Wednesday 9th October saw not one, but two events of interest to drug law reform campaigners.

First, the latest “smoke out” demo, or “peaceful protest” as they like to call them, took place in London. This one was organised by NORML-UK, the British arm of the American cannabis campaign. They had billed it as “The Cannabis Hypocrisy Protest”, an event which had been in the planning for the past year and a half. As Sarah McCulloch wrote on the NORML-UK blog

NORML UK undertook to organise the ¨Bedrocan Stunt¨ when it was founded in May 2012. It is something that many activists and groups have talked about for some time, with good reason.

The idea was certainly interesting: The fact that a medicinal cannabis user from Holland who is allowed to use herbal cannabis legally in this country was to be contrasted with medicinal users from this country who aren’t. This really should be a huge story, which presumably explains the long time it took to make the arrangements.

In case you don’t know the background to this strange state of affairs it’s all due to the Schengen Agreement which took effect in 2005. This is an agreement that, amongst other things, allows people to travel with and use medicines prescribed in one EU country to others. So we have the rather unbelievable situation in the UK whereby a Dutch resident (not, note, a Dutch citizen) can openly use medicinal cannabis in this country, but a UK resident can’t. UKCIA has some background to this here.

It is worth noting at this point that the recent CLEAR action whereby someone legally imported Bedrocan (prescribed herbal cannabis) from Holland did not involve the Schengen Agreement and is a direct challenge to the workings of the present policy.

NORML-UK announced the demo a couple of months back on its facebook page and did its best to promote it around the network of Cannabis Social Clubs (CSS). Taken together NORML-UK and the London CSS claim to have around 60,000 supporters in terms of the number of likes on Facebook. They put a lot of effort into promoting this event.

If you didn’t hear anything about this demo though, it wouldn’t come as a surprise because it got zero press attention, absolutely none, zilch. Now this may be in part because the press are toeing the government line and simply refusing to give any coverage of the issue and there may be some truth in this. Indeed that was also the case with the CLEAR action a few weeks before, press releases were sent out, nothing happened as a result.

In the event the plan to have someone there from Holland fell through, because apparently the person lined up

was required to attend a meeting in Paris, taking place at the same time as the demonstration in London.

and the replacement he tried to provide couldn’t get the paperwork done in time

This was down to timescales involved, and the agency in The Netherlands not advising of certain requirements necessary to complete the documentation.

Now given the core object of the demo was no longer possible, it might have been an idea to reconsider whether to go ahead, clearly the big story was no longer available to them, but they carried on anyway. In the event a fairly small crowd of people gathered somewhere near the Palace of Westminster (here), a location largely out of sight of the massed ranks of press just down the road at Parliament square.

Neither does it seem to have been a very well attended demo in all fairness, the group photo shared around Facebook shows about 50 people



This can be partly explained by the fact they held the demo mid week, which meant people who work couldn’t go. The reason for holding the event mid weeks was that MP’s don’t work weekends, but if this was meant as a lobby of MP’s there are better ways to go about it.

I really want to be supportive of any group that goes out and campaigns for cannabis law reform and I don’t doubt these guys are well motivated, but to be honest this event does seem to have come off a bit half-cock. Perhaps the photo isn’t a totally fair representation of the numbers there, but I doubt there were more than double that number. There really does need to be thousands at these events if they are to have any real impact. Given they spent 18 months  organising this it was more than a little disappointing.

Also worth mentioning is that although there were real, genuine medicinal users at the demo, there were more than a few recreational users puffing away of fat tobacco filled joints. Is this the best way to get the medicinal case taken seriously? Really?

NORML-UK has done its best to hype the event and Allen St Pierre, Executive Director of NORML US, said of the protest;

 NORML commends the men and women of NORML UK for conducting a creative, peaceful and informative press conference featuring medical patients who stand to therapeutically benefit from having legal access to physician-recommended cannabis products

Pity it wasn’t actually a press conference. Perhaps a properly organised press conference where the legal medicinal use of cannabis was demonstrated directly to the media might have been a better event to have organised, rather than the smoke-out that it actually was?

Sorry to be critical but the law reform campaign really has to be better than this. We need to be getting the message out there in a way that will be taken seriously by the people we need to influence. The medicinal access campaign in particular is so very important and mixing it up with the wider recreational issue isn’t going to influence anyone and arguably damages the cause.

Actually, it isn’t quite right to say no-one reported on the event, the famous blogger Guido Fawkes reported

Legalise marijuana protesters are lighting up spliffs on College Green and you can smell them from a mile off: There are no police around so see you down there. Bring snacks.

Guido Fawkes Blog coverage of a medicinal cannabis press conference

Guido Fawkes Blog coverage of a medicinal cannabis press conference

I think that says it all really.

Elsewhere, later on the same day there was a media event this week which was somewhat more positive. As much as I love to hate BBC3 and its dumbed down coverage of UK culture and current affairs, this week’s “Free speech” studio debate was something of an eye opener. It actually featured a CLEAR member Michael Fearnley in his TV debut,

But the debate was really interesting for three things: MP Dr Julian Huppert who spoke passionately about the need for reform of the drug laws, Katie Hopkins who came across as the sort of mother no-one would want and the studio audience who were amazingly supportive of  MP Dr Julian Huppert’s views in favour of drug law reform. If Katie Hopkins is typical of the sort of people opposing drug law reform now – and in many ways she is – we’re pushing at an open door.

Free Speech is available on iplayer for another few days here The drugs debate is at 44 minutes, catch it if you can.