An interesting development has occurred in recent months which is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before and it hasn’t been pretty. For the past several months there has been a campaign waged against the leader of CLEAR, Peter Reynolds. which has taken the form of a “cyber bullying” campaign. What makes this perhaps even more strange is the fact that I have known quite a few of the people involved for a considerable period because they are people who have been involved in the law reform campaign for years.

I’m not new to all this, I first dabbled in the law reform movement in around 1978 with the original Legalise Cannabis Campaign, albeit in a very small way in that I used to put “LCC “stickers on London underground trains, stuff like that, nothing big time. Things changed in about 1992 when the The “Campaign To Legalise Cannabis International Association” (CLCIA) started up here in Norwich and I’ve been running this website, UKCIA, since 1998. I was also there at the start of the old LCA and even stood in an election under the LCA banner in 2005. I parted company with them around 2006 as the outfit seemed to go into terminal decline.

I first came across Peter Reynolds about 18 months ago because of a BBC programme being made about medical cannabis. Peter had somehow arranged for “Pinky” (a well-known person on the cannabis scene) to travel to Holland in order to bring back some medically prescribed cannabis (see here). Peter was starting up the ill-fated medical cannabis register, the BMCR, and it’s fair to say I fell out with him at the time – I made no secret of it and it’s all explained in this blog . It’s true to say I was somewhat wary of Peter originally. However, this was to change.

The other group worth mentioning at this point isn’t a campaign group at all, but a website dedicated to growing cannabis: UK420. Given the nature of the site and it’s – er – ‘main reason for being’ it’s always prefered to keep a low profile but recent events have come close to getting it unwanted attention. At one time UK420 had the best activist forum (members only, you have to subscribe to view it). It was a place where everyone met and discussed things and there are some well-known law reform activists there. Like all forums UK420 has its regulars and some have been posting there just about everyday for years. Over time however it became a place dominated by arguments and insults and bickering. The LCA were the first to feel the wrath of UK420 members and for many years the “old guard” of the LCA were treated with derision on UK420, but perhaps not without good reason.

Anyone considering getting involved in debates on UK420 is best warned that you do need a vogon-thick skin, but again that’s probably true of many forums.

I had split company with the LCA back in 2006. Now I can’t really say this any other way but the LCA were a joke. It was almost as if they had gone out of their way to make the cannabis law reform campaign look daft, presenting the worst image of cannabis users they were the awful “unwashed hippy” stereotype writ large. It had become the the focus of ridicule – not just on UK420 – and it needed to be put out of its misery.

So it was with some interest I noticed that in late 2010 Peter Reynolds pops up in the LCA and is immediately promoted to spokesman. How that came about was down to the “main man” at the LCA, someone who I have known ever since my involvement with the CLCIA. It’s fair to say we have never really hit it off and although we both support cannabis law reform, we seem to do so for totally opposite reasons. Add to this his perhaps unusual characteristic of trusting people he doesn’t know more than those he does made him a difficult person to work with. Again, this all history and for anyone interested in the death throes of the LCA, it’s all here

The really important if very small-town point to all this is that the LCA generated a steady stream of alienated people who often migrated to UK420 where they either became additional objects of ridicule themselves or settled into the community.

Peter Reynolds had already engaged the wrath of UK420 before he appeared on the LCA. All this is really so small-town , given the millions of cannabis users out there, plus the unknown millions of non-users who support some kind of law reform it is little short of stunning how often the same names seem to crop up.

Anyway, Peter had arrived at the LCA like a gale and within a short period of time had stood for election as leader and had taken control. This was possible incidentally because despite existing for over 10 years and claiming to be the main cannabis law reform campaign in the country the LCA only had around 70 members, which perhaps shows how much of a joke it had become.

Peter didn’t waste time, he did what was needed and revamped the LCA into a modern, professional campaign called CLEAR. Frankly, I was impressed and when I was asked to take on the CLEAR website in late summer, I did so willingly. Since then I have got to know Peter as a real person, not as someone on the end of a computer terminal. I do not agree with a lot of Peter’s politics, but then I don’t agree with a lot of people’s politics and that doesn’t stop me working with them in my professional life. We do agree on the sort of law reform campaign that’s needed, the sort of image it needs to convey and the aims and objectives the campaign should have.

For the first time we have, in CLEAR, a cannabis law reform campaign worthy of the name. From the start this seems to have annoyed some people. Very shortly after CLEAR was formed a hate site appeared (Peter Reynolds watch), this was shut down but soon re-appeared. Unknown to the rest of us Peter was getting a constant stream of hate posts for some months. Just before Christmas the ex-main man of the LCA starts a page on Facebook demanding Peter step down from CLEAR.

A strange – and frankly almost suspicious – thing then happened. People who had only months before been at each others throats for years joined forces to dig the dirt on Peter Reynolds. All the usual suspects were there, people well-known from UK420 in particular, but also people who had been ridiculed in tha past on UK420 and even the old guard from the LCA; the very best of enemies united in the single cause of attacking the leader of the most successful cannabis law reform campaign this country had ever seen.

