Norwich Cathedral Cloisters, June 1998
Let me make one thing clear from the start: I do not have a religious faith in that I don’t believe in God in the sense that “God” is usually understood. For me, if there is a god, it’s connected with the ecology of the world, I suppose “Gaia” is the generally understood idea. It’s not a matter of belief or faith though. But that’s me.
I first got properly involved in the cannabis law reform effort way back in 1992 when Jack Girling and a group of people relaunched the campaign here in Norwich as the CLCIA (the Campaign to Legalise Cannabis International Association). For some reason the name had to include the letters “CIA”, just as UKCIA had done. Why that was has been lost to history.
Now my reason for wanting cannabis law reform can be gauged from reading this website. My focus has always been on wanting a properly controlled and regulated commercial trade along with harm reduction advice relating to safer methods of consumption. To me, cannabis has always meant a substance used for enjoyment, relaxation and so on and that is still my focus.
Indeed I was, for a long time, dubious about the medicinal claims for cannabis some were making. Over the years however I was to meet many medicinal users and I discovered how true those claims were and that cannabis really does have many genuine therapeutic uses. Of course I now see that as an important issue.
At the same time I became aware that cannabis is also used as a spiritual sacrament by some and this included Jack Girling. Over the years I have come to understand that people can have many routes to faith and that one of these routes can include this spiritual use.
It is true, including for an atheist like me, that cannabis can lead to a deep contemplation of issues. It can allow the mind to wander and for thoughts to gel on complex constructs. Yes, it’s true that often these are often fleeting and fanciful, but on occasion can be truly deep, meaningful and very revealing. It depends on how cannabis is used and the motivation for doing so of course. Although it never did so for me, the idea that these deep thoughts can lead to a love a deep and real belief in a deity is entirely reasonable. So it was for Jack and a group of about 15 others involved in the campaign.
In the late 90’s this group of people decided to do something about campaigning for the right to use cannabis spiritually and so they formed The Universal Church of the Holy and Sacred Herb – UCHASH. The aim being to fight for what is supposed to be their right, ie the right to faith and religious freedom, beliefs and rites.
To that end they planned a high profile launch, the inauguration of their church in the cloisters of Norwich cathedral with a ceremonial chillum from India. The reason for picking this location, apart from the obvious high profile nature, was to lobby the Bishop of Norwich to encourage him to raise the issue of cannabis. Of course, this would have been pointless if no-one heard about it so the press and police were invited to witness the event.
As might have been expected the police “swooped” – from ground level as they do – and two people, Jack and Lana – were taken away and prosecuted for possession. But the TV in the form of BBC East were there, it made the local press and did make waves locally. Of course the cathedral authorities made it clear that the church couldn’t challenge the drug laws and the BBC made the story about the police breaking up the demo, as well as describing the issue as “so-called religious use”. Such is the British establishment.
And so, 22 years later Jack is still passionate about his right to use cannabis spiritually and he recently put a lot of effort into asking me to make a video to draw attention to his passion. It is true that I took some convincing but as with the medicinal use I was originally sceptical about, I have come to accept that Jack and others like him are genuine in their motivation. Cannabis to Jack is a holy sacrament and frankly he deserves the right to treat it as such. What the hell right does someone like Tony Blair (who was PM back in 1998) or our present PM Johnson have to deny some their route to faith? So I made Jack’s video.
The video follows a route into Norwich along Magdalen Road and Magdalen Street, which passes several places important to Jack, not least of all the site of “Jack’s Yard”, where the CLCIA was based and the now redundant medieval church of St Saviours where his parents were married and he was Christened. The journey takes us to Norwich Cathedral and the news report of the inauguration event.
The voice over commentary at the start, read by me, are documents issued at the time to explain the reason for UCHASH, the final demands, written in September 1998 are read by Jack
Making this little video has been an interesting journey for me. Although I am not myself a spiritual person, I see the right to be so as genuine and worth defending. Prohibition is a cruel law indeed and this is just another example of how unjust it is.
UCHASH has a Facebook page here
All this happened during the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020. As well as the church issue, during the lockdown in May Jack persuaded me to get out on my bike and record the old routes into Norwich, most of which are now impassable to traffic due to the road building of the 1960’s and some parts of which are now quiet backways or pedestrian zones. This of course was where the journey to the Cathedral came from. Before this happened I was getting a bit depressed in the lockdown and Jack’s idea gave me a real focus which I was very grateful for. You can see the result of my bike rides through the empty streets of Norwich on my youtube channel, scenes which were both beautiful for the peace and tranquillity and yet with a dark overtone of threat from the virus. But that’s a different story.