Home Affairs Committee - Drugs: Breaking the CycleWritten evidence submitted by Stuart Harper (DP052)

I am a 32 year old Entrepreneur, running international businesses on two continents, previously married for nine years with one five year old daughter that I care for jointly. I was diagnosed at age two with ADHD and spent the next three years on a series of diets that effected my eating habits to this day. I never had chocolate, sugar, wheat or cow’s milk until I was five. From five was medicated with amphetamine derived drugs for over 20 years. First Ritalin, then in my 20s Concerta. By age 10 I was prescribed double the maximum daily dose (which is six tablets or 60 mg) I was given 12 tablets or 120 mg methylphenidate per day. By age 15 I was on 4.5 x the maximum daily dose at 25 tablets and 250mg per day).

At the time I was unaware but I become addicted to these drugs before my 10th birthday, they caused my personality to swing one way then the other, often when the drugs were wearing off. Due to the addiction and high doses I was taking, as well as the rapid on and offset of the drugs, meant I was essentially undergoing withdrawal on a daily basis. That didn’t affect me so much until I was older but alongside this I also suffered from an inability to eat, especially at regular times. I suffered from daily bouts of morning nausea and vomiting, stomach cramps and symptoms of an irritable bowel.

At age 15, and already smoking tobacco, my doctor, who had admitted to taking methylphenidate in medical school to aid studying, recommended that I try a cannabis joint in the morning to help my nausea. I was amazed, no sickness, no cramps, I could eat breakfast for the first time that I could remember in my life. After starting smoking cannabis I noticed a lot of changes. I started making friends, something I had always found very difficult, I gained excellent grades school and a university place. I also found I was able to decrease the amount of Ritalin I needed to take and found it easy to stop smoking tobacco.

After finishing university and starting work I found the mood swing like side effects of the Ritalin were causing me difficulties in my work life and my relationships and in my mid-twenties I was switched to Concerta, a slow release version in order to try to stop these fluctuations. At the same time I continued medicating with cannabis and spent several years managing an international development company primarily engaged in the health sector. Unfortunately my relationship failed. This I believe was caused by the marked change in my personality when I switched to slow release Concerta, which although leaving me more level also left me feeling very flat and introspective.

After the break down of my relationship, I entered a custody battle. As my condition was being used against me I chose to cease all prescription medications including cannabis, under my lawyer’s advice and my psychologists monitoring. I promptly spent the next 18 months unemployed and after losing both houses, homeless, as well. I found myself in receipt of benefits for the first time in my life. Eventually despite feeling so much better in myself (general health and wellbeing) after ceasing the methylphenidate but realizing that unmediated I could not work I chose to take what some may call a drastic step. I knew cannabis helped me keep calm and so researched online about new therapies with types of cannabis. Eventually I used my job seekers allowance to purchase an ounce of the correct Dutch cannabis. I used this to settle my mind for a long enough period to re-incorporate, gain several new clients and launch a new company and start to become a part of society again.

I now use only cannabis to treat my condition, I have no more stomach cramps, I have no more mood swings, and I have no more need to take a stimulant medication that has a host of side effects.

I then sought permission to import cannabis, later to grow cannabis, and to bring my prescription across from Holland, from my Dutch doctor. I was refused at all avenues. After 18 months of trying to make the UK stick to its part of the Schengen agreement which allows, for example, for an Irish national with a Dutch prescription to smoke his medicinal cannabis in the UK, I chose to grow my own, using seeds and equipment specifically sold for cannabis cultivation in the UK using cannabis products specifically designed for UK water. I grew ADHD variant cannabis which is the best medically for my condition and involved no organized crime nor had a victim.

Eventually I was caught growing my medicine, in a secure shed, padlocked and in accordance with the strictest European guidelines for growing. I was given a caution and told not to grow anymore. The cost to the state was three arresting officers—12 hours. four detectives—six hours, three patrol cars, two photography unit vans, one police van to arrest me, one interviewing special sergeant—two hours, and the processing and paper work on top. For 15 plants, enough to give me a three month supply of my medication. Currently I have to purchase my cannabis from criminals; it is often not quite the right sort or strength. It costs me between £500–£750 per month to buy. It cost me about £35 per month in electric to grow them.

As an interesting example, as a side effect of my condition and the ADHD is that I used to have at least three fault road accidents a year for over a decade and have written off more than 15 cars. Often damaging the courtesy car I had while mine was in repair. Once I had stopped the methylphenidate and switched solely to cannabis I haven’t had any further accidents and for the first time in my life have a no claims bonus (four years now). This behavior, of ADHD people whilst driving and cannabis’s aid to ADHD sufferers, has been shown in a number of medical papers from Germany. It’s also worth noting that methylphenidate is both far more toxic and addictive than cannabis and I was prescribed that from age five.

My condition is genetic; it will not go away or lessen with time. I believe I have to be a productive and high functioning member of society. I believe I have the right to medical help with my genetic condition. I have no wish to be a criminal. I believe I have a right to use the medication safest and most effective for my needs. I believe I have a right not to be poisoned by the medicine recommended by the state. I believe it is not the states job to legislate in the daily lives of its citizens.

2. No, taking the case above as a typical example, an arrest of a grower can cost upwards of £12,000 some reaching £20,000 or even higher if there are a lot of plants. With the current economic fears I do not think this is sustainable. I point you to the IDMU report1 the illegal cannabis markets in the UK are making at least £6 billion per year. This is the lower end of the scale, £12 billion being a more realistic amount. Currently, helped by my £750 a month “donation”, these criminals are using these monies to fund larger, more organized crime directly from cannabis revenue. Often people are shipped in to the UK to “work” in grow factories, their passports taken and they are not allowed to leave. These are just some of the crimes that occur because drugs are prohibited. The costs will only rise.

3. No, the policy is not grounded in science, health, security and human rights. Compared to alcohol, tobacco, prescription drugs, medicines you can buy over the counter and even caffeinated energy drinks, cannabis is far less harmful than any of the mentioned substances yet is illegal. The latest findings from the NHS suggest this2. In fact prescription medicines kill more people a year then even heroin. Most doctors agree that providing the opium is pure and the patient’s wellbeing and food supply maintained even a heroin addiction is not that harmful. It is the prohibition and the secrecy that it causes that envelopes the world of the user that cause the issues ie lack of access to food or safe places to live/use. Opium was legal for hundreds of years with millions of addicts living normal lives. In regards to cannabis this prohibition is particularly awful as it is a medicine that can be used to treat and prevent cancer as well as many other conditions such as ADHD, Autism, MS, AIDS, for a further list please check here
http://norml.org/component/zoo/category/recent-research-on-medical-marijuana

Having personally grown my own, as well as travelled to Holland to use Bedrocan3 and visited coffee shops in L.A. to see the benefits of medicinal cannabis for my disability, I can confirm that cannabis has got medical benefits, and cannabis as medicine can have a dramatic effect for the disabled user, giving him/.her another chance of life, without the fear of conviction. A medical user of cannabis has enough to cope with his/her illness or terminal condition without the added pressure of a police incident. I would recommend that all drug possession be decriminalized.

4. Most of the answers submitted to parliamentary questions to the Home Secretary suggest that the government does nothing to measure the effectiveness of its drug policies. Both the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee have previously commented that drugs policy is run on the basis of ministers’ opinions rather than evidence.

5. The Government are supposed to use the ACMD to base their drugs policy. The panel was formally chaired by Professor David Nutt (sacked back in 2009 for publically saying cannabis, LSD, and ecstasy were less dangerous than alcohol), In 2010 Professor Les Iversen was given the job of chief drugs adviser, he openly spