The Release Helpline and the BMCR data collection – more problems caused by prohibition.

A theme running through many of the entries in this blog over the past couple of years has been the cod science employed to justify prohibition, the easy to understand desire of the prohibition regime to silence descenting voices and the perceived need by politicians to control the flow of information. The reason for all this is simple: Prohibition would be exposed as the dangerous, repressive sham that it is if a free flow of information were allowed. The past week have seen two developments which illustrate this situation all too well.

The first comes from one of the few long running truly independent  drugs groups in the country,  a desperate plea from Release for a cash injection to fund their helpline. Release have been proudly distinct from most other drug agencies in England at least (Crew in Scotland can also hold its head high) by being willing to speak out against prohibition, unlike other once vocal agencies  they never took the government’s shilling and agreed to keep quiet about the need for law reform.

The help line page is here and explains the helpline has two elements; the legal help and drugs help.

Legal Helpline
The legal helpline is staffed by qualified lawyers, paralegals and trained volunteers, who will provide information and advice to the public and professionals. Legal advice is provided on criminal matters; drugs classification; anti social behaviour orders; legal issues pertinent to drugs users such as travelling with prescribed controlled drugs, the impact of criminal convictions and cautions, drug use and its impact on driving requirements. Advice can also be provided on other legal issues — if the legal team cannot assist you with your enquiry, they will provide details of other services that can.

Representation is not a service offered through the helpline although in some cases where there are issues of public law arising, Release will be able to refer you to lawyers who specialise in this area.

Drugs Helpline
Our drug services are managed and run by a team of specialist advisors assisted by trained volunteers.

The drugs team provides help, advice, information, support and referral to people affected directly and indirectly by drug use.

This is an essential service and more than that it’s a trusted service. Unlike Frank this isn’t a government run advertising campaign aimed at promoting the prohibition policy with an advice service tacked on; Release is a service aimed at drugs users which grew from the street scene and never forgot its roots. It can still be trusted to view the people who needs its help as victims rather than criminals, unlike Frank which certainly does not. The irony is that “Frank” is the major referrer of clients to the Release service because, despite being funded by massive government handouts Frank doesn’t have the expertise that Release has.

All this is in serious jeopardy and the Release Helpline will have to close soon if it doesn’t get a fix of more cash and quickly. Release needs your help and needs it now, you can make donations via its website here but more than that you can also help in other ways. There’s a facebook page here, please have a look and do what you can to help, but time is tight and this invaluable service might not be around much longer.

It’s worth remembering that the Release helpline closing would be a significant boost for the prohibition regime. Truly independent voices are a thorn in the side of the Home Office which would much rather have sole control of the “information” about drugs, don’t let Frank become the only source of help and advice.

The other problem this past week has involved data collection. Almost two years ago this blog highlighted the cod science that underpins support for prohibition. Back then UKCIA reported on the Home Office potency study which looked at cannabis strengths. Amazingly this study was the first official bit of research that informed the government that the UK cannabis market had changed from being supplied mostly by hash imported from North Africa to herbal cannabis grown here in the UK. So 10 years or more after cannabis users discovered “home grown”, those supposedly in charge of the drug “control” regime finally found out about it.

One of the main points raised in that blog from January 2009 was the cod science used to compile the Home Office potency study carried out by the ACMD in 2008, in particular the information gathering method used. As reported at the time:

So this Home Office study set out to fill in some of the blanks in our knowledge of just what isn’t really being controlled.  Now the first problem they had is how to collect samples. For any study that wants to be taken seriously, the sampling method used is all important. You have to be sure of taking a representative sample or your results will be meaningless. The ACMD had no choice but to ignore this important prerequisite and to go with the best they could get, which was police seizures from people who had been given a warning for possession.

Ensuring the data collected in any study is in fact representative is vital for any scientifically valid study. If you can’t measure something properly, you can’t do science on it, that is  a totally non-negotiable pre condition, the need to be able to measure things to all intents and purposes  a definition of what science is. If a study is conducted using bad data the results will be meaningless and certainly should be relied upon, the old adage is true: Garbage in, garbage out.

The data collection employed in the study was described thus:

For operational reasons some forces chose to send in material from only one Borough Command Unit or from one of several forces collection points. Some forces experienced internal logistics problems; others were very enthusiastic and sent in everything received during the trial period.

There is no way such a pathetic system of data collection can be regarded as in anyway valid, yet it was used to “prove” the claimed increase in “potency” – itself a dodgy concept – and was used by the government to justify the decision to re-reclassify cannabis to class B.

Now, this might have been acceptable had the ACMD accepted the shortcomings, but they didn’t. Nowhere in the potency study were the problems of data collection even acknowledged beyond the totally inadequate paragraph quoted above, let alone highlighted as being a weakness of the study. Had they been and had the resulting conclusions carried the rider that the conclusions arrived at were no more than a potential illustration of the situation on the ground it might have been acceptable. As it is this study cannot seriously be regarded as a solid bit of research.

The problem is prohibition makes proper data collection impossible. There are lots of accepted methods for taking samples of a population or trade, but they all involve being able to sample representatively and to do that you have to be able to interview your subjects, buy your sample and so on in ways which are accepted as producing statistically valid results and you simply can’t do that with something like cannabis because it’s illegal. A point made frequently on this blog and elsewhere on UKCIA is that prohibition prevents proper studies of what’s going on and as a result means any conclusions about what is actually happening are at best skewed and at worse totally worthless.

One area which really needs a proper study is the medical use of cannabis. The government claims there is no medical benefit from using the raw herbal version of the plant, a position they have long held despite much evidence to the contrary of course. Recently they have begrudgingly allowed the development of a cannabis drug – SATIVEX – because as  James Brokenshire in the Home Offices strangely puts it with no hint of irony:

The Government recognises that there are people with chronic pain and debilitating illness who are looking to alleviate their symptoms and who may not find adequate relief from existing medication.

Which is an odd property for something with no medicinal value to have. SATIVEX, despite government claims is no more than cannabis with all the inert vegetable matter removed, it is cannabis and is not as they claim “cannabis based”.

So how many people do use cannabis (including SATIVEX) medicinally now? How do they use it? What conditions do they use it for? It would seem to be a good idea to ask these questions and it’s perhaps telling that the government hasn’t dared to try to find out. So is was that the development of a medicinal cannabis register was proposed recently; the British Medicinal Cannabis Register – BMCR – is to become just that and UKCIA is proud to be associated with it.

The idea was simple, just ask people who use cannabis to enter their details on a database which could then be used to illustrate the extent of the demand for medical cannabis which the government is denying. Like all data collection regarding cannabis use though, the project has come up against the perhaps obvious problem, you can’t ask people – especially people in serious pain who are scared stiff of losing their meds to a police raid- to admit to breaking the law because they simply won’t tell you and who can blame them?

In all honesty this is a crazy situation to be in: We know there is a major issue with cannabis use and we know a lot of very ill people depend on it to make life at least manageable. Never mind the fact that millions of people use cannabis for enjoyment, we can’t even go out there an collect firm data about something as important as medicinal use, like the government we are actually prevented from doing it by the existence of a law supposedly in place to control drug use, how mad is that? This is a totally unacceptable situation but whilst we have prohibition we’re stuck with it.

The BMCR will go ahead and the past week has seen the development of a way to collect the data which doesn’t involved identifying individuals, but of course this will compromise the data to some extent, there’s no way around that. Unlike the government though the BMCR is going to have to be honest about this compromise and will be able to point to it as yet another argument against prohibition. At the very least its hoped the BMCR will shine a light on the scale of the problem and go some way to counter the lies put out by politicians.

The BMCR is still very much in development and it is hoped to be launched properly sometime next month, this blog will no doubt have more to say about it all in due course.


UKCIA is a cannabis law reform site dedicated to ending the prohibition of cannabis. As an illegal drug, cannabis is not a controlled substance - it varies greatly in strength and purity, it's sold by unaccountable people from unknown venues with no over sight by the authorities. There is no recourse to the law for users and the most vulnerable are therefore placed at the greatest risk. There can be no measures such as age limits on sales and no way to properly monitor or study the trade, let alone introduce proper regulation. Cannabis must be legalised, as an illegal substance it is very dangerous to the users and society at large.

25 thoughts on “The Release Helpline and the BMCR data collection – more problems caused by prohibition.

  1. I wish the BMCR all the luck in the world with collecting data, they’ll have a hard time though.

    “Please visit this website and fill in the details of you breaking the law. There is a possible penalty of 5 years in prison. Thank you”

    Is essentially what they are saying to people. I will probably fill in a form at some point if I’m happy the data won’t be distributed in any way. I can just see the police demanding to see the data and as they aren’t medical records I don’t see that they’d have much option but to give them the identities of innocent criminalised people.

  2. Hi Sam

    “Please visit this website and fill in the details of you breaking the law. There is a possible penalty of 5 years in prison. Thank you”

    This point has been well made over the past week, don’t doubt that!

  3. The BMCR will most certainly have a hard time collecting data with negative attitudes like that. The only way something like this register can work is if all of us make the effort. Obviously we all fear been criminalised if this police get hold the register, but the police can come through that front door at any minute. We are already living with the worry of been made a criminal, yet we still smoke. If Cannabis is important to your medical needs then you should certainly sign the register.

  4. Sadly it’s how things are shush, we have to live with the fact that prohibition “works” – in as much as it does work – by fear and repression, which is especially effective against people who use cannabis medicinally. I’m met more than a few people who suffer very real pain rather than break the law, so it’s no surprise that many will be far too scared to come forward unless the register is totally anonymous.

  5. I fully appreciate your point of fear and repression working to control prohibition. But if we want to end probibition or even simply get the drug classifications reviewed then we need to be prepared to be scared. Maybe thats the price to pay if we want the freedom to self medicate.
    I was a bit uneasy with leaving details, but unless Ive miss understood something you could give only part of your postcode and not your full name.
    Seriously. If the police were to get this register do you think they would come knocking on all the med users doors. I think not. Hopefully I wont live to regret this but if they want to clog the courts up further for a little bit of Cannabis then theres not much I can do about it. Come on people, nothing in life comes easy.

  6. Both myself and my wife will be registering this coming Wednesday and for us it is a form of stepping out of the shadows and fighting for our rights, those who are paranoid about the “what ifs” are in my mind cowards or have another ageneda, I am in the process of making leaflets up for my local doctors surgery and pharmacies, I am not ashamed nor frightened of the future, that knock on the door could come at any time and for any reason, at least I will be able to say that I am registered with the BMRC if needed, so if anything it is more mitigation for us should the worse scenario ever happen.

    We have a great opportunity to shame the home office and the government, we must register, this is one of the biggest civil rights issues of our times and we need strength and unity, not petty “what if this happens” blah blah blah… get up stand up, stand up for your rights or just shut up.

  7. An important point about coming forward as a medical user is that some users may feel that their condition may not be accepted as valid and therefore they will be treated as just another addict. It is not always life threatening conditions that are helped by the use of cannabis but the use of this medicine can often make all the difference to quality of life alongside other (prescribed medicine). It is not clear if the medical user needs to have the support of their doctor either. Obviously a doctor’s prescription is not needed to tell you if cannabis helps your condition or not.

    I know of at least a couple of medical users of cannabis that started out as recreational users but found that the drug really helped with ongoing medical conditions. Of course they could live without it but it really does help them. These people may not even consider themselves as medical users (because they have enjoyed the drug recreationally) and they would certainly be fearful that others would not consider them valid medical users.

    I suppose the question is – Should cannabis only be allowed for chronic pain and terminal illness or should it also be used for the relief of ongoing medical conditions that are not life threatening ? I think if it helps someone then it should be acceptable – whatever the severity of the condition.

    To those who commented and said they are registering I would like to say thank you but it must be acknowledged that there are others more fearful who will not come forward (maybe they are in a job or public position that demands abstinence from all drugs except alcohol). There are many, many more who could be helped but have never even considered using cannabis – so the survey is really only a survey of the tip of the iceberg. We need some way of assessing the potential benefit to all medical conditions as a whole. In fact cannabis could be an ingredient in all sorts of medical products from cold remedies to the treatment of AIDS and Cancer. That’s potentially millions of people helped which is very different to assessing just those current users who are willing to take a risk and come forward for an online survey.

  8. If anyone does not come forward as a result of the scaremongering and insane paranoia then shame on them, sorry I do not buy the “risk” excuse, if people are really that worried that should they be caught using cannabis that they risk losing their jobs, then stop using cannabis or change jobs, the very same risk is there regardless of the BMCR, it is the insane negative thinking that is getting my goat, and I really do wonder what the motivation is behind it.

    My local doctors surgery has said no to a leaflet, my local pharmacy is considering it, have telephoned the library who also said no, if it comes to it I will stick leaflets to lamposts, at bus-stops.. in supermarkets, will raise awareness about the BMCR wherever I can as it is the MOST POSSITIVE thing to happen in my lifetime regarding cannabis and this really is a step in the right direction.

    Negheads? who needs them. lets roll.

  9. L Catt

    if people are really that worried that should they be caught using cannabis that they risk losing their jobs, then stop using cannabis or change jobs

    Hmmm, I’m afraid I find comments like that more than a little unrealistic.

    Many people don’t have the option of just walking away from their jobs – indeed many wouldn’t want to for a whole host of reasons.

    Also, for medicinal users, simply stopping cannabis use means stopping medication.

    It seems entirely reasonable that some poeple see both options as undesirable and so keep their heads down. I entirely sympathise.

    No, what we have to do is to make sure people who register with the BMCR cannot be identified through the information stored on the database. It’s actually not hard to do, you’ll see.

  10. Its a ME ME ME mentality, sorry but that is how it comes across and if people are so worried then why not simply stay quiet about it instead of trying to extend their fears onto others.

    People will not be able to be identified via the BMCR any less than they can be identified for using cannabis websites, the whole security issue is nothing more than selfishness dressed up as an security issue.

    Off course I am aware that many people will be apprehensive about registering but to not do so on the basis that they may be discovered and lose their job, simply beggars belief as they can still be discovered and still lost their job regardless as to whether they register with the BMCR or not, so it is very much a red herring and imho all it does it play into the hands of the prohibitionists, I really do wonder if people are sincere in there approach to wanting Cannabis legalise, accepted, some appear to want to be seen as some sort of guru/messiah.. these people spreading hysteria about the issue of security do not represent me nor my wife, and I very much hope that fellow medical users are beginning to feel the same way as this register is a wonderful positive idea that should be embraced, by all means people are entitled to keep their heads down, what they are not entitled to do is transfer their fears and insecurity and get vocally negative about this wonderful opportunity.

    sorry but a few people who I thought were true warriors have simply played into the hands of the prohibitionists here and that is what makes me angry..

  11. I admire your attitude L Catt, but I do notice you’re using a pseudoname to tell the world how unafraid you are, that’s an easy thing to do.

    But I do agree this is a wonderful opportunity to put something on the record to challenge the lies and misinformation put out by the prohihbiton lobby, so it’s worth doing right.

  12. I totaly understand poeples fears about stepping out of the shadows. I understand some people who have nice jobs could be sacked if there employer found out they used Cannabis, but lets just say you dont put your name on the register and you still get raided, your employer is still going to find out.
    As L Catt stated, been on the register would be good mitigation if nothing else. As i said before, we are aleady living in near constant fear. It sounds corny but strenght does come in numbers. With all the cuts looming to the police force do you think they are going to have the resources to come and get everyone on the register. If anything, the more names on the register would show the police/government just how futile their attempts to ignore the medical properties of Cannabis are.
    Phrtao made a good point. What is a medical condition? If you look at the conditions list at the BCMR, everything possible is listed, from sleep and nutrition to really serious issues like AIDS and MS.
    This is the way I see it. If i go to my doctor telling him im struggling to sleep he would prescribe me some sleeping tablets, right? Does this make it a medical condition? There is a prescription for it, so yes, i think it is. If all you use Cannabis for is to help you sleep then sigh the register. The more people who sigh the register, the more varied the medical conditions that Cannabis helps can only be good for the fight. I could agree more that this is a wonderful chance, please dont let it slip us all by.

  13. I have just removed the links I had on the front page of UKCIA and on the medical pages because there are serious problems with the BMCR that are not being addressed, one of which I’ve discussed in the blog above, but other concerns have now become evident.

    Let me make it clear, the idea of the BMCR is a good one, indeed it’s an idea that’s long overdue and I was an enthusiastic early supporter. I would like to remain an enthusiastic supporter, but for that to happen I have to be certain that some important issues have been addressed, at this time I can’t be.

    I will make my position clear in the next few days and if my concerns are addressed I will continue to support the BMCR and the links will be restored to UKCIA.

    For the time being however I cannot recommend anyone to sign up to the BMCR register. This saddens me greatly.


  14. This also saddens me greatly. I had my concerns as the online registration due to start on the 1st had not happened and I am still waiting for the confirmation email, I somehow dont see that coming now. I have trust in the UKCIA that you wouldn’t have took this step easily. I look forward to you clarifying your position in the coming days.

  15. Shush the online registration form did start but with a different web address.

    I hope things will be resolved soon and we can move forward.

  16. Sounds like a bummer man, I hope whatever concerns you’ve got get ironed out. Could be a really good step towards recognising medical cannabis use in the UK.

  17. Hi, My name is Nicholas Morris and I’m a cannabis consumer. It’s not that hard is it? I live in Brynmawr…damn that’s done it I’m going to have a “knock”. All this talk of people being scared is a figment of someone else’s imagination. If you want to see change then admit to your usage. The more the merrier I say. Putting your name to something is “NOT” going to get you busted. I should know, I’ve been writing my full name and address on emails directed to the Justice minister, Home office and to any other FoI request I’ve made for years. Just mentioning that people are scared sickens me. Do you know this to be true? If so…How many? I’m also arguing against South Wales police about their “Strip” search policy at Escape into the Park, Swansea. It’s not being scared that stops people, it’s the stigma involved. If you want change then stand up and be counted. Just to add…I know I can’t talk for everyone. I’m sure people are scared. But what fuels that emotion. The government? Or other paranoid drug users? I’ll let you decide.

  18. Hi Nic Welshstoner

    I hear what you’re saying and I agree but…

    I think there’s two things being confused here. One is the need for people (cannabis users and others) who want to make a change in the law to speak out, the other is about collecting information from people who are simply scared of losing a medicine that brings relief from pain.

    The first category includes me and I’m pleased to see you as well, that’s good. All too often people are willing to say things from behind a screen name but are never willing to stand up and be counted.

    The BMCR is different though, its aim is simply to collect data about the number of people who use cannabis medicinally and the range of things they use it for, it’s not a campaigning site as such.

    The sad fact is a lot of people who use cannabis medicinally are really reluctant to “admit” to doing so because of its illegality. Hells teeth I know of several people in severe pain who know cannabis could be effective for them but refuse to even try it simply because it’s illegal!

    I also know there are many many people who reluctantly break the law to ease their pain and who are deeply ashamed to be doing so but frankly have no choice.

    Attitudes like that may not seem logical but they are common. I don’t know how common of course, no-one can, but finding out the scale of medicinal use is the first step in demonstrating the need for law reform.

    If we want people like that to tell us about their cannabis use – and we do – then we have to not only promise total anonymity but have a system which leave no room for doubt that telling the BMCR about their use will not place them at any risk.

    It shouldn’t be like this, but it is I’m afraid.


  19. I agree about the need for privacy. My reason is even darker: behind the prohibitionist scaremongering and demonization of cannabis lurks the corporate interest of a few worldwide tobacco companies sitting on a captive slave army of 1.2 billion hot burning overdose $igarette addicts (same number as beefcattle).

    These corporations control the “foreign” policy of the USA and its allies through a form of bribery known as “$igarette taxes” along with gifts to politicians’ campaign funds and sending “lawbuyists” to schmooze with the pols and their staffs.

    They fear cannabis could (A) replace tobacco; or (B) teach tobacco users to switch from $igarettes to vapouriser, one-hitter etc. and wind up buying 1/15 as much tobacco!

