The phrase “pipe dream” is today used without any reference to its opium based origins but is by no means the only historic reminder of our county’s narcotic past in language and culture. Hemel Hempstead, or Hemel’s Hemp Farm as it should more accurately be known is the parliamentary seat of prohibition’s finest, Mark Penning MP.

Yet all across the media are subtle tells as to how even the right wing sees different types of drug use, how distinctions and allowances are sub consciously made even when supposedly condemning all drug use.

Take the terms “pusher” and “dealer”, if you hear about an arrest for cannabis there may be a mention of a dealer, but almost never a pusher. Pushers are referred to entirely within the context of hard drugs like heroin. This is not so much a commentary on the individuals arrested for dealing or the incidents themselves but a judgement on the product specifically.

If you have ever worked in retail you will be familiar with the notion of your manager instructing you to push sales, sell bundle deals, and to generally encourage, bully and berate your customers into taking a product they don’t want or do not want at that price and/or quantity.

“Dealer” is definitely a metonym for “bad guy” within the “prohibitionist press” (itself a metonym for “Daily Mail”) but the narrative linked to that of “Cannabis Dealer” is one of paranoid (the irony!) middle class parents needing to stop their children from going to buy drugs with their pocket money; not that of an aggressive outlaw salesman forcibly conducting a transaction outside a school gate.

This nuance is, I believe, an indication that on some level even the Daily Mail understands that cannabis is a good product that people want to indulge in for recreational and/or medicinal reasons. Ultimately it must be conceded that beyond each year’s Snoop Dogg album there is no overt advertising for cannabis. If a product can be rife despite a legal control order, an aggressive media campaign against it with no effective advertising or furious promotion in its favour but still results in, if anything, a growing market share, then the truth must be that this really is a good product.

The fairy tale of Skunk, at its core, is one of trading standards and changelings, of innocents being mislead. Rather than purchasing something benign, users are supposedly purchasing something dangerous, thus duped into taking a sweet poison that transforms them into unrecognisable doped up zombies. This myth is rooted in fears of the outside and foreign, as "dealer" is used interchangeably with "criminal" and "villain", "cannabis" too becomes inextricably linked by the media and government to “Vietnamese”, “gang-related”, “electricity-bypass” and “schizophrenia”. This imagery is absolutely at odds with the traditional cannabis imagery of friendly hippies passing joints around a lava lamp or that of Ricketty Bob and Milk Eye Jim quietly smoking for their arthritis and glaucoma. It is designed to distance a reader from their previous accurate understanding of cannabis as quickly as possible. Essentially: “It’s not the nice cannabis you remember. It is bad cannabis from foreign parts with absolutely no redeeming features or explanation as to why anyone would ever smoke it.”

I recall, as gay rights began to become more credible and accepted (possibly after the announcement about gay marriage), and LGBT people began to become more accepted both in the media and in day to day life; I read an article from one gay club owner, now an old man, torn between joy at the increased acceptance of his community and sadness at the fading he imagined soon to take place of gay culture. Specifically that gay clubs would be less busy, less popular, less the only refuge available to gay young people and less and less the home of gay culture and social tradition due to mainstream acceptance and compatibility. All signs point to this fading not having taken place, rather now there is more and more chance for gay culture to be celebrated just more openly than ever before.

It is hard to see how cannabis users could be further from mainstream society in terms of their representation within it despite their numerical prevalence and ubiquity. Whether it is a wizened and bearded old man in a tie dye shirt or a willowy woman with hair to her waist walking bare foot proclaiming her name to be “Starbreeze”, even the kinder depictions of cannabis users are unusual; while the more obviously negative depictions of tracksuit wearing teens smoking their lives and minds away also sit in opposition to images of “acceptable” mainstream society.

“I know! Drugs are bad, because if you do drugs, you're a hippie! And hippies suck!‏”– Eric Cartman.

“Stoner culture” is something we celebrate all the time, sometimes literally with 4:20pm and other little remembrances. Like clockwork an article will appear in every newspaper on the 19th of April explaining how many young people will no doubt be inhaling funny smelling smoke tomorrow and not to worry too much about this cult tradition. Each and every part of our stoner culture keeps us in opposition and marked out as different from normal society. I think being different is good but, in terms of how stoner culture is represented in even the left wing and liberal parts of the media, you would never believe that it is actually huge swathes of normal society that smoke/vape/whatever for both fun and health reasons and it is not a tiny minority of imaginary students faking crippling arthritis. Addressing this and assimilating stoner culture and lifestlye into mainstream culture will be the key stop on the road to change. For example if you see a stoner on current TV or in a mainstream film it will be as a villain or as a clown figure to laugh at. They will never ever be depicted casually as a successful or even everyday person. There won’t be a leading female character who has a smoke occasionally to relax in the evening even if Jennifer Aniston does off screen:

“Jennifer Aniston has told how she enjoys smoking marijuana and sees 'nothing wrong' in it. The Friends star, who is married to Brad Pitt, made the potentially damaging confession when she was asked during an interview about rumours of drug taking. 'I enjoy it once in a while,' she told Rolling Stone magazine. 'There is nothing wrong with that. Everything in moderation. I wouldn't call myself a pot-head.'”

Hard bitten detective characters still have to unwind by pounding shots of whiskey late at night after chasing thugs through bad neighbourhoods, even if Morgan Freeman is actually packing bongs back in his trailer. It all seems pretty unrealistic when so much of the population either smokes occasionally or more regularly either as a patient or recreationally.

Likewise, if you openly admit that you smoke, you have to negotiate the term pot-head or more likely here in the UK “stoner”. There is nothing wrong with the term "stoner" in of itself and how it is used amongst stoners as a self-identifying label and indicator of a shared interest. Outside of the sub-culture though “stoner” translates as something closer to alcoholic or chronic user. There is not presently a short hand way of saying “I am a medical patient who finds relief through cannabis” or “I prefer to relax by watching DVDs with a couple of spliffs once or twice a week.” Instead, you are a “user” or possibly a “consumer”, labelled again by terms suggesting that you are entirely defined by your relationship with cannabis or that you blankly and blindly consume cannabis without thinking. Any culture with a similar level of history, detail and community would see its proponents referred to as “enthusiasts”. We need as a movement to change the language around cannabis and become cannabis enthusiasts, sharing community space, legitimacy and agency with real ale enthusiasts, vintage car enthusiasts, craft enthusiasts and every other legitimate hobby or interest.

