So, CLEAR made a massive claim last month, that they had succeeded in opening a loophole by which UK residents could legally import Bedrocan, a branded form of herbal cannabis available in parts of Continental Europe. They put out a big headline:
Their basis for this was a medical cannabis patient, codenamed Clarence, who had gone to the Netherlands, filled a prescription for Bedrocan, and then flown back and declared his haul at Customs. A Customs officer looked at his paperwork and decided to let him through. Bang! Legal medical cannabis now exists. (We’ll forget that Clarence’s home was subsequently raided by the police for now. Or that to access the only form of legal medical cannabis described in the article, you had to go abroad every three months.) Out went the press release:
And then the most significant breakthrough in the cannabis campaign since the Dangerous Drugs Act 1925 just…didn’t break through. No-one picked up the press release, no drug policy organisation in the country or the world did anything. Wikipedia didn’t update its article on medical cannabis.
Perhaps it was because the entire thing is nonsense.
At NORML UK, we’ve been trying to check this out for some time – we got several requests from people wanting to know if importing Bedrocan was an avenue they could pursue, and the air of mystery Peter Reynolds, leader of CLEAR, drew over what it was that they’d actually done to make Clarence’s actions legal meant we had to take it seriously just in case they actually had gotten somewhere so we could appropriately inform our own membership.
The law, so far as everyone understood it, had not changed. Cannabis is a controlled drug which you can only import into the UK if you have a personal licence to do so – a licence which the Home Office systematically denies to all medical cannabis users. But despite numerous people saying this at the time that CLEAR made their announcement, Peter Reynolds, leader of CLEAR, and Derek Williams were absolutely adamant that medical cannabis was now legal to import,and to judge by the comments on their articles, sick medical cannabis users were starting to believe them. We needed more evidence.
I called Customs, who confirmed that they have no authority to interpret the law, they were only permitted to enforce Home Office drug policy. Then they followed that up by email:
Then I FOIed the Home Office, who informed me last week that there had been one application for a personal import licence for cannabis in the last twelve months (who I presume was Clarence) – and that this had been denied:
And finally, I emailed the Home Office for a formal statement on CLEAR’s specific claims. They got back to me today to say that CLEAR are wrong, you cannot import cannabis without an import licence for any reason and the Home Office does not grant import licences to individuals wishing to import cannabis for personal use.
Here is their letter:
So why was Clarence let through with his 90g of Bedrocan? Most likely for the same reason the cops generally walk past cannabis smoke-outs – who can be bothered to make an arrest and fill out all the paperwork for someone going peacefully about their business? That doesn’t mean your actions were legal, only that you didn’t get done for it. If you go and light up in a park and don’t go to jail, that doesn’t mean that suddenly what you’re doing becomes permissible under the law. Our work as drug law reform activists would be a lot easier if it were that simple.
Frankly, that Home Office letter should be disappointing to all of us. I do, after all, want medical cannabis to be readily available and on prescription in the UK – I have sick friends with convictions for whom the legality of cannabis is literally a matter of life and death. But I’m not in the least bit surprised to learn that, you know, medical cannabis is illegal, and that the current government’s official policy is that cannabis is dangerous and its use is associated with mental health problems. We all knew that. That I’ve had to ask the Home Office to confirm that is indicative of the extent to which CLEAR’s leadership lives in an alternative reality to the rest of us.
One may ask, why is it that Peter Reynolds, leader of CLEAR, and CLEAR were so adamant that the import of medical cannabis was suddenly legal? One might suggest that it’s because NORML UK had announced a cannabis hypocrisy demonstration two weeks earlier predicated on the idea that the importation of Bedrocan was illegal. This is, of course, now in the past. NORML UK’s demonstration was a success and CLEAR has once again published a cheap headline for which the word “inaccurate” would be as much an understatement as calling the current government “a bit right-wing”.
But will CLEAR be retracting the articles Peter Reynolds, leader of CLEAR, put out in defiance of all negative reaction? They are continuing to give people false hope, though I notice they have such confidence in the most significant breakthrough in the cannabis campaign since the Dangerous Drugs Act 1925 that you cannot find a reference to it anywhere on the front page of their website. They are also, as James Collins uncovered last week, potentially in breach of the law themselves by effectively encouraging and offering to help people to commit a crime.
I did ask them this at the time, but Derek was not exactly forthcoming…
I did also write to Release, and as part of their recent website revamp, they have published full and separate guidance on the status of medical cannabis in the UK. Many thanks to them for that. I strongly suggest, the next time you hear something too good to be true (“Medical cannabis is legal”, “the cultivation of cannabis has been decriminalised”), you check that page.
Let us set aside the fact that Derek had the nerve to post this and then three weeks later publish a 1200 word article trying to come up with every imaginable reason he could to claim NORML UK’s Bedrocan protest was pointless within 24 hours of my write-up (none of which were “the importation of Bedrocan by UK residents is already legal”, strangely). We have waited. We have seen. The Home Office has spoken.
Will CLEAR now apologise for misleading everyone, including the desperate and ill medical cannabis users who are at risk of arrest and conviction if they attempt to follow this advice?
UPDATE: Peter Reynolds did respond in a Facebook group to people questioning how he could reconcile his statements with the letter from the Home Office, by claiming that I am stalking him and people should stop wasting his time – and not addressing the Home Office letter at all. Which I think says it all, really.
UPDATE 30th November: CLEAR has just announced that one of their members was detained and had their cannabis confiscated, and has been issued with a written cannabis warning while trying to follow the same procedure. They’re now setting “specialist” lawyers on it, and frankly, I hope they win and this poor guy gets off for what was really the crime of listening to Peter “importing medical cannabis is legal” Reynolds, but it underlines the point that:
CLEAR are wrong, you cannot import cannabis without an import licence for any reason and the Home Office does not grant import licences to individuals wishing to import cannabis for personal use.
All British cannabis users break the law every time they grow or buy cannabis, so if bringing back quality-controlled medical grade cannabis from an EU country that permits it is something that you want or need to do, please don’t take this incident as an indication that you definitely shouldn’t do it. You are, after all, simply breaking a different law. But please,
DO NOT TRY THIS IF YOU CANNOT RISK A CRIMINAL RECORD OR YOUR CONDITION IS AGGRAVATED BY STRESS.
I note that several peons from CLEAR are currently trying to blame me for writing to the Home Office to clarify the law on this situation, something I find deeply hypocritical given that one would hardly need to step softly around the issue if legal medicinal cannabis in Britain had in fact been achieved as they keep blathering. It seems to me at any rate that the film crews CLEAR started sending along to accompany their patients was probably a better explanation for Customs’ decision to enforce the law on this occasion.
In any case, I would point out that Peter Reynolds did in fact say that he would be contacting the Home Office himself:
So, was he lying when he wrote this? Or did he do it and the Home Office got back to him with the same information that only I was willing to publish?
Either way, what I warned about here and what many, many others in blog and Facebook comments feared would happen has now come to pass, and it would be nice if CLEAR actually admitted that what they have been doing is systematically misleading cannabis users instead of claiming that we’re all being Negative Nancys. Importing cannabis without an import licence is illegal, you can be busted if you try and Customs are willing to enforce the law.