Something that had been in the pipeline for a while came to pass last week. It hasn’t been discussed before on this blog for reasons which will become clear, essentially because to have done so could have been construed as undermining a well intentioned effort.
It was to be hoped that everything cannabis law reformers have been through over the past few years resulting in the subsequent developments of backward law reform would have made them think about the future direction of the law reform campaign a bit, perhaps to have reconsidered the arguments they were making, the way they were making them and perhaps even the goals they were trying to achieve.
In a blog entry back in June, The future of the cannabis law reform movement, mention was made of a small medi protest in London called “Protest London”. It’s fair to say at the time UKCIA had hoped this would grow into a campaign that would be taken seriously. We wrote at the time:
Much play was made of the almost unofficial legalisation of Sativex cannabis medicine, but it’s not easy to get and many medical users are still forced to use the street supplies. As a result we have perhaps the first signs of a new medical campaign, with “Protest London” pulling a small but respectable demonstration of medical users in London last week.
The organiser of Protest London is Jim Starr – AKA “Pinky” (he has a pink beard) who is, as far as UKCIA can ascertain, a genuine medical cannabis user from Dorset. Pinky seems to be genuinely motivated and honest in his intentions, but has of late been almost impervious to well intentioned good advice – advice such as don’t call yourself “Pinky” in official communications, or even basic stuff such as to use a spell checker on press releases, website content and letters and get someone to proof read them.
A while back Pinky had posted to the UKCIA forum and other cannabis sites promoting his plans for a second demo in Redditch, the constituency of Home Secretary MP Jaquie Smith
Protest Redditch has two aims.
1, to reunite the cannabis community for a mass protest for medicinal and recreational use.
2, get the crazy cannabis laws changed or at least kept at a class c drug.
It was no longer a medical only protest, something had persuaded him to broaden it.
The protest in Redditch will take place on Saturday 18th October 2008 market place (town center). Redditch is the home town of Jacqui Smith, Home Secretary and MP. We will hit her where it hurts most (home)
As things unfolded it became clear that something was going wrong. Pinky was coming out with totally unfounded “facts” about cannabis on various forums and posting long, rambling almost incoherent letters to senior government ministers, the media and so on. He was gently offered advice and positive criticism both on forums and in private mails by a number of people. It was as if someone or some organisation was persuading him to ignore all this good advice.
He found encouragement to do what he wanted to do without criticism from the LCA – the Legalise Cannabis Alliance. The LCA is a campaign which has been running now for just about 10 years – originally as a political party but for the last three years as a campaign group. Pinky’s protest became something promoted by the LCA and for the past few months the rest of us heard little more from him.
So it was that Pinky’s demo happened last week in Redditch, you probably read about it if you take the Redditch Standard:
Hopes of town cannabis protestors go up in smoke
Thursday 23 Oct 2008
THE CAMPAIGN leader of a pro-cannabis protest group that came to Redditch last weekend (18th October) has admitted the rally was “disappointing”.
Only a couple of hundred activists turned out for the eight-hour static demonstration in the town centre against so-called “unjust” cannabis laws, despite organisers previously claiming their mass protest in Redditch would hit Home Secretary and town MP Jacqui Smith “where it most hurts”. Some residents were said to have avoided the area amid rumours campaigners were set to cause trouble in the town.
But the biggest disappointment for leader Jim Starr, otherwise known as ‘Pinky’, was the fact that Ms Smith continued to ignore the pleas of thousands of medicinal users on her own doorstep and didn’t turn up to talk to protesters as invited. The protest follows the Home Secretary’s decision earlier in the year to reclassify cannabis as a class B drug, despite advice from the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs.
Pinky said: “We want answers as to why she wasted heaps of taxpayers’ money and disregarded the outcome of the report that recommended cannabis remain at class C?
“But if anything, this demonstration has proved by her failure to turn up that she’s the kind of person who stays quiet and hopes a problem will go away – but we will not go away.
“People in pain should have the right to use the only substance that works, without the fear of prosecution.”
The Government’s decision to reclassify cannabis as a class B drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 was announced by Ms Smith in May on “public safety” grounds.