It is this problem over language which makes reform so difficult. The language around cannabis use forces campaigners to try to apologise for the perceived images and stereotypes of "stoners" first before making any other point such as highlighting the unfairness of present legislation. It is this which partly feeds into my next point about campaigning in the UK.

At the moment within UK cannabis activism there is an incredible amount of dissent and bitterness. There is the CLEAR vs. NORML argument, the UKCSC vs. Feed The Birds argument, the normalisation vs. decriminalisation/legalisation argument. Before that there were a great number of dead groups that have mingled, influenced, reformed and ressurected into one or more of the current UK groups.

Some of this hostility and antagonism comes from a difference of opinion over whether direct action such as smoke outs are a good idea vs. careful lobbying and letter writing. Other fights come from claims of cliques, takeovers and other much more dubious behaviour. Whatever the truth or legitimacy of each disagreement, grudge and rivalry in the UK cannabis activism scene it is painfully obvious that the general state of infighting and the forming of separate camps rather than the sharpening of allied prongs helps no one.

It is often said that the Right looks for converts and the Left for traitors, certainly the activist scene looks for traitors. While some might see suit wearing cannabis activists as a contradiction in terms and therefore a blatant deception or that the recreational campaign taints the medicinal one, it seems to me that a stronger campaign is one that is united and perceives those engaged in the same struggle as its allies and as a force multiplier. The most effective campaigns in history have campaigned through both legal lobbying and direct action. It allows a pressurised incumbent government to make “reasonable” concessions without appearing to capitulate to the most extreme parts of movement. The idea that one small campaign is going to achieve anything without the support of many others running alongside it is ridiculous. All it actually does is excite petty egos and entrench establishment attitudes due to the lack of an effective challenge –and that’s before the embarrassment and damage that infighting causes.

If the government and/or media successfully controls the language around the debate meaning that anyone talking about cannabis has to wade through a metaphorical swamp of "skunk dependency" and marching columns of deranged teenager statistics; then the language has to be challenged and redefined from the ground up.

The very first thing we can do as casual or more hardcore activists –but definitely as cannabis enthusiasts (not users or consumers) is to take ourselves and the cause seriously. We do that by welcoming everyone who shares our goal and working out how we can support one another. When we are out and about and find ourselves challenging people criticising “stoners” lets ask them what they mean by that word, lets ask them if they were a stoner when they tried smoking weed at college or when they sneakily have a sly puff at a party now, and if the word always means the same thing. Lets get coherently offended online and in person when we are referred to as “lazy” or “druggies”, or any time any inaccurate stereotype is applied to us.

Much more importantly, lets make our discontent clear first of all and then drop support for activists and groups that are more interested in fighting other activists than they are in challenging prohibition. Lets not get involved in facebook shit storms and name calling and instead focus our comments and energy on the people who are making a difference.

If prohibition is a brand, marketed, with millions of pounds, spin doctors and advertising tricks to back it up world wide; then there needs to be a rebrand of both weed and its activists. All the prohibitionists are all shooting in the same direction and they are shooting at the MS patient, the dreaded hippy, the rasta, the suit wearing professional, the online activist, the student, and the social smoker alike.

This TEDx Talk is about a case in the US that you might have already heard of. Her story was one of the first I'd heard about children being treated with cannabis for rare and fatal forms of epilepsy. It's one that I've seen shared many times but too many people still haven't heard about it.

Josh Stanley, of the Stanley Brothers from Colorado, talks about his inspiring story of meeting Charlotte Figi and her parents and their fight for medicinal cannabis for children. It's an emotional journey following the tale of how a strain of cannabis high in CBD and low in THC has helped Charlotte go from having 400 seizures a week and being fed by a tube through her belly to just 0 - 1 seizures a week and getting back her mobility and life again.

Cannabis is made up of hundreds of chemicals called, including but not exclusive of, cannabinoids, flavinoids, and terpenes. The cannabinoids each have been found to have different healing effects on our bodies although research has been limited due to the classification of cannabis holding back legitimate research into it's health benefits. THC and CBD are the two most common and main active cannabinoids found in cannabis and it seems that CBD has been showing great promise as a neuroprotector and also seems it could help repair brain function.

Here in the UK there seems to be HUGE doubt amongst the general public and even the cannabis community about the efficacy of cannabis as a medicine. It's proving difficult all over the world to really drive home that some people really need cannabis to live. That without cannabis they will die. This is fact and is a stark reality for many people all over the world. Now, imagine one of your children was one of these people that needed cannabis to live. Would you abide by the law and let your child suffer? Would you break the law and stand up for your child's right to health and life?

There are millions of victims of prohibition who do not have a voice. These children battling fatal diseases are one of them.

This touching talk from Hugh Hempel at the University of Nervada is about his journey into treating his terminally ill daughters with cannabis. His daughters suffer from a rare and fatal neurodegenerative disease called Niemann Pick Type C, often referred to as “Childhood Alzheimer's”. It helps to shine a light on why access to medicinal cannabis in the UK is so important and should be being brought into the spot light.

Please, if you can, help share these children's stories. We have thousands of children suffering similar fates in the UK where cannabis is still completely prohibited with no medicinal access at all.

Something a little different for this article -and not really about cannabis at all. I was absolutely gutted when the smoke cleared from the election, I stayed up late to watch it, turned in to bed at 4 and was then very disappointed by the result facing me when I woke up. I am left leaning to say the least and had very firmly voted Green for about one hundred reasons, not least their enlightened attitude towards cannabis.

I lay on the sofa and was pretty miserable for a few hours, I thought about how food bank use is going to multiply and how vindictive benefit sanctions will be more than just common but likely a constant reality for all sorts of different people, but especially the disabled and even more so for people who don't have a great support network. I have also always been very much struck by the sentiment that politics isn't just once every few years, but something you do everyday and is personal.

