What has happened with the Legalise Cannabis Alliance over the past couple of months can only be described as a coup – in many ways a welcome coup, but a coup non the less.

This blog first reported something was brewing back in January

Peter Reynolds is a new name on the law reform scene; he first came to prominence last September when the confusion over the legality of importing medical cannabis from Holland occurred (Peter Reynolds blog). From this he went on to create the British Medical Cannabis Register (BMCR) which caused much bad feeling and has been covered in this blog at some length (here). Peter has been promoting himself as a long term cannabis campaigner for a few months now with varying degrees of success on different forums. He is a person of uncompromising opinions with a very strong personality which is both an advantage and a disadvantage.

The LCA had existed for 11 years and yet within a couple of months of joining, by the middle of February, Peter had managed not only to change the constitution of the LCA but also to get himself elected as leader. The speed it all happened was breathtaking, but the changes were only just beginning. Peter announced the new campaign would be very different to the old LCA, promoting the idea of control and regulation of the commercial trade with an image people could take seriously. As I wrote in February

All this is exciting stuff and if it comes off it will be a real game changer. There is a lot of support out there for cannabis law reform – not for “free the weed” but for a properly controlled and regulated trade which actually protects the people at risk. So the proposed changes are not only welcome, but will be actively supported by this site as we at last seem to be singing from the same hymn sheet.

Things ticked along throughout March and it began to look as if the pace of change was slacking, but wheels were turning and over the past few days the new direction for the campaign was made public. Gone is “Legalise cannabis” and in it’s place is the term UKCIA has always  used – “Cannabis law reform”. The whole “LCA” brand is about to be buried and the new identity launched. From now on the name is “CLEAR” – cannabis law reform.

It’s fair to say there is a lot of bad feeling from some of the “old guard” of the LCA, who really can’t understand why it was necessary to take over the old campaign and then effectively kill it off by launching something totally new and utterly different. This is perhaps understandable but it is wrong, the old LCA has to die; it wasn’t only ineffective but was actually harmful to the cannabis law reform effort. The people involved in the old campaign  were sincere  but they were also badly out of touch with what was needed and seemed oblivious to the harm the awful image they projected did to the cause. In recent days Peter has dealt with complaints from the old guard in a quite ruthless manner which although probably effective is worrying if not checked.  It is certainly true that a focused and disciplined campaign requires strong leadership and at the moment he has a lot of good will from many people who desperately want to see the sort of reforms he’s promising, but it would be more than a pity if he allowed his formidable temper to undermine the good work he has done so far.

So what can we look forward to with the new campaign? On his blog Peter described the aims of CLEAR

1. To end the prohibition of cannabis.
2. To promote as a matter of urgency and compassion the prescription of medicinal cannabis by doctors.
3. To introduce a system of regulation for the production and supply of cannabis based on facts and evidence.
4. To encourage the production and use of industrial hemp.
5. To educate and inform about the uses and benefits of cannabis.

Of course, exactly what this means in practice remains to be seen, but it’s certainly on the right road. The “spearhead” for the campaign as Peter describes it is to be the medical use of cannabis.

We seek an end to prohibition for everyone but we demand immediate provision for those who need cannabis as medicine.  It is an obscene and evil shame on our nation that so many who suffer are in fear of arrest and prison for using a medicine that transforms their lives.

This is an issue which has divided law reform campaigners for a long time, as well as being used by the prohibition lobby as a reason to block medical use. By openly  describing the medical issue as a “spearhead” for the wider campaign Peter is treading  a dangerous path, running the risk of proving the prohibitionists claim that the medical argument is no more than a “front” for “freeing the weed”.  He is right though to identify medical use as a real urgent issue which deserves to be highlighted, the fact that a great many people are forced to suffer rather than use a plant with many known benefits is inhuman – denying a person a medicine is rightly regarded as a form of torture by most right thinking people.

It is of course true that the medical use of cannabis is only prohibited because the recreational use is prohibited. If recreational use were to be allowed – even if under the most stringent and repressive of conditions – medical use would immediately become possible. The two aspects of cannabis law reform are not really separate issues, although in many ways they are vastly different.

Along with the leadership election it was also decided to re-register the campaign as a political party in order to stand in elections. The idea isn’t to actually get elected, but to use the political process as a vehicle for getting the message out. This might work, it didn’t before though and runs the very real risk of showing there is no support for the aims of the campaign simply by not getting a substantial vote and being ranked with the “looney” parties. If this tactic is going to be of any worth and not actually damage the wider effort CLEAR will have to get reasonable levels of support in the ballot box. If the referendum due in a couple of weeks leads to a change in the way we vote to AV  it might be possible, but if the result is for no change standing for election would seem a very unwise campaign tactic.

But all such concerns are for tomorrow, for now we have the creation of a new cannabis law reform campaign and one which is showing signs of being a grown up and mature campaign. UKCIA will be following developments with great interest and more than a little enthusiasm.

The new website will be launched soon, we wish it well