UK Cannabis Activism

In 2001 David Blunkett announced that cannabis would be downgraded from Class B to Class C of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. From 2001 to 2004 I attended the annual Cannabis Festival in Brockwell Park, organised by the Brixton Cannabis Coalition. It was a very popular event and the police turned a blind eye to mass public consumption of the herb. During this time people also started exploiting a loophole which allowed the sale of fresh psilocybin containing mushrooms even though psilocybin itself was classified as a Class A drug. These were high times indeed. The downgrading of cannabis to Class C did not actually occur until January 2004 but things generally seemed to be moving in the right direction.

In 2005 things started to go wrong. Tory Executive Member for the Environment Clare Whelan at Lambeth Council ignored the council’s own public events policy and refused permission for the Cannabis Festival. Instead there was a Cannabis Education March on 15 May from Russell Square to Trafalgar Square, organised as part of the global cannabis campaign with marches in over 150 cities worldwide. It was a good day (the sun shone and I got to play cowbell with the samba band as we marched) but the lack of a festival in Brockwell Park was disappointing.

One of my friends on the march was running a business importing magic mushrooms from Holland and selling them through a website called Magic Dragon. On 18 July the Drugs Act 2005 came into force, ending the magic mushroom loophole and forcing him into bankruptcy (ironically it was the government who had helped him start the business). On 7 May 2008 and against the advice of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith announced that the downgrading of cannabis would be reversed and on 26 January 2009 it went back up to Class B. We seemed to be back to square one.

In February 2009 the Chairman of the ACMD, Professor David Nutt accused the government of making a political decision in rejecting the AMCD report on ecstasy and refusing to follow scientific advice that it be downgraded from Class A to Class B (he famously pointed out that riding a horse is much more dangerous than taking ecstasy). This row rumbled on until 30 October when David Nutt was relieved of his post, which lead to him founding a new Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs on 15 January 2010.

In April 2011 I attended a 420 event in Hyde Park and blogged about it. I have been back every year and the high point was in 2013 when (encouraged by hot sunny weather and the event falling on a Saturday) over ten thousand people turned up. This year the rain and oppressive police presence put a damper on things but I am sure people will be back again next year.

Meanwhile there have been hopeful signs from around the world and particularly the US where 23 states now allow medical use of cannabis, 14 have taken steps towards decriminalisation, and two (Washington and Colorado) have legalised recreational use. The fears of prohibitionists have proved to be unfounded and not only has crime gone down in Colorado since legalisation but so apparently has cannabis use among teens.

In June 2013 I joined NORML UK which seems to be the most credible organisation working to reform our cannabis laws. One difference between the cannabis community here and in the US is the apparent lack of women campaigners in the UK, an issue addressed by Emma Wilson in this article on the NORML UK website. Another development is the rise of Cannabis Social Clubs in the UK.

That is probably more than enough history, so what is happening now and how can you get involved? Well if you can get to London on 4 October there will be a prohibition protest outside the BBC in Portland Place starting at noon – see the event page on Facebook. You might want to consider joining NORML UK or at least following them on social media. Another interesting organisation to follow is Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. And put 20 April 2015 in your diary for 420 in Hyde Park or anywhere else you want to get together to celebrate and consume cannabis with like minded individuals – online social networking has its uses but there is no substitute for meeting fellow activists in the flesh.

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