I have been really inspired recently by Feed the Birds, Bud Buddies of course, and the work of another cannabis social club (I want to say Leicester but I could be wrong as to who it is) who have spent time handing out care packages to the homeless in their area. I really want to do something to help people fighting against austerity and those suffering under it. It would be easy to drop some cash to a food bank (which I do from time to time) but I want to do something that adds a little extra, not just throw money at a problem that should not exist anyway.

I read recently about a community garden in the US where people can go and pick fruit and vegetables for themselves and their family, the community all working together to keep the project going. I had a look and there is no way I can afford to rent or buy land for a giant polytunnel or greenhouses anywhere round here and indeed it would probably be a full time job to grow and distribute fruit and veg for free on my own, I have asked the council before and it is a total nightmare getting allotment space near me.

Then I remembered something I had been reading about a little while ago. It appealed to the green fingered individual that I am (something I am sure many of the rest of us here are also).
(This is not my work, just to be clear I am referencing this guy's ideas not claiming them as my own)

In short, a way to turn the numerous empty pop bottles in my house, and a garden wall into a tomato, celery, and lettuce factory. I already grow potatoes in bags so the plan is to give excess potatoes (most of them) and any kind of decent vegetable crop to my local food bank. I am currently waiting to hear back whether or not they will accept fresh home grown produce but have no reason to believe not.

Like the social club handing things out to the homeless somewhere in England, I don't intend to do this in my name but rather that of Swansea Cannabis Club or possibly under the (rather half baked) name PUFF! or Pop Up Freedom Foods! (this part of the idea may not make it to reality -I will probably just give it in the name of the club). Once I have the bottles built and going I will take some pictures as the crops develop and get them up here. If this post inspires you to do anything similar, join our forums and post pictures of your crop up there.

If we were all doing this it would not change the problems facing society, but it would impact on some of them in our own area. It is also basically impossible to mess up growing potatoes and absolutely no effort to run the bottle garden once it is set up.

So, sorry this was not about the drug war or the causes of prohibition as per usual, but I think there is a bigger battle going on in this country that prohibition is a part of, and much like the drug war we can pull together and fight austerity or we can leave it go and hope politicians will wise up on their own.

Further proof that growing your own is the way forward.  ;p

Story telling is an important skill if you are a government or media drug warrior, if you are unable to trade in facts (because you don’t have any helpful ones), frightening narratives have to be created in order to justify your incoherent policies. Villains must be invented and nightmare landscapes have to be designed. New generations are born who need to hear the story, old generations who have forgotten have to hear it once again.

Do you remember the good hash from the sixties? You are probably a bit young, I am definitely too young. Our parents remember it though, and their parents do too. Back in the sixties cannabis was just as illegal as it is today. Headlines warned against the dangers of cannabis and arrests were made, prison sentences were served. Many disagreed with this law and so cannabis consumption influenced culture and a not insignificant number of people’s way of life.

The exact same story is of course being played out today with the so called “dangers of skunk”. The same people who perhaps realised that cannabis was not really that dangerous and actually quite a lot of fun during their own youth are being told (and are telling others) that in fact cannabis is extremely dangerous. The favoured trope of how it was all better back in the good old days is writ large. At the same time the older generation's past transgressions of hash smoking are legitimised and codified (those harmless hippies were so lucky) –part of another simpler and safer time which has now sadly faded away.

If you watch Channel 4 Drugs Live experiments or read Daily Mail horror stories, you could be forgiven for thinking that modern cannabis aka “skunk” (which strangely enough is the same plant as the cannabis from fifty years ago) has absolutely no pleasurable side effects, that it induces paranoia immediately and places a dose of schizophrenia in the post addressed directly to your brain.

Ignoring the misleading language and fallacy of the term “skunk” for a moment, skunk is also apparently the predominant type of cannabis available on our streets. (Elsewhere on this site you can find exhaustive explanations as to why this is not true.)

If fillets of roast beef and pieces of smoked salmon overnight started tasting of ashes and made everyone vomit no one would buy them anymore. The excellent Neil Woods writes that there are at least two cannabis grows for every police officer in the UK elsewhere I have read that there is effectively one person growing cannabis on each street in the UK. Without a doubt though, there is a lot of cannabis being grown in the UK for the domestic market.

The story of complete proliferation through the UK clashes with that of “skunk” being a truly horrible experience. So one of the stories cannot be true –either cannabis is regularly consumed by many, many people or it is a dangerous substance without any joy to it which no one has any incentive to consume ever.

The unspoken truth about cannabis and other drugs is that people like the effect that comes from consuming them. Whether its medicinal or recreational a substance is sought out and taken because people understand they will enjoy the effect. Society drinks alcohol because the majority of young men and women through to great grandparents enjoy the effects of drinking either in moderation or to some degree of excess.

Normally, it might be wise to address the incorrect argument that the reason people repeatedly smoke any kind of cannabis is because its some kind of addictive gateway substance. There is not a reason to do this any more as the prohibitionist argument has changed from "Well maybe its safe-ish but you will end up on heroin" to "It is flat out the most dangerous drug in our society". It is this sort of storytelling, changing the danger to suit the times which delays the end to prohibition. People come to realise the truth about one argument such as the gateway theory and discount it. Now the skunk argument is being very, very gradually discredited, accordingly we will see it dropped in favour of a new invented harm. So it will continue and continue.

There are different harms around each substance that vary according to the substance and its manner of intake, but the core reason that narcotic substances including alcohol and tobacco are indulged in is because people like them and enjoy their effects. Different amounts of users depending on the substance are problematic for society. Alcohol users as a group are far more of a problem for society than cannabis consumers for instance –just check the violent crime statistics.

So, if as a government you have decided that you don’t want people to do something that they enjoy (whatever it is and for whatever reason) and you have already banned it and threatened the people involved with ruined lives one way or another; the next best thing to do is to start designing a mythology around it. This can include elements of racism and flat untruth, moral warnings and more, but the most powerful imagery is that of a struggle or a war.

Officially, The War On Drugs began in the middle of 1971, though many narcotics had already been banned around the world for several decades previous to this. The War on Drugs is interesting and important as it was the first deployment of military forces against one or more nouns.

