Following Marc Emery's recent release from a 5 year stint in federal prison in the United States for selling cannabis seeds, Marc and Jodie Emery kicked off with a small European tour that included Spain, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Manchester and, last but not least, London. If you are not aware of the Emerys, especially Marc, then you should really have a Google for the pair's work. In the pro-cannabis movement Marc Emery has made a name for himself and has earned himself the title of "The Prince of Pot" thanks to a documentary made about him and his (some may say) heroic actions to push forward legalisation. Here's a few links for you to check out if you can't be bothered to Google:
I was fortunate enough to be able to nab a ticket for the London event and a sofa at a good friends for the night so hopped on a coach for what might be a once in a lifetime event to see Marc and Jodie Emery talk live in London. The talk was being held at the London Imperial College and all tickets, including reserves, were sold out. I arrived at London Imperial College rather dishevelled and sweaty. It had been a very warm day and I'd travelled 5 hours from Swansea to London via coach, walked an hour from Victoria station to my friends to drop off my things, and stopping for a quick smoke before tubing it from Waterloo to South Kensington. I walked the rest of the way up to the Imperial College, and all in Skinny jeans I might add.
I started walking through the huge glass reception area of the college and asked the security person at the tiny desk in the corner where the talk was being held and he mumbled something about Sherfield building and to keep walking until a gift shop and then something about stairs. Here I met the lovely Beccy from Cannabis Quilt UK (an activist group creating a patchwork protest quilt to be taken to protests in the UK) who was also attending the talk and together we set off down the corridors, to the gift shop, down some stairs and nope wasn't down there. Eventually we found out it was in the next building and after heading downstairs in a lift and walking through a set of double doors that familiar sweet hazy smell hit me and I instantly knew I'd found it and that I was amongst friends. The corridor was filled with cannabis activists and enthusiasts from all over the UK.
The evening kicked off with Stuart Harper of Norml UK who gave the introductions throughout. The first speaker of the night was UKCSC's Greg De Hoedt talking about the Cannabis Social Clubs and the ideas and motivations behind them. There wasn't really anything new here for me as I am a member of a cannabis social club (duh!) and know how they work so I won't be going over the details of Greg's talk in this article (sorry Greg). For those that don't know about the cannabis social clubs you can checkout the UKCSC's website for more information or our own informational pages (coming soon). If you grow for yourself or just a few friends already you may want to check out the "Collectives" sections and see what a cannabis social club can do for you.
The Emerys were up next and they took a ladies first approach with Jodie taking the lead. Jodie looked bright and confident as she took her place at the front of the lecture theatre despite back to back travelling and talking across the UK and Spain. She began the tale of herjourney from naive prohibitionist to iconic cannabis and drug reform activist by starting off reminiscing of school and how she used to be a very straight
laced student that never did drugs and was even teacher's pet. Jodie's mind was pretty closed when it came to drugs. She believed everything the media had told her. When her friends started smoking cannabis she would be the friend that told them how bad it was for them and, wait for it, "it would ruin their lives or kill them". As you can imagine the room chuckled and groaned as the fact of the matter is that nobody has ever died from a cannabis overdose (it's proven to be near impossible) and only a small number of users suffer with addiction if at all (estimated at around 9% of users though physical addiction has never been proven). When you understand that addiction isn't the fault of the drug but of events in the users life that makes them feel they need to escape you also realise drugs do not ruin peoples lives but instead provide an escape for an already fractured life for a very small number of people. Knowing about all of Jodie's activism to date it's hard to picture her as this naive, teacher's pet that rarely questioned anything.
With Jodie spouting this nonsense to her cannabis smoking friends they began to get a little sick of it and started educating her about the truth about cannabis and introduced her to Marc Emery's Cannabis Culture magazine. She also began to notice it was her smarter friends in school that smoked the most and they were still hitting the high grades, unlike everything she had ever been told. The more she found out the more she was compelled to research. The deeper she went the more lies she found until she started questioning everything. This new open minded Jodie slowly became a cannabis activist and ended up meeting and joining Marc on his mission to legalise cannabis in Canada.
