12th October 2017
LONG LARTIN PRISON INCIDENT
Will the Minister visit Amsterdam for a relaxing weekend, in order to study the special prison crisis they have in Holland, which is a lack of prisoners to fill their prisons? They have had to close 19 of them down. Will he examine the contrast between the intelligent, pragmatic policies on drugs of the Dutch over the last 50 years and the harsh, unintelligent policies that we have had in this country? The Government there have shown a welcome desire to reflect on the failed drug policies here and introduce new measures that reflect the reality of the situation, in having drug houses that can be used and possibly looking again at imprisoning people for using the medicine of their choice. Is it not time we decided who has got it right over the last fifty years: the Netherlands or us?
I think the Government Whips would be slightly concerned if I accepted another invitation to go abroad to visit prisons, but the substance of the hon. Gentleman’s point is very interesting when it comes to dealing with people who are on drugs in prison. It is about dealing with the supply side and the demand side, but also getting people off drugs. Holland clearly has a very different approach to its prison system. As I have said in relation to Scotland, I am willing to learn from all different jurisdictions to see how we can improve what we are doing here.
BUSINESS QUESTION 12/10/2017
May we have a debate on early-day motion 372 so that I can enjoy the lifetime first experience of congratulating the Government on an intelligent drugs policy of approving safe injecting rooms? I congratulate the Multiple Sclerosis Society and the United Patients Alliance on the act of civil disobedience that was undertaken on Tuesday of this week, when a group of seriously ill patients protested against an unjust and unenforceable law. These are people who have already suffered more than their fair share of life’s misfortunes, and it is wrong that they should live under the threat of prosecution for taking their medicine of choice—the only medicine that will cure them of their symptoms.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his ten-minute rule Bill—I happened to be in the Chamber for its introduction—which seeks to address this very issue. In particular, in raising this issue he will, of course, have proper Government scrutiny over it. I wish him well in achieving his ambition.
Text of speech
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to allow the production, supply, possession and use of cannabis and cannabis resin for medicinal purposes; and for connected purposes.
This is the Elizabeth Brice Bill. Elizabeth Brice was a remarkable lady who campaigned for many years in this House to re-legalise medicinal cannabis. She was a brilliant person. She was a television producer. Among her many achievements, she translated the Noddy books into Latin. She came here because, as a highly intelligent woman, she was struck down at the age of 26 with multiple sclerosis, which virtually destroyed her life and affected her young family. After 10 years of using medicinal drugs, she found one that gave her peace and relief from her spasms. She came to this House and had a cup of cannabis tea on the Terrace.
Our law states that Elizabeth Brice could have been sent to prison for five years for doing that. There was a court case in which an elderly man in a wheelchair moved a jury to tears with his account of his use of medicinal cannabis. The jury said, “We don’t want to find this man guilty; we disagree with this law.” They asked the judge whether they could change it and find the man not guilty, but the judge said, “No. You don’t make the law, I as a judge don’t make the law; only Parliament can change this.” So the ball is very much in our court today.
Who supports the Bill? The Multiple Sclerosis Society has given me a statement saying that it wants to see this Bill passed. It says:
“We believe the law on cannabis should be changed (like it’s changing in Ireland, Canada and Germany), so that someone with MS can access cannabis for medicinal use”.
I would also have had the support of Queen Victoria, although I had difficulty contacting her, as she used the substance every month of her life.
Cannabis was used as a medicine in this country until 1973. There is a host of people who are now Elizabeth Brices outside. One of them wrote me a very moving letter in which he said that two people in his family are using medicinal cannabis. A medical professional reported to the police that those people were using medicinal cannabis, albeit in a way that was not harming anyone—it was a completely victimless crime; they were growing it themselves. That man writes that he could easily get a criminal record and his family would be in all kinds of trouble as a result.
Are we really saying that this is a sensible law? The tide of world opinion is moving in the direction of legalising cannabis. Some 29 states in America—the majority—have already legalised medical cannabis without any problems arising. There are six or seven states in Europe where it is possible to use cannabis medicinally. We have forgotten that this is the oldest medicine in the world. It has been used for at least 5,000 years—archaeological evidence supports that—and we know that if there were problems with it, they would have been discovered years ago.
As with all drugs, people will object that there are malign side effects, but as someone who has been campaigning in this House against drug misuse for many years, I can say that the ones that we have trouble with now, such as valproate, are the opioid drugs and neuroleptic drugs used in residential homes for the elderly. There is massive misuse of these drugs, which have very serious side effects. Cannabis involves side effects, but no problems have arisen in all the states and countries that have taken this on.
If we legalise drugs, we reduce side effects by taking the market out of the hands of the criminals and the scammers, and putting those drugs in a legal market that can be run by doctors using medical priorities. These are the lessons from all the states in America that have taken this step.
A policewoman suffering from multiple sclerosis came to me because she found herself needing to get her cannabis from the criminals she once arrested. That is the situation that people are in now. I am touched that people have made the journey here today to ask this Parliament to decide not on the basis of prejudice, but on the basis of science.
It is time for us to lead public opinion rather than following it. It would be an act of compassion and courage for us to pass this Bill and make the very minor change it proposes: moving cannabis from schedule 1 to schedule 2. At the moment, the law says that cannabis has no beneficial effects, but we all know that it does, but if there are problems with it, the former chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs has said that we would need to prevent 5,000 people from taking cannabis to stop one possible case of psychosis. I do not know whether anybody will be opposing this Bill today—no one has suggested to me that they will do so—but I would like to deal with that question. Yes, with any drug there are risks, and I certainly would not want to see anyone using cannabis mixed with that deadly, addictive drug, tobacco.
Today people are using the drug outside on the green as a food, a drink, a tincture and an ointment, as well as vaping it. I believe that the public and the police—two police and crime commissioners have written to me in support of the Bill—know that the law is unenforceable. It is time for us to take our courage in our hands and say, “Let us take this step.” Doing so would be a step on the road to intelligent campaigning. We place too much reliance on the prejudices and screeching of the press; it is time for us to take the lead. Doing so would be an act of kindness and compassion that would bring genuine relief to people who are suffering from serious ailments.
Question put and agreed to.
That Paul Flynn, Frank Field, Caroline Lucas, Mary Glindon, Jeff Smith, Kelvin Hopkins, Crispin Blunt, Michael Fabricant, Martyn Day, Ronnie Cowan, Layla Moran and Mr Alistair Carmichael present the Bill.
Paul Flynn accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 23 February 2018, and to be printed (Bill 108).