A war is a potent device to use in your narrative, it generates ideas of right and wrong, good and bad, heroes and villains, traitors, duty, and of course victory and defeat. It is very compelling and dramatic. Looking through our television and computer screens though it only takes a child to tell you that it is civilians who suffer the most in a conflict, and as Bill Hicks said “A war is when two armies are fighting”.

Once  a war is declared it has to be ended at some point either in victory or defeat. The costs of our war spiral ever upward with no end in sight because the enemy the war is fought against is the taxpayer funding the same war against itself; in the UK to the tune of £400 a year each:

Personally, I am very unhappy with how my £400 is spent each year! Being born after the 70s I have not lived during a time when my allotted country has not been at war with drugs. During this time I have seen more and more drugs become available and for less money.

It is quite simple when we look at the War on Drugs and prohibition to see past the huge amounts of money spent on keeping various herbs and chemicals illegal and out of any and all regulation, and also past the huge amounts of money made by different organisations (both legal and illegal) and private individuals. We have separately become adept at suspecting our politicians and public bodies of regular corruption and lying and so eye their policies with a certain cynicism. So there needs to be a further obvious justification to keep The War on Drugs going despite our suspicions, and so we see huge chunks of anti-drug propaganda in play every day targeting our sympathies and our fears –our children and our young people.

Adding to the mythology and imagery of war against a clear enemy separate to us, is the ever popular fear of the transformed other and the fear of the outsider coming into our safe society. In the middle ages as a society and culture we feared witches cursing our crops, in the 19th century we feared handsome exotic or vampiric foreigners corrupting our innocent women, now it is skunk genetically modified in a lab driving our middle class teenage children irrevocably insane.

A society always needs a scape goat and an explanation for its bad luck and failings. Drug users of all kinds are presented as being out of kilter with mainstream society, as recklessly engaging in dangerous behaviour –an enemy to themselves and their neighbours. We are incited by the media to hurt these people more and more and to want to punish them harder, to fear them, when in reality they are us, unsurprisingly "they" have far more in common with each of us than a legislating politician or an organised crime gang member does. This is because drug users of various kinds are everywhere, I include alcohol users amongst this as they have a noticeable mixture of problematic and non problematic users. Drug users are our siblings, parents, children, neighbours and friends, effectively everyone in our country has some sort of positive experience and some sort of problematic experience with drugs both legal and illegal. We are encouraged to look for division and to shun those we see suffering from problematic drug use as well as being suspicious and hostile to those enjoying positive drug use, without making a distinction between substance or behaviour.

Several years ago, during a hazier and more free period of my life I was a student. I went to quite a lot of house parties. Some of my friends were very, very into the then legal substance mephedrone, the main party house we all visited might as well have been a ski slope for all the powder kicking around. Time passed and mephedrone was banned. My friend Kelly, who was perhaps Swansea’s greatest connoisseur of mephedrone began to complain of the stuff burning her nostrils, ageing her skin and suddenly not being very good any more. Mephedrone was filthy stuff to begin with but within weeks of the ban, pieces of glass had begun to appear within it and the quality had diminished to a point where it was instantly detectable as being poor by a regular consumer.

Mephedrone is an interesting example because it seemingly appeared from nowhere was phenomenally popular, cheap, reduced the amount of other powder drugs being consumed and then was banned. The quality, price and obvious side effects all immediately changed for the worse after the ban, but the ban did not prevent its consumption.

Perhaps in some ways the worst thing about the War on Drugs is its imagery, for a politician to step away from it and to propose reform or even just a different approach they must effectively admit that the war has been lost and that it has ended in defeat. They open themselves up to accusations of cowardice or softness The middle ages were full of several decade long wars and it is true that our attitude to drug use in the West comes more than close to the medieval. A quick search on Google will suggest all sorts of early causes of drug prohibition –mainly racism, funding for groups about to be made irrelevant by the end of american alcohol prohibition, and suggestions of some sort of skulduggery by the paper industry. But whatever these causes once were, times have changed long, long ago even if our methods for tackling the issue of drugs has not.

Before the War on Drugs, countries had more individual freedom to determine their positions on drug use and drug users. Their decisions could be made without interference from any alliance or coalition. But while the causes for the war have changed, we are still fighting it. In truth we have forgotten why, other than culturally we remember we have always been fighting it, and for those of us who know why we are still fighting it, only an ever shrinking minority really believes in it any more. The stories of yesterday are repackaged and re-marketed but are less convincing each and every time.

If politicians are trapped within the story and unable or unwilling to represent the majority of society that believes the War on Drugs to be lost then we have to aggressively lobby and vote these politicians out with one hand and disregard their laws with another. What is in truth a war on people has to be ended by those same people that have been made a target of it. What also has been forgotten is that it is the duty of a member of parliament to represent their constituents. Instead bad laws that hurt the most vulnerable people in society for forgotten reasons are prioritised over health, safety and the public will. The challenge now is transforming this lack of support for prohibition into widespread active contempt for it.

If every single person in the UK who does not believe in prohibition wrote to their MP and the other candidates in their constituency before this coming election and indeed after it detailing their dissatisfaction with national and global drug laws and their intention to vote accordingly to related policy it may or may not make the news, but it would raise the profile of prohibition as a voter priority. Individual thoughtful letters mean so much more than internet petitions -especially when they are connected with actual verifiable votes. The possibility of effectively doing this on a local scale as well as a wider one and highlighting which of an area's prospective candidates are in favour of prohibition and its dark consequences and which ones just don't care and would rather tow their party line is also potent. Likewise asking difficult questions around prohibition to candidates on your own door step will force them to engage with the issue, it is time to challenge the make believe every step of the way.

Not everyone is able to talk about prohibition or drug use with their colleagues and family in person, but campaigns like Feed The Birds can be supported and United Patients Alliance stickers can appear mysteriously overnight in all manner of places. "Google Run From the Cure" might appear all over the place -write it in the sand on the beach! Everyone can do at least one thing and challenge the culture and mythology around the drug war by making ignorant prohibition-friendly attitudes as distasteful socially as racism or homophobia and as difficult to support intellectually as flat earth theories. We can make drug use of all kinds, normal, understandable and human, we can demonstrate that cannabis consumers and medicinal patients are not only everywhere but are a vocal group and impossible to control.