    !!!——> If these oligarchs are willing to KILL 6,000,000 of their devoted loyal customers per year, just to make money, what will they do when they succeed in tracking down a real enemy? Pray for Marc Emery.

    Jah bless and preserve UKCIA and all daring challengers to the #1 murder conspiracy empire in the history of the world. The Big Tree of Victory may not be that far away!

  20. @tokerdesigner – I dont think that the majority of cigarette smokers would be able to afford vaporisers (the third/developing world is becoming the biggest consumer of tobacco.. if it not already). Tobacco wouldn’t be able to replace cannabis completely, just as cannabis cant replace alcohol – they are different drugs with different effects.. but cannabis could start to eat into the profits of the ‘big two’.

    Correct me if I’m wrong but weren’t some of the US tobac firms quiet over prop19, some even buying random plots of land.. as they are probably the ones in the best position to jump into large-scale production when its legalised so not being overtly anti-weed?

    on a side note: glass shards found in ‘legal’ alcohol = product recall and apology … so glad that we have this level of product ‘quality’ for cannabis from prohibition…

  21. As one of the founders of the BMCR, I greatly regret that UKCIA, having been invited on board from the beginning, has now withdrawn its support.

    This is not in my view the right way to behave. UKCIA was still being consulted about the registration process and a petulant and public withdrawal of support is simply destructive and very damaging to all concerned.

    This sort of behaviour is exactly the reason that the cannabis lobby has failed so miserably to make any progress in this country and is the same reason that Proposition 19 failed in California. People allow their egos and vested interests to get in the way of the bigger picture.

    The BMCR has attracted support from outside the cannabis community and it is these people in science, medicine and politics who are more likely to advance the cause that cannabis orgainsations which are more concerned with infighting and individuals wanting things done in their own way.

    My personal opinion is that L. Catt has it absolutely right. However, far more important than my opinion or UKCIA’s or any individual’s is that we work together, present a unified front and have our disagreements in private, not in a public forum. The BMCR cannot be associated with an organisation that chops and changes and withdraws its support at a moment’s notice.

    Professor Les Iversen, a founder council member of rhe BMCR and currently chair of the ACMD is to lecture at the British Pharmacological Society on 14th December 2010 on the subject “Bringing cannabis back into the medicine cabinet”. It is this sort of activity by this sort of eminent individual that will achieve change, not bickering between cannabis activists.

    Each individual must decide for themselves whether to register with the BMCR. UKCIA has already been influential and its input has been responsible for making all ID information except an email address voluntary. The BMCR is not however going to be pressured into any further changes by public withdrawals of support.

    I would urge all those with an interest in establishing the facts about the medicinal use of cannabis in Britain to register with the BMCR at Online registration went live on 1st December 2010 as promised.


    The Liberal Democrat party of the United Kingdom have long been seen as the sensible option so far as British cannabis law is concerned and in their official party manifesto published in 2005 for the last General Election, the Lib-Dems made it clear they intended to decriminalise personal possession of cannabis, and also remove cannabis from the criminal element by making it legal to grow one’s own supply, with one or two limitations.

    They also coined the term “social supply”, showing a clear understanding of how the majority of cannabis changes hands; via a network of friends, family and colleagues, and not, as the Labour run Home Office would have us believe, down at the drug dealers place of business.

    That’s not to say the Liberal Democrats support out-and-out deregulation and legalisation, as the manifesto went onto explain the Lib-Dems will keep cannabis a class C substance, while at the same time using a similar policy change as is in place in Holland, which recognises a citizens rights to use cannabis instead of alcohol, a recreational drug responsible for literally tens of thousands of deaths every year in the United Kingdom whilst cannabis is yet to be credibly linked to a single death anywhere in the world


  23. Dear UKCIA,

  24. When all these politicians were studying at University Tim Yeo MP, and others who have in the past addmitted to smoking cannabis, knowing that it is a harmless drug. why don’t the put their names down on the campaingn for legalisation, when it is legalised,they would be smoking again and remenising their student days when they were having fun.

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