The story of UKCIA

Old UKCIA logo

The “Legalise Cannabis Campaign” – the LCC – had existed since the 70’s but had become largely dormant through the 80’s, something had to be done.

Norwich, where UKCIA is based, is an interesting city for many reasons. It was the first place to have postcodes, the first place to pedestrianise a shopping street and in the early 90’s became the new home of the cannabis law reform campaign based at the amazing Jack’s Yard.  The “Campaign to Legalise Cannabis International Association”, the CLCIA, was born and got the whole thing going again.

In 1995 the internet arrived and with it the brand new UKCIA.

UKCIA site is the oldest cannabis law reform website in the UK, indeed one of the oldest in the world. It was set up in 1995  by the remaining members of the the LCC. The idea was to put the knowledge and experience gained in running the LCC online for people to use.

Having “CIA” in the name of cannabis law reform campaigns was an “in” joke at the time for some reason which has been long lost in clouds of green haze.  But UKCIA is not a bad name and unlike others has stood the test of time.

UKCIA had a simple mission statement; to tell the truth about cannabis. That seemed an easy thing when it was written, but of course as always it gets messy because the truth sometimes involves things you might not want to hear, but it is the best policy although It didn’t always sit well with some activists. Many arguments followed as a result, mostly on the sadly now defunct UKCIA mailing list.

In 1997 the “New Labour” government of Tony Blair came to power and although we didn’t know it at the time, the establishment’s fight back against drug law reform was about to ramp up.

But in 1997 UKCIA was in trouble, the people who had set it up wanted to move on and do other things. The site was left online but no-one was updating it and pretty soon it was in need of a re-vamp.

Smokey Bears Hyde Park 1998
Smokey Bears Hyde Park 1998

In 1998 a sympathetic IT bod came on the scene just in time for one of those special days which don’t happen very often, the sort of day wonderful things unfold

in September 1998 a “picnic” in Hyde Park was arranged by Free Rob Cannabis (his real name), a long established campaigner, and we all went down to London and met up. It was at this picnic the idea of ukcia.org was born and a few days later the domain was registered and I became the webmaster. I’ve looked after UKCIA ever since and I hope I’ve kept it true to the original aim – to tell the truth about the herb and its culture, warts and all.

Even back then the growing violence fuelled by organised crime and the ever more sinister police state, both created by prohibition, were trashing our liberties and rights while the other “unintended consequences” of prohibition  ripped apart the very fabric of society. So the message of UKCIA is not one directed only to cannabis enthusiasts, it’s one for everyone. Ending prohibition isn’t something that only cannabis users should support because the disastrous effects of prohibition touch us all. Prohibition has created the harm it claimed to be preventing.

In 1998 the Independent on Sunday started a “Decriminalise cannabis” campaign and this really ignited the movement. They organise a massive demo in London which gave birth to the “Cannabis coalition” who organised annual Ganja day festivals in Brixton, which became the site of a partial decriminalisation experiment by the police. UKCIA has an archive of the demos which you can see  here 

The CLCIA morphed into the Legalise Cannabis Alliance – LCA – in 1999, registered as a political party  with the idea of standing in elections and for a while Norwich was home to two cannabis law reform campaigns, the LCA and UKCIA.

For a long time, the message law reformers put out was that cannabis was a safe substance and therefore shouldn’t be illegal. Cannabis was called “the harmless herb” and that became a hostage to fortune. While it is a very safe substance for most people, nothing on earth is absolutely “safe”, certainly nothing is “harmless”. This logic of “free the weed” also ruled out the idea of legal regulation of the commercial trade in cannabis, any form of regulation being called “partial prohibition” by some.

On UKCIA you will find information about the real risks of using cannabis and how to avoid them along with safer ways to consume it. In particular from 2001 UKCIA created “Tokepure“, an anti-tobacco campaign which upset a lot of activists who of course were all heavy smokers. It seems strange now but back then there really were people  who refused to accept there could be any risks from using cannabis under any circumstances, even by mixing it with tobacco.

Following the disastrous and utterly pointless reclassification  of cannabis to class C of the Misuse of Drugs Act of the early 2000’s we faced a barrage of prohibitionist hype that became known as “Reefer madness V2.0”. The claim that cannabis caused serious mental illness was used by the prohibition campaign with great effect. Stuck with the mantra of “the harmless herb” the law reform movement was made to look out of touch, even callous in its lack of understanding of the claimed dangers of cannabis use. The annual ganja day event was blocked and for while the campaign lost its way.

Most activists tried to refute the claims that cannabis caused mental illness, but UKCIA and others took an active interest in the debate including attending conferences in London looking at the scientific evidence. This issue dominated UKCIA for some years following 2004 but it was worth it.

Out of this came the understanding that far from being a reason to enforce prohibition, if there were any truth in the claims of reefer madness V2.0 it  was in fact the strongest argument possible  in favour of legal reform. The argument was that under prohibition the THC content of cannabis had increased and the CBD content decreased. This had happened because of the regime of “drug control” as they laughingly call prohibition is no such thing, the change in potency of cannabis was not even acknowledged until 2007, ten years after the market had shifted from mostly imported hash to UK grown herbal cannabis, a change brought about by prohibition policy.

There is only one way to address that, which is by proper regulation of the commercial trade.

Around 2008 UKCIA became  “newsblog”, which has now grown to form the backbone of the site.  The LCA gave up being a political party, became CLEAR under a new management and moved away from its hometown.

Over the years the law reform argument generally has solidified around the need to control and regulate the trade and to bring an end to the uncontrolled madness of prohibition and UKCIA is no longer the lone voice it once was. in 2013 Colorado and Washington state legalised the trade and other states and other countries have followed, a special mention to the  Transform Drugs Policy Foundation is worth making for the amazing work they’ve done over the years. Things are beginning to change at last.

The UKCIA site was in need of another revamp, it was all still there but the site had become messy with outdated code and many broken links and so in 2019 it was given a good overhaul.

Cannabis is a stimulating-hallucinogenic depressant with psychotic and anti-psychotic properties, it’s not your normal run of the mill drug. It’s a complex  plant and different strains  produce different effects on the consumer. All this is covered on UKCIA and you can dig as deep as you like into what makes cannabis tick, the rich history of its many uses and the dark politics that have lead us down the destructive path of prohibition. Sadly UKCIA still has a role to play and cannabis law reform is a cause that will not go away.

The legalise cannabis  march, Brixton, 2002
The legalise cannabis march, Brixton, 2002