We, both locally, nationally and internationally can make these laws unenforceable and so make changes to the law inevitable, only once we do this then can we all live happily ever after.

Hash Vs Skunk

You might as well compare biscuits to chocolate and argue that only one will make you fat.

It is first of all a ridiculous comparison. The main reason the Hash vs Skunk debate exists is the complete lack of understanding of the terms hash and skunk and the related absolute misuse of each.

As mentioned in

"Skunk is the name of a hybrid strain created from several different sets of landrace cannabis genetics bred together. These genetics have made their way into some but not all of the popular strains now available today. Skunk as a term used by politicians and the media refers to any high potency (in terms of THC) herbal cannabis.  There are no qualifying characteristics beyond that. Whereas we would characterise types of alcohol by a particular strength of volume, ingredients and methods of production, if a teenager or young person is in danger of smoking cannabis and it is at least quite strong (a subjective description) it must be skunk, otherwise it is nice safe hash and definitely not something dirty like soap bar. Such brilliant logic has made it harder and harder to talk about cannabis due to the false distinctions around it."

Skunk (the strain) in reality is just a particular hybrid strain. It is not the strongest in THC potency on the market and it doesn't have any kind of virulent characteristic that makes it dominate the other genetics in a plant. The name has been taken so as to refer to any and all high THC herbal cannabis. It does not have any effects on a user that are not in absolute line with similar strains or out of the ordinary for cannabis.

Hash however:

Hash is made up of pressed trichromes from the cannabis plant and the occasional bit of plant matter. Depending on the quality of the hash there may be other bits of garbage in there also, this is why plastic and rubber loaded soap bar used to be everywhere as it was cheap adulterated hash. Good hash should contain little else besides resin from the cannabis flower.

As it is possible to make hash from any cannabis plant you can have hash with wildly varying characteristics. It is obviously therefore quite possible to make hash from one or more skunk plants.

Can you imagine what the media would make of "Skunk Hash"?

You can have strong hash, you can have mild hash, you can have good quality hash and you can have bad quality hash. It is ultimately still the cannabis plant, just processed into a different form.

Charas and soap bar are both hash. Pretending that there is something magical about the hash form is either naivety or ignorance. It is perfectly possible to have high THC hash that is completely out of balance with the CBD in it. It is again completely possible to have hash with a more balanced ratio of THC:CBD. Traditionally, a lot of the strains used to make good quality hash in the past were imported into the UK from areas where there was a greater balance between THC and CBD in the landrace strains present. This is perhaps where come of the confusion stems from.

Mainstream media definition skunk:
Overpoweringly strong herbal cannabis, specifically bred to induce psychosis with no pleasurable effects. Sold to unwitting young people exclusively.

Mainstream media definition hash:

Safe and mild cannabis from the sixties. Morally more acceptable to Channel 4 viewers.

Real definition skunk:
A popular hybrid strain often cross bred with others to form new hybrid strains. By no means present within the ancestry of all cultivated cannabis strains.

Real definition hash:

Pressed resinous gland secretions of the cannabis plant. Can be created in numerous different ways including dry sift, hand rubbing and ice extraction.

So does it matter?
Yes. Without understanding terms of reference, you cannot comment accurately on something. If you attempt to use these inaccurate definitions you will influence others to make poor decisions as both users and policy makers.

If all hash was legalised tomorrow and all "skunk" was somehow even further prohibited, it would not actually change the THC available on the market.

It is true that there is some very strong cannabis available, and it is true that there is some very mild cannabis available, this is not actually a bad thing. It is also true that it is more complicated than just strong and mild, some people will want a THC:CBD balanced strain, others will want a THC heavy laden strain, others a CBD potent strain while others will have different requirements. Sometimes a very strong, THC potent strain will be required by a user, sometimes the same user will want something milder, this choice and preference will be very much dependent on the individual and their circumstances and needs.

It is also the case that this THC:CBD comparison is not the end of the story, increasingly, more and more reference is being made to terpenes as a way of understanding and measuring cannabis. Never mind that THC and CBD are but two of dozens of compounds within the cannabis plant. As a culture, we are still uncovering lots and lots of information as how to label and distinguish between different strains and forms of cannabis beyond user description of strong and mild or sativa and indica.

If the government or the media wants to differentiate between different types of potency and composition they need to make that clear and actually come to understand what they are talking about. Until then it is actually impossible for government advice to be used by current or prospective users and it rules the media out entirely from providing accurate information or commentary on cannabis related issues.

The forces of prohibition in the UK whilst somewhat diminished in power and stature still command a great deal of influence over parts of the media and politics. Whilst a gradual shift in attitudes is taking place around the world, the real cracks in prohibition are yet to appear in the UK.

One champion of prohibition, the journalist Peter Hitchens' (noted Mail on Sunday columnist) favourite pronouncements is that the War on Drugs was "The War We Never Fought". Likewise that drug use is "immoral". He seems to harbour a particular hatred and loathing for cannabis and has in his columns linked its use to mental illness, suggesting more recently some sort of a connection with religious violence. Hitchens is by far and away the most coherent and dogged of prohibitionists in the UK and there can be little doubt to his sincerity even if we disagree with his views. However his and the wider Prohibition camp's views have failed to evolve in the wake of scientific studies or the events of countries successfully pursuing some form of decriminalisation.