She talked more about the political side to her activism , about learning to interact with our oppressors, and to talk and open dialogues with them when possible. She talked of her experiences of when she had to be a part of a drug reform panel with the very Judge that sentenced Marc finally and how nerve-racking it was for both of them but what needs to be understood is that we're all held to these laws and that law enforcement face their own fears and fights too if they don't follow current law. The Judge in question ended up siding with reform in the end and both him and Jodie ended up on the same panel while Marc was still in prison. Everybody is scared and have things they care about they are trying to protect. She told how when he had to greet her he was incredibly awkward and blurted out "I didn't know your husband" as he had to shake her hand and that she told him it was OK and that he had to do what he had to.
Jodie also talked about another thing that is important and that's about tailoring the facts you use to your audience. So far mostly what I've seen from some UK activist groups is non-targeted campaigning. So far it's been just general protests in very public areas with little direction. We should be focusing on educating the public so that they care and to do this we need to tackle certain audiences. A big one in the US that helped win in most states is by targeting mothers. Mothers should be some of the most interested parties in the legalisation of cannabis for a number of reasons and Jodie made some of them very clear in her example. She began talking about cannabis' benefits and some of the amazing things that it's responsible for and one of those things being it showing huge promise when it comes to treating cancer. It sounds crazy but it's true and proven. There are a number of studies showing cannabis successfully treating cancer in cultured cells and in mice as well as a growing number of living cases that have successfully treated their cancer with cannabis. It's also used to help combat nausea, pain and lack of appetite from chemotherapy in the US and Israel which has been showing an improvement in patient success rates. This is a very important point that everybody needs to know and should be asking about but her point was this, if a mother comes to you concerned at a protest or event and says "My son is smoking cannabis, I'm so worried for his health, what should I do?" responding with "Oh it can cure cancer, it's harmless" isn't going to help the mother or help her see your point of view. Instead you may take the opportunity to give her facts that are relevant to her and the situation like "The risk and damage of a criminal record will have more of a negative impact on her sons life and health than cannabis could or that prohibition forces him to interact with hardened criminals which again is far more dangerous than actually smoking weed".
She also said something which I think some people could maybe take heed of in the UK as, to me, it seems to makes sense. It was along the themes of interacting with our oppressors and about when legalisation does come around in whatever rudimentary form it may be, we should take it, always take it, and then push for more. I've seen a lot of articles and people chewing the fat in the comments on a lot of articles and facebook posts saying that we shouldn't be pushing for medicinal first as in the states it's been being pushed for more than 20 years and only 2 states now have legal recreational cannabis and they're still not up to even half of US states having medicinal cannabis yet. I'm not sure of the logic here. People who smoke solely for recreational purposes can choose whether to break the law or not and choose whether to use an illegal substance as their high of choice. Medicinal users, genuine medicinal users, do not have a choice. Often cannabis works better than their prescribed medications and means most patients can replace multiple medications with nasty side effects for a single more efficient medication with nice side effects which isn't toxic for your body either. Sick people don't have a choice so of course medicinal first is the most sensible, especially if it's the most likely to be listened to as well. There is absolutely no sense in standing against any form of legalisation or decriminalisation as any form will mean less ruined lives from the outset and then we continue to push and work with the government and law makers to make legalisation work for us. We made the initial steps happen, we can make the rest too. Regardless of how much we don't like the intricate details of any form of legalisation, as long as people are no longer going to be arrested, it should be taken and then we continue fighting until the laws are reasonable for us all. Stopping as much suffering as possible is always the first port of call.
Jodie's talk was inspiring and it was amazing to be able to hear her talk in person. The whole talk was both interesting and entertaining and I think we could learn from some of the things she talked about and use them to help make our fight in the UK that little bit stronger. She rounded off with saying is it better if we let the government place the stepping stones of prohibition alone or if we talk to them and we help them lay the stones? I'm paraphrasing of course. My note taking that evening left something to be desired but my memory remembered Jodie's points if not everything word for word.
Here a smoke break was much needed and many went off for a 10 minute smoke break before coming back for Marc's talk but looking at the length of this article I'll split the two talks in to two articles. This will be part 1 and Marc's talk can be found here in part 2. So what do you think about some of the things Jodie had to say with regard to drugs policy and politics? Do you think we should be working with the authorities to push for change? Do you think medical first is the right approach? Should we be targeting our campaigns more rather than trying to get the public interested as a whole?