Now it has to be admitted that Peter did give them some free ammunition. Before his involvement in the cannabis law reform movement, he had been a serial blogger and some of his comments were, perhaps, written in a language which some might have considered ill-advised. He discussed thorny issues such as immigration, saying how communities he had known as a kid had changed due to mass immigration, he touched on that hot potato that is the Arab-Israel conflict and more besides. These were his personal blogs and has always claimed they were written to be controversial. They were also known about before he stood for election at the old LCA.

It has to be said that Peter had written a lot of blogs, of which only a handful contained these controversial comments, but what we got was a Facebook campaign against him based on them which claimed to show proof that he was a raging homophobic racist, all run and coordinated by the newly united band of previous enemies who have been joined by others in a campaign which can only be described as obsessive.

Over the months Peter Reynolds has been accused of being:

A Police informer A Homophobe A racist A sex pervert In cahoots with big pharma

And probably a whole wedge of other things besides.

Things first came to a bit of a head on Christmas eve, when I was away from home visiting the rellies for at the festive period. I took a break from the enforced festivities and checked the CLEAR site where I saw that Peter posted a very aggressive comment, when I saw it I phoned him and it was then I discovered the extent of the campaign he’d been enduring for months. He was, it transpired, under a hell of a lot of lot of stress because of it.

As it happened and entirely by coincidence after Christmas I had a staff dev day at work where we told about “cyber bullying”, a development which Facebook has made a very real problem with kids. We were told how to spot it and how it affects the victims and it’s fair to say that what was happening to Peter ticked all the boxes. His reaction over the next several weeks was typical of someone under stress and he made some unfortunate mistakes in that time. The rest of the CLEAR exec also came under pressure from this band of people on a mission, however most of us have stuck by Peter, only two have not.

 

The CLEAR Facebook page then started to get spammed by this group of people telling Peter to resign and encouraging members to resign, so yes, there has been filtering of comments on the CLEAR Facebook page and website and comments have been deleted – I’ve been doing a some of it, as have other exec members, although the need to do so seems to have dropped off in recent weeks. It’s probably true that some people were blocked unreasonably, but most were not. CLEAR’s websites are not there for people who want to damage the movement, they exist for CLEAR to promote its campaign and policies and that is what we are doing and will continue to do.
The MP’s Peter had cultivated relations with have withdrawn their Facebook connection after being approached by these people, who then spread the fact around as evidence of a loss of support for Peter.

 

Perhaps worse, and certainly in an unbelievable development, a Sunday Mail reporter was engaged by them to write a shock horror probe style story about Peter. For the record taking a story designed to hurt the cannabis law reform movement to the Mail – of all papers – is about as low as you can go. Whether it would have had the desired effect though is open to debate, somehow I can’t see a dissing by the Mail as really being something that would hurt CLEAR, quite the opposite in fact.

 

This groups of obsessives likes to consider itself representatives of the “cannabis culture”, of course they can seriously claim no such thing as cannabis users come from every walk of life and its a fair bet many – if not most – would want nothing to do with them. But through a hatred of Peter Reynolds they have been drawn together like never before and have dedicated hours and hours of time and effort to the cause, albeit for an entirely destructive reasons.
They are even following CLEAR around the local press when people post comments to local papers under the “comment warrior” campaign, which will have the effect of undermining the message CLEAR is making about bad press reporting of the cannabis issue.

 

There have been other things as well, but enough’s enough.

 

The amount of time and effort this group has put into the anti-Peter Reynolds campaign has been impressive. If they were to put a fraction of this much effort into real law reform campaigning we would be well on the road to success by now, but they don’t and on the whole never have.

 

Now it has to be said that some of them are genuinely ill people, some of them indeed are housebound or at least disabled and so perhaps spend unhealthy amounts of time on internet forums, but not all of them are. The possibly only thing most of them have in common is that they are heavy long-term cannabis users.

 

Much fuss has been made in the media about the prohibitionist claims about cannabis – such as “reefer madness” and other major health risks, most if not all of which have been shown to be over stated at best and totally false at worst. This over hyping of alarmist claims has produced on the other side the “harmless herb” mindset; if cannabis isn’t the killer they claim, it must be totally harmless.

 

Now, let’s be quite clear about this: On the scale of harms cannabis is pretty safe. Being a heavy drinker for example will damage you physically and mentally, indeed it will probably kill you if you hit the bottle really hard. Even at the extremes of heavy cannabis use, nothing like that is going to happen. But to assume from that nothing will happen is a little unwise. Nothing on earth is totally, 100% safe, life just isn’t like that.

 

Perhaps what this campaign against Peter Reynolds seems to demonstrate is that long-term heavy use of cannabis gives people the ability to become obsessive about issues. A recent post to my Facebook page came up with this:

 

Great minds discuss issue
Medium minds discuss events
Small minds discuss people

 

What we have seen is an exaple of very small minds at work. Cannabis has long been associated with creativity and enlightenment and when used to focus energies that is undoubtably true, but it isn’t necessarily true that this will always be a good thing for everyone.

 

Perhaps there is another explaination though because I am, actually, more than a little suspicious of this whole charade. It does seem that the amount of time that’s been put into this whole exercise is the sort of time only an employed person could afford to give. Now, really, who doesn’t want to see an effective cannabis law reform campaign? Answers on a postcard.