Drug use and Immorality

Morality is of course subjective, cultural but ultimately personal. There are religious and secular sources for it, it changes over time, it cannot be said to be static or a universal certainty in the hearts and minds of all men and women in one city, let alone a country. When someone says that drug use is immoral, what they mean is that it does not suit their morality and therefore it should not suit yours. By Hitchens' own admission, many of his positions on the world are based upon adherence to what he perceives as the teachings of the Anglican church. The UK at least is officially a christian country, so he perhaps has something there when referring to morality. Except of course that the Church of England has offered some decidedly anti prohibition views. It is well worth reading the following link from 2002:

Perhaps the most salient paragraph is found here, underlining and bold is my own emphasis:

"Our final two points concern the availability of drugs. We support the Runciman Inquiry's recommendations on Pages 115-116 of their report that 'the possession of cannabis should not be an imprisonable offence.' (Para 77 ii). We also wish to support some of the cogent argument of Peter Lilley MP in his Audenshaw Paper 193, where he says that inebriation is regarded as a sin because it can lead to more serious wrongdoing. Alcohol inebriation has long been associated with violence in some cases, and it is possible that cannabis abuse could sometimes have harmful effects. However that is a matter for personal responsibility, guided by moral imperatives. Abuse, which is a sin, is not necessarily a crime: adultery is wrong, but it is not a crime. Murder is both a sin and a crime, by definition. We believe that it is time to decriminalize the possession of cannabis, for the following reasons. It leads to disrespect for the law among young people; it is enforced in a random manner; there is no link between cannabis and the use of hard drugs except for a tiny minority, which is a point Dr Leech has repeatedly made (Drugs and The Church page 17). Indeed the criminalisation of cannabis makes the association with hard drugs perversely more likely. Legislation is being used here to govern morality, and the indication is that it sets up greater problems in the future. We do take seriously the point that young people may be encouraged to use cannabis more heavily if this legislative change takes place, and we believe that even greater drug education is necessary in schools and with young people. We therefore support the Runciman Inquiry on the question of decriminalization."

Hitchens' next regularly made point is that it is immoral to break the law, that the law is somehow sacred and a constant respect of it is the only thing holding us all back from bacchanalian carnage. It is obviously true that without the law then there would be many problems and society would quickly fall apart. There are problems here though, firstly in accepting that every law made is made for a just purpose and that every law remains relevant and fit for purpose. People privately indulging in something that overwhelming scientific wisdom and that a large part of society would define as harmless or at worse of a very mild risk without an impact on others cannot surely be seen as a worthy target for the law to prioritise.

Much of the social progress that we now celebrate like universal suffrage and improved civil rights was born out of transgression of the law. The same country (the UK) that today is (sometimes) outspoken in defending gay rights is the same country that not so long ago held that consenting homosexuality was a criminal offence, originally an offence punishable by death, then "only" by imprisonment. These laws were based on views derived from moral sources, that were seen as being for the good of society. Society has changed, morality has changed ergo the law has changed.

The philosopher Henry David Thoreau said:

“Unjust laws exist; shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once? Men generally, under such a government as this, think that they ought to wait until they have persuaded the majority to alter them. They think that, if they should resist, the remedy would be worse than the evil. But it is the fault of the government itself that the remedy is worse than the evil. It makes it worse. Why is it not more apt to anticipate and provide for reform? Why does it not cherish its wise minority? Why does it cry and resist before it is hurt? Why does it not encourage its citizens to be on the alert to point out its faults, and do better than it would have them?”

What we see here is that society has changed and a recognition that the morality around drug use is changing in the UK, there is much however to suggest that the UK is a long way behind other parts of Europe and America. Yet even right wing sources in this country are beginning to admit that the sort of harm that prohibition causes is not worth it for whatever benefits prohibitionists perceive as taking place. When it is the case that the majority of the country recognises that the war in drugs has been an abject and embarrassing failure, it is surely time to stop repeating yesterday's mistake.

Another common prohibitionist point is that self stupefaction or intoxication is immoral and wrong. This is because it harms the user who will need to be repaired or cared for by society, it also distracts the user from the world we live in and therefore from a meaningful participation in life. The notion that cannabis is harmful is at best a silly one, there are reams of studies praising its health benefits and countering claims as to its harm. But even if assuming that it potentially is harmful to the extent that prohibitionists believes it to be, we in the UK live in a society with access to many much more dangerous things which we are trusted and judged to be able to administer and moderate for ourselves. Where the state has desired change in these habits it has pursued them via pricing reform and support for users. Tobacco smoking has dropped by leaps and bounds over the past thirty years because of education and a sensible model of control that allows regulated access to the adult population -not a blanket ban or increasingly harsh mechanisms of punishment.

Next is the notion that the legal principle of prohibition has never been truly enforced, that penalties already weak have diminished and further diminished over the years, amounting to an informal decriminalisation or permission to ignore any notion of censure or sanction for drug use and especially for cannabis use. It is true as a country we have moved away from hard labour, treadmills and prison sentences dished out at the drop of a hat, this is true for many minor offences not just possession of some dried plant material. This is part of a wider approach to crime, punishment and rehabilitation than a conspiracy to secretly experiment with decriminalisation. The idea that people are not arrested, fined or imprisoned for cannabis every day is wishful thinking at best and outright delusion if sincerely believed. Just open a local newspaper and check.

A core basis of the original creation of the police in this country is the idea of policing by consent, that people are broadly happy with the laws they live under as the protection and value of them are self evident, knowledge that if you are attacked you will be protected and your assailant will be captured and prosecuted for instance. The laws being both useful and reassuring to the population and not a threat or weapon so as to coerce and enforce behaviour. Essentially the assumption that members of society wish to contribute to that society and live well within it and to not need to be made to do or not do anything by threat. Standards are clearly drawn and are for the benefit of all. The government and the law in this model seeks to represent and protect its people. Prohibition very much stands out as distinct, created not as a genuine law to protect the UK's citizens but as adherence to international convention.

Prohibitionists (unsurprisingly) never seem to feel casually about cannabis or other drugs, it is the case that they hold that drugs are only ever very dangerous and cannot be used safely. In some respects for this they cannot be faulted, people after all hold many passions, it is true that many substances have the potential for extreme abuse and to cause problems far across society. But of course the forsaking of control over the drugs trade is the absolutely fundamental error of prohibition. One of the few things that Nick Clegg has ever said with much weight to it is "Put simply, if you are anti-drugs, you should be pro-reform". Whether we are talking about cannabis or all drugs, a poorly designed policy like prohibition cannot be well applied. For all the moral stance taken by prohibitionists, they provide no explanation or counter balance for the rise in problematic users of heroin and crack, the money made illegally or the continuing rise in associated crimes such as acquisitive theft to fuel addictions. If you purely want to reduce drug use, you have to regulate and control it. If you are more concerned about how you appear morally than the human results of your policy then you cannot actually be that concerned about the effects of drug use. It can only be a poorly thought out posture or a facade.

