One organisation this site has been critical of before is “Talking About Cannabis”, a site which has been very effective at influencing government policy based on “facts” with very little basis in, well, fact.

Talking About Cannabis was headed by Debra Bell who was nothing if not motivated and single minded.  Back in January at the time the government was announcing its ignorant and pointless reclassification of cannabis back to class B, Talking About Cannabis launched its 24/7 help and advice line staffed, we were told, by a team of qualified advisers.

Several people phoned the help line to ask questions about cannabis to see what the service was actually offering. It was pretty obvious that the vast majority of the calls were answered by Debra Bell herself. So much for the team of qualified advisers.

Anyway, time passed and suddenly in April Debra sent out a mail to her list subscribers:

“Hello everyone

I wanted to let you know that I am no longer the Director of the charity ‘Talking About Cannabis’. Due to internal wranglings and lack of funding I have now left the charity.

The web-site will continue as before, run by myself, and will have no links to the charity whose name will now be changing. I believe that the new name of the charity will be ‘Talk About Cannabis and Skunk’. It will have its own web-site, and be run independently. I shall continue to run the non-profit company Talking About Cannabis Ltd.

Thanks to all of you for supporting the web-site and the work of the Talking About Cannabis Parental Action Group over the past two years since we began.

With best wishes
Debra Bell”

It didn’t take much reading between the lines to see there had been a bust-up of of some sort.

A few weeks later and sure enough a new site goes online called “Talk about cannabis and skunk” and the website of Talking about cannabis is updated to remove references to being a charity or to running a help line, or come to that no mention of being a not for profit company, and there is no list of directors or other members of the company. It seems that Talking About Cannabis is now no more than Debra Bells website. Perhaps most tellingly neither website’s links page mentions the other. However, still on the TAC site is the page of fictional “facts” about cannabis and this page is also there on the new site as a PDF download. The reason for that will become clear.

Another interesting update to the Talking About Cannabis site is another instalment of  Debra Bell’s diary, this one being for April 09, which chronicles the events that have come to pass. It’s worth a read, but do bare in mind this is entirely Debra Bells view of what happened. What follows is an effort to read between the lines to get to the bottom of events.

Debra starts by describing how Talking about cannabis started:

From humble beginnings, the Group began to become well-known, especially thanks to my teaming up with one of the world’s foremost campaigners and experts on cannabis. She had important contacts and years of experience – we made a good team, me with my personal story and she with her scientific expertise about cannabis and her campaigning background.  I owe her a great deal

This “foremost campaigner and expert” is Mary Bell, an ex-school teacher and main driving force behind Europe Against Drugs (EURAD). It was Mary Brett who wrote the Cannabis “facts” page, which is carried by both of sites under discussion.

Violence and Suicide: A Swedish study found more suicides among pot users than those who used alcohol, amphetamines or heroin. The manner of death was more violent. No other group jumped from high buildings.

Anyway Debara goes on:

I began to have doubts about the future of the charity when we were forced to give up our office space at a building near to London Bridge, due to insufficient funds. It was an added strain when I was working 7 days a week, and earning nothing – having put my savings into setting up the web-site and campaign, and then ploughing any earnings from journalism, media appearances or talks back into the business.

I knew that the future of the charity was inextricably linked to proper sustainable funding, yet 8 months on from charitable registration, the sad reality was that not one single application had been submitted despite months of regular meetings between myself and our fund-raiser, who seemed confident that his approach was the right one.

Translation: Debra Bell had hoped to earn a wage through Talking About Cannabis and it was pretty clear it wasn’t going to happen. Now, this is a situation well known to anyone involved in campaigning efforts and really shouldn’t have come as a shock to her. Those of us who do this sort of thing do it for the love of it, not the profit or, to be totally honest, even the partial reward. The fund raiser mentioned is Gloria Harding, someone I had the pleasure of crossing swords with recently on BBC TV, sadly I didn’t get a chance to socialise with her. Clearly however, Debra Bell seems not to have seen eye to eye with her in particular.

Other issues were putting a strain on Debra Bell as well, not least of all the helpline:

Due to the lack of volunteer help, in addition to the day to day running of the charity I was taking the line at weekends, which meant that I was working at least 6 days a week, normally 7.

Which explains why she usually answered the calls we had reports of. It’s pretty clear – understandably actually – the strain was getting to her.Things then get a bit murky as she describes finding someone willing to take over the Director role, who she calls “James”. Although Debra Bell thought he was ideal, it seems the others didn’t

5 days had elapsed since I had sent my resignation letter, and there was no response from anyone nor word as to the decisions made at the meeting with James. I rang James one evening, giving up on the others contacting me, and asked him what had happened. He said that the Trustees were thinking about a role for him, but had made no decisions. What? So they hadn’t exactly grabbed at his offer of help with both hands then!  I decided to cut myself loose from the charity altogether then, and rescind offers of the web-site and name. I was angry, hurt, exhausted and unwilling to play games.  This decision did elicit a response, but it was too late – my mind was made up.

So she kept the brand “Talking About Cannabis” and said goodbye.

So there you have it,  the charity is no longer also a not for profit company and has a daft name – Talk about cannabis and skunk – skunk is, of course, cannabis. But Debra Bell can be proud of one thing, as she says

We helped get the law changed– and for that I celebrate.

Indeed,  she did manage to convince a lame duck Prime Minister  to ignore real expert advice. There again, because of Debra Bell perhaps more than anyone, we can now argue with proof that UK drugs policy is not evidence based, so perhaps we have something to thank her for as well.

The new site is claiming to run the help and advice line, call them now on 0844 335 1506, let UKCIA know what they tell you.