CANNABIS is seen as a harmful and dangerous drug but many believe it should be declassified. This year Brighton became home to a new campaign group which openly uses the drug in public and is fighting to make it legal. FLORA THOMPSON reports...


WALK through The Lanes on a Saturday afternoon and you may see someone casually lighting up a cannabis ‘joint’.

Members of the Brighton Cannabis Club flout the law in public as part of their bid to make the drug legal.

Chairman Rob Davidson agreed to speak to The Argus about the organisation, which was launched in January.

They already have 40 members and the club is still growing.

Mr Davidson said the club was set up so cannabis consumers and enthusiasts could meet and work towards reform.

The group claims the cost of prohibiting the possession, cultivation and supply of cannabis is a waste of taxpayers’ money and police time.

Mr Davison said: “If prohibition didn’t work for alcohol why should it work for cannabis? “People are persecuted for using cannabis. It is a human rights issue. There is a stigma attached to its usage – it is defined by its illegality.

“This is all quite new to us but we want to get the community’s support. We are not saying the drug is completely harmless.

“We meet in public places because we can’t smoke inside. But we aren’t causing any harm to anyone.

“There’s a lot worse crime going on in Brighton for the police to focus on.

“In 2013 the cost of prohibiting drugs cost £13.3 billion and 50% of drug possession arrests were for cannabis.”

Mr Davidson, who turned to cannabis to treat insomnia, claims the law encourages negative stereotyping of cannabis users, creating an “unacceptable discrimination” in society.

The 20-year-old said: “We believe it is less harmless than prescription drugs. Cannabis is categorised as a drug with high potential for misuse with no medical benefit.

“This criminalises people who use cannabis for medicinal reasons and stops health research into cannabis as a medical substance.”

Mr Davidson believes legislation needs to be changed to catch up with changing perceptions of the drugs use for health perks – and that pharmaceutical companies were already manufacturing the drug in the UK in a different form which was far more costly than if a patient were permitted to grow a few plants in their loft. He said: “It can help a wide variety of conditions from multiple sclerosis to attention deficit hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), depression, anxiety and a whole lot more.”

Mr Davidson, who works in IT, said studies have slammed claims that the drug causes schizophrenia and psychosis and felt its illegality caused a boom in the black market, making it easier for young people to access.

The club is calling on the “madness” to end and hopes to launch a co-op not-for-profit growing scheme which could directly help patients and offer a safe and stable environment for recreational users.

He said: “After establishing a base of just a few people, we looked at ways to create an environment where members could consume cannabis together.”

He said members include those who believe in the drug’s medicinal benefits, recreational users and even parents who believe laws on cannabis are “unjust, immoral, nonsensical, and must be changed”.

He said: “We also have members who do not consume cannabis. We’re here to show we exist, we are here to stay and we are not a burden on society.

“We want to remove the burden prohibition places on cannabis consumers and fight for the right for adults to consume the substance in a regulated and legal market.”

The club has held two outdoor events so far. The Green Pride Picnic saw a hundred people, including founders of the Worthing Cannabis Café, gather in Preston Park, Brighton, and 150 people took part in a barbecue in East Brighton Park, Mr Davidson said.

He said: “We listened to reggae music all afternoon and openly consumed cannabis.”

The club’s webpage said it does not provide “hook-up” details but advises people to ‘grow their own’ instead.

Mr Davidson said: “Users are forced to go to a dealer and they can rip you off. They are often controlled by gangs – not so much in Brighton but in other areas – and we do not condone the exploitation and violent underworld that can be associated with drugs.

“If we had a clubhouse we could create a not-for-profit organisation where jobs would be created and people could grow cannabis for users in a legal and regulated environment where it is more affordable.

The group organised a health talk in May with Clark French, founder of the United Patients Alliance in Brighton, which supports medicinal cannabis use.

The club has also taken part in national events, including the Hype Park ‘smoke up’ attended by more than 400 people, while members travel the world to research fellow clubs, Mr Davidson said.

Marc Emery, a Canadian cannabis reform campaigner, has been made an honorary member of the group.


• What the police say...

THERE were 480 reports of cannabis possession in Brighton and Hove in a year.

Of this figure – from October 22, 2013, to October 21, 2014 – 446 resulted in police action such as a charge or summons to court, a caution, or a fixed penalty notice.

The figure dropped by nearly 100 incidents from the previous year, with 556 incidents reported.

A Sussex Police spokesman said: “The force is aware of the Brighton Cannabis club and initial contact has been made.

“Cannabis in any form and its cultivation remain illegal in the UK and any person found in possession of it illegally could end up in court and with a criminal record.”


• MP wants wider use of drug in health service

AN MP called for a government review into the medicinal use of cannabis.

Crime prevention minister Norman Baker, MP for Lewes, wants the Department of Health to use the drug to treat more medical conditions.

He wants to legalise the widespread use of the plant for the relief of symptoms of certain medical conditions – including the side effects of chemotherapy, Crohn’s disease and multiple sclerosis.

Mr Baker, who has admitted smoking cannabis in the past, said he was uncomfortable that “credible people” use cannabis to relieve symptoms but had to break the law to help their health.

He said he had seen more and more evidence that cannabis could have genuine medical benefits.

He said: “There is a growing body of research which shows the medical properties of chemical components of cannabis. We should seriously consider whether it is valuable to treat conditions such as MS, glaucoma, chronic and neurogenic pain and the side effects from chemotherapy and HIV/AIDS treatments.”

At a United Patients Alliance (UPA) meeting in Brighton this year people shared their stories of how the drug helped their health conditions.

Michael Cutler, 63, from Hastings, claims cannabis oil cured his liver cancer while UPA founder Clark French, 28, of Brighton, has said cannabis helped alleviate his chronic MS.