The core argument of prohibition is that it prevents drug abuse and is more effective in reducing drug use than any other system of regulation. It is an absolute argument resulting in an absolute system. It fails to detect nuance such as providing for legitimate use -who after all besides a prohibitionist could protest against medicinal use of any substance as recommended by a doctor. Likewise it fails to adapt to unintended circumstances. Failure of prohibition leads only to demands from prohibitionists for greater prohibitions and more vigorous enforcement. It is intellectually lazy in the extreme. By positioning themselves as authoritarian guardians and caregivers of society whilst overseeing such chaos and danger, prohibitionists whether they like it or not effectively pedal dishonesty and misery.

As mentioned above, as a system prohibition fails to make apology for handing the entire value of the trade over to the black market. You may not wish to see the government or corporations profit from the drugs trade, but surely no one would prefer real gangsters to profit from it? When we think about control of the drugs trade we must think in terms of what else it funds presently, along with all the schools, hospitals and roads it could fund if properly managed. It presently provides cash flow for many other criminal enterprises. Prohibitionists make no mention of the same groups concerned with the supply of drugs being concerned with people trafficking or the sex trade, arms dealing, or indeed at some point passing large sums of money to terror groups in producer countries.

Prohibition, Gangsters and Terror

Every person, business and government is reliant on an income.

We all need money to operate, whether that income is a government grant or a salary paid by an organisation or through our own self employed trade, as a society we are absolutely reliant on the financial tides.

If an organisation stops making money, so too will its employees. They will need to either look elsewhere or their bosses will need to find new sources for that money, it probably means there will be more competition for the money they are looking to earn.

A lot of people complain about national and international subsidies for industries that are failing to succeed at present or are struggling to make a launch. These sums are of course pitifully small in terms to the cost spent on the war on drugs. In the UK alone it is estimated that the WOD costs 16 billion a year.

2003/4 estimates place the value of the UK drugs trade at 4-6.6 billion pounds a year. More recent figures from the Office of National Statistics suggest that this figure is climbing. It is therefore possible to look on the war on drugs and its social model of prohibition as an elaborate form of government subsidy for organised crime. It is certainly not functioning as a deterrent or counter measure.

Prohibition makes drugs valuable. Because normal forces of finance and commerce are restricted from trading in them -it is possible and profitable for organised crime to fill this market instead. If prohibition was removed, then a huge source of criminal groups income streams would be neutralised, the choice for a business that has its cash flow cut off is to either disband, try and regain its market or to move on to other sources of income. If crime groups disband then they are no longer an immediate problem, they may attempt to regain their control of the market but against the arrayed forces of modern capitalism they are unlikely to be successful. Finally they may attempt to move on to other sources of illegal income. These sources will not be new problems and will already be controlled by existing groups, even if functioning as an affiliate group they will likely be forced to downsize their operations, certainly this will lead to a reduction in crime as indeed Portugal and some of the american states are already experiencing.

So far so familiar, but this is not the end of the story. For many complicated reasons our governments and militaries find themselves committed to conflicts around the world often in or near narcotic producing regions.

This image is a diagram of the issues of the afghan war. As noted upon it, there is a direct connection between insurgencies hostile to our military forces, the local narcotics industry and local support for an insurgency due to money being brought into circulation. It is possible to trace money from a street corner deal heading straight across the world to a group supporting terrorism against the UK. Prohibitionists would tells us that it is therefore irresponsible of western drug users to continue to use illegal drugs on the basis that it funds and strengthens criminal and terrorist groups around the world. Prohibitionists however fail to observe that they are funding and incentivising this financial stream by providing their enemies with a valuable commodity to sell.

When next addressed online or offline by a prohibitionist, it will probably be faster for all involved if we just cut to the chase and ask them why they are so keen on funding terrorism and people trafficking. Perhaps then the real conversation about protection and regulation can actually begin.


Schizophrenia, Psychosis and Cannabis

The only person I know who has ever been diagnosed with schizophrenia is tee-total and claims never to have used illegal drugs and to only ever have been a non-smoking light drinker. It is a story I often think about when people tell me about cannabis causing schizophrenia. This sort of limited, completely unverifiable and one sided piece of anecdata is absolutely useless when discussing society wide issues, yet this kind of personal account is again and again used by newspapers like the Daily Mail (albeit more emotionally) whenever they need evidence of the deadly epidemic of Killer Skunk Psychosis sweeping our nation. Consequently, I think we are all familiar with “tragic and heartbreaking” tales from a middle class family about a son or daughter whose likely very normal adolescent use of cannabis (probably alongside alcohol and tobacco and who knows what else) was suddenly directly responsible for every problem that family ever suffered. Won’t someone think of the children? Otherwise, someone might think to blame the parents.

It is interesting to note that despite the Daily Mail’s reporting, Britain has some of the lowest rates of Schizophrenia in the world.

The world schizophrenia rate remains roughly comparable. There are no huge spikes or variations from country to country, rather a more general trend that the Western world has a slightly lower rate than other parts of the world. If we are to believe that cannabis smoking is the number one way to develop schizophrenia we have to believe it to be true everywhere. The Netherlands, home of the coffee shop and a sensible decriminalisation policy does have a rate of schizophrenia very slightly higher than the UK. However it also has if anything a slightly lower rate of cannabis use.

Cannabis use has famously increased since the sixties, surely we would have been aware of a huge increase in mental illness growing steadily over the years? It has become common for well-meaning figures to shrug their shoulders and wring their hands and gently point out that perhaps the pro legalisation movement was onto something once, but not any more, not now, now that Killer Skunk is on the streets, inside every classroom, a fast tracked gateway to madness, heroin addiction, death and worse! This too is a laughable attitude to take as Dr Ben Goldacre points out, the information behind these claims is cherry picked, exaggerated and often just made up. It seems bizarre that our parent's generation, those original hippies, would fall for the same repackaged reefer madness -as that is all this new media storm truly is.


