just the last hour. Thank you all for coming along today and for your bravery in sharing your personal stories"

Nick, Tim and the other advisers who attended ALL said that they would be in touch, so that's good news for the potential future campaign chances.
He will be meeting with a delegation from Bud Buddies in due course and we definitely have his attention. I am also pretty sure that we have a place at the discussion table for future progress.
Thanks Tom Lloyd for getting the door open and thanks to Clark French, Faye Jones, Jake Barrow, Penny Fitzlyon, Alex Fraser and Keiron Reeves for being brave, coming along and sharing your patient stories.
It is highly likely that we will be doing more of this in 2016 as deeper dives are wanted into cannabis as a medicine - If you would like to be in such a delegation in the future, please get in touch.

Political Engagement

Getting to meet and engage with MPs, politicians and other senior people is neither simple nor quick. You need a thick skin, not mind being rejected and have patience. The best way I have found is to slowly building trust and interest. If you can write to them on an unrelated subject that THEY are interested in. If you can help them by providing information they might need or insights they might be missing. Once you are found to be trustworthy, polite, professional and helpful - You can then get into the subjects you really want and you are so much more likely to get their attention and support.

There is a great, if rare, positive; Through the letters written, introductions made I've had the privilege to meet and discuss my favourite subject and UPAs goals with many cool people, important decision and policy makers and now that those contacts are made, we should be able to exploit them more in 2016. Or, at least I know I am not in their spam folder ;)

Besides those I have already mentioned I have also communicated directly with:

Alex Stevens - Former Conservative Academic Drug Policy Advisor
He can introduce me to their current one, Camilla Cavendish
Prof Les Iversen - Chair of the ACMD and Medical Cannabis Expert
Will be speaking to him further on Psychoactive Substances and Cannabis as a Medicine
Prof Val Curran - Professor of Psychopharmacology - UCL
Working closely with the ACMD and APPG for Drug Law Reform. 
Prof David NuttProfessor of Neuropsychopharmacology
Working closely with the APPG for Drug Law Reform and on the Expert Panel for Cannabis Regulation
Raphael Mechoulem - BioChemist and "Grandfather of Medical Marijuana"
He is hopefully going to introduce me to some of the marijuana researchers in Israel, but frankly, just getting an email from him made me jump for joy - what a privilege! Such a nice chap to answer my emails :)
Lord Brian Paddick - LibDem Lord 
Helping him with Psychoactive Substances Bill. He will be helping me speak to more lords members
Paul Flynn MP - Labour MP
Provided some information for the debate. Will help make inroads into senior Labour MPs
Keith Vas MP - Labour MP
Provided some information for the debate for HASC and for Psychoactive Substances Bill. Will help make inroads into senior Labour MPs
John Redwood MP - Conservative MP
Ok - pretty much totally useless - but did promise to "ask Jeremy Hunt" about rescheduling of cannabis - He did - "The government have no plans to....."

Media Engagement

United Patients Alliance got our name into the media a number of times this year, most notably in The Guardian, Indy, Mirror, London Live, LBC Radio *3, Radio Cambridgeshire and a number of local papers across the UK.

Here are some examples:

Reading Local Press - Cannabis Debate

Guardian - 420 Event

Guardian - Healthy Benefit or Deadly Threat?

Camden Local Paper - Molly Meacher

There is no magic formula for achieving success with the media; Write letters and emails, write blogs and get hits, write more letters and more letters and more letters and more emails. Comment on blogs and on articles..all of them. Write yet more letters. Call journalists. Promise them things, Deliver them. Follow up each letter with a call - In 2 words - Persistence and Passion

I would say that in order to get one letter published in one place, you have to write 20 letters to 20 places - every time! But it IS worth it, because we now have the direct contact and attention of 3 journalists working for national newspapers (Indy, Guardian, Mirror). The hope is that they will "favour" our letters and even request content from us if they are writing a relevant story. Biggest piece of advice: Don't give up, don't get disappointed, keep trying. I have to admit, it does feel good to see your letter get published.

So what about 2016?

Obviously more of the same, but there are 2 or 3 very exciting initiatives about to kick off in Quarter 1 2016:

1: LibDem Expert Group on Cannabis Regulation

Tom Lloyd is on the board of this expert group representing the interests of the NCC and affiliated groups. They will be looking into full cannabis regulation models around the world and produce recommendations for a UK model. We will all have the opportunity to have our arguments heard as this gets going between now and the end of the year.

2: All Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Law Reform (APPG) 

Co-chaired by Baroness Molly Meacher and Caroline Lucas MP, this group now have over 200 Lords and 30 MPs signed up and are looking to do a deep dive into the rescheduling of cannabis and legal medical access for patients. United Patients Alliance will be working directly with her team and I will be needing more patients, more stories and more details about your cannabis consumption. I will be publishing details on this, and asking for help very shortly. They even want to know about cooperative and home growing models! Yay!

3: Focussed (and funded) Campaign

Through Nick Clegg's office there does appear to be some enthusiasm for a funded and focussed campaign within a short frame (18-24mths). This could be focussed on medical access, or perhaps some form of decriminalisation. Something the NCC believe can be won in that time frame. Ideas welcome. In any case, once we can agree on the details, we may just get an external group of marketeers interested in funding and running it.

So that is what the Political Director of United Patients Alliance has been doing in 2015, but to make 2016 the best year ever UPA need your help: 

We need letter writers (media and MPs), bloggers, social media gurus, website admins, developers and designers, Graphic artists, video makers and editors, researchers, patient stories, idea creators, fund raisers - You name it. In fact no matter what your background, skills, capability and experience - I bet we can make use of your talents and you can be a part of making history with us.

Please get in touch ASAP if you would like to be a part of the best campaign group there is for Legal Access to Cannabis Therapeutics in the UK. 

Jon Liebling – Political Director of United Patients Alliance
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