The Home Office said at the time there was real public concern about the potential mental health effects of cannabis use and, in particular, the use and availability of stronger kinds of cannabis.
Interestingly the LCA claim there were somewhat fewer people on the demo, in their leaflet “Wossup Redditch they write:
Redditch was a quiet protest – except of course for the excellent sounds and speeches broadcast into the street. About 50 protesters joined in…
It’s hard to find the words to sum all this up because this is clearly the sort of effort UKCIA would be expected to have supported and would indeed have supported normally. That’s why we didn’t criticise it in advance, but it’s hard to support something you can see is being badly organised to the point where it’s going to fail in its stated objectives.
Perhaps the most important aspect to understand is that it’s better not to do something at all than to do it badly, and this demo was being done badly – everything about it was done badly and it had been clear for some time it was being done badly.
Promotion for the Redditch event has gone now, but the Protest London website gives an indication of just how badly the campaign is being done. Under a banner masthead –
Yes it is a load of people mooning (at Gordon Brown actually) and the one on the site is much bigger and clearer than we show it. The site laments the fact that the protest is being ignored by ministers and, as if by way of explanation goes on to announce the handing in of a petition to 10 Downing Street:
Pinky has handed in over 5000 signatures to downing street regarding medicinal cannabis users should have the right to self medicate with cannabis without fear of prosecution
The message from Pinky to the receiver at 10 downing street was “hear is a box of pain for gordon brown, also enclosed in the box is over 5000 signatures from different walks of life”.
If cannabis gives someone a better way of life then we should be able to continue our way of life without the fear of prosecution. We should have the rights to be happy, to many people have wrote to the government with no reply. If we can’t get heard we shall get seen and noticed. (sic)
It is so depressing to see someone putting so much effort into doing something only to do it as badly as this, the more so when it’s something you deeply and passionately believe in. Pinky clearly has the ear of the LCA so why oh why didn’t they give him the help he so clearly needs to make his campaign something that would be taken seriously, rather than seemingly encouraging him to carry on making these mistakes? Was it indeed the LCA that persuaded pinky to broaden his campaign to include recreational use? Was it they who persuaded him to ignore advice and offers of help from others?
Let’s be clear about this; the medical cannabis campaign needs to be a serious campaign on behalf of ill people which will gain widespread support. Likewise there is a good argument for saying the law reform campaign needs to be a campaign for across the board law reform, bringing the recreational trade under proper legal regulation. These are, to a large extent, different campaigns however.
Whichever direction the protest takes – a special medical only or a general law reform campaign it’s an issue which needs a forceful, professionally run sober minded campaign, it does not need something like this.
I guess the message the LCA and Protest London need to take on board is that it is possible – very easily possible – to show the world that you don’t have support for your cause, indeed to alienate support and to drive people into the arms of the opposition. That the LCA still need to learn this is all the more depressing as they’re not exactly new to this game.
Formed in 1999 the LCA tried standing in elections as a single issue political party. Actually it was a good idea and maybe it could have worked had the right arguments been made and the right image presented by the party. It was never going to win office of course, but it could have upset some results in target wards for example. But for whatever reason it didn’t work and after some seven years or so of trying it was decided – rightly – to reform as a campaigning pressure group.
The thing is, the LCA have never at any time taken a step back and tried to find out what it was they were doing wrong. They had to be doing something wrong because cannabis has hardly been out of the news for the past 10 years and yet the LCA is hardly a household name. It seems almost as if they’ve gone out of their way to look amateur and now seem intent on encouraging others to follow their example. That’s harsh maybe, but it needs saying.
It’s all well and good – as a leading figure in the LCA put it not long ago – “to campaign for what we (ie they) want”, but when it starts hurting people and actually damaging the law reform effort they really should think long and hard about the image they present, the way they present it, who they are aiming their message at and perhaps even the goals they have.
This blog has been critical of both Pinky’s protest London campaign and the LCA. Whereas the LCA deserve it, Pinky Jim is just one very ill person in some pain who is trying to make a difference. He knows help and advice is on offer to up his game from a number of sources including UKCIA, it’s up to him whether to take the advice or not, but all he has to do is ask.