A quick note on Skunk and some of the ideas mentioned by Dr Goldacre –Skunk is the name of a hybrid strain created from several different sets of landrace cannabis genetics bred together. These genetics have made their way into some but not all of the popular strains now available today. Skunk as a term used by politicians and the media refers to any high potency (in terms of THC) herbal cannabis.  There are no qualifying characteristics beyond that. Whereas we would characterise types of alcohol by a particular strength of volume, ingredients and methods of production, if a teenager or young person is in danger of smoking cannabis and it is at least quite strong (a subjective description) it must be skunk, otherwise it is nice safe hash and definitely not something dirty like soap bar. Such brilliant logic has made it harder and harder to talk about cannabis due to the false distinctions around it.

The biggest scandal around cannabis (and indeed several other drugs) is not that our laws are too permissive but that the advice and information around cannabis is flawed. The reality of cannabis use whether recreational or medical is overwhelmingly positive –people simply would not do it, write songs about it, talk about it, risk arrest over it, or move around the world for it. It is connected to ordinary people and celebrities, men and women, people from all walks of life and backgrounds. When it is so transparent to young people that the worst consequences for use come from the law (“Drugs ruin lives! If we catch you with drugs, we are going to ruin your life!”) rather than as direct side effects of its consumption, it undermines the credibility of the education around cannabis, other drugs and other subjects young people might learn about from school or the government. This is yet another way that prohibition harms society, by undermining trust in what should be legitimate information sources, young people are forced into the arms of the black market and hearsay. Once you have learned that one education policy is not true why should you have faith in any other?

If cannabis is a gateway drug that is addictive, that causes psychosis, that leads only to trouble there would not be the case that one in three of us in the UK have taken drugs (usually cannabis) –and that proportion is gradually increasing. If a large proportion of cannabis users were suffering from self-induced mental illness society would break down, the fault lines would be felt across the country, there would be less unverifiable hearsay in the paper -the consequences would be everywhere. But according to the Daily Mail even occasional exposure can have terrible consequences Shock headlines always sell papers, though if cannabis was a person the degree of inaccuracy around the reporting of cannabis would surely leave some parts of the media open to fairly straightforward libel cases.

It is strange that the Daily Mail and other parts of the media are so keen to attack cannabis, especially when it is so easy to find information about other much more readily abused legal psychoactive drugs.

The cause of this article is that this week, another study has emerged linking cannabis use among young people to schizophrenia. (Incidentally, this is also the week that Prince Charles has been hinted at being a toker by Will Self. Counter articles have immediately appeared alongside the original reporting of the study pointing out that the authors of the study in no way assert that there is a causal association between cannabis use and schizophrenia. Likewise, there are any number of other scientific studies suggesting the opposite to the study, that cannabis use is harmless or even therapeutic for mental illnesses such as schizophrenia.

I can quite happily believe that cannabis might be bad for some people (in the same way I know people who cannot drink coffee or anything else caffeinated or who instantly become a mess if they drink alcohol) and in some cases may even exacerbate an existing health problem but these cases are very much in the the minority. There are few things that are suitable for everyone, but the ridiculous presentation of myths and opinions as fact so as to frighten people, inform policy and to deliberately undermine science are ultimately far more dangerous to young people and society than dried pieces of plant matter. Criminal records, social stigma and exposure to black markets along with a lack of credible advice on harm reduction is what really causes problems.

Harm Reduction

Anti cannabis studies are consistently discredited by more rigorous scientific examination or revealed not to be impartial due to having been funded by an anti cannabis lobby in the first place, or indeed to having been deliberately misinterpreted by journalists desperate for a headline, the best thing for a cannabis user and advocate to do is to counter nonsense whenever it is heard and to share sensible harm reduction advice when able. We know that mixing tobacco in joints is bad for you as it means that you end up smoking tobacco -which really is dangerous in a lot of different very serious ways. If you don't have access to a vapouriser then think about cooking with cannabis, smoking it pure, buying or growing the best quality cannabis and therefore medicine that you can. Stay away from unpredictable, dangerous legal highs that claim to emulate cannabis and take pride in knowing what you are putting in your body.

Finally though, lets consider the idea that in a small number of users high potency cannabis really does cause psychotic episodes or consistently makes existing mental health problems worse. What is the solution to this problem? I think its two part. It is up to discerning users to choose cannabis that has been grown carefully and has been well flushed before being cut down and dried. Likewise to select strains where there is a good balance between THC (presently seen as the more dangerous compound -not completely fair but lets run with it for now) CBD and other components.

The other part of the harm reduction solution is the long overdue ending of prohibition. Prohibition is a system which actively incentivizes criminal producers to make the cheapest and most dangerous product -maximum profit, lowest risk and no oversight on quality. If a cannabis user was able to confidently choose between something massively tipped towards excessively heavy amounts of THC or something more balanced or scaled more towards CBD then surely this would be a better system? A system with choice, a system where standards on how things are cultivated and produced. A system where users can ask questions and receive good and accurate information. A system where users have the option and guidance to choose weed with high CBD and anti-psychotic traits. A system where organised crime does not benefit and general society does. Due to the prevalence of cannabis use across society the reaction to terrifying headlines about mental illness should not be a fear of cannabis or reactionary new policies to increase penalties, instead these headlines should be met head on with anger, why are we not being given a choice? Why does the government continue to choose such a dangerous system on our behalf? Until the time comes where they make a new choice it is up to every user to challenge misinformation around cannabis and make sure that there are clear voices responding online and in person to every untruth published.

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.

Jodie Emery delivering her talk in London. Blurry photo credit to Al of Surrey CC ;)

Jodie Emery delivering her talk in London. Blurry photo credit to Al of Surrey CC 😉

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?

Dr. Sanjay Gupta from CNN used to be against the medicinal benefits of cannabis until he realised he had been lied to.

He presents this well informed and researched documentary on the medicinal benefits of cannabis and how it needs to be reclassified. It also takes a look at some real life cases of cannabis treating some life threatening conditions.

If you're wanting to learn more about medicinal cannabis from a balanced point of view, then this is a great place to start.

If you're a medicinal cannabis user in Swansea, why not come and say hi in our private forums? We'd love to hear your story and how cannabis has helped you. Check out our medicinal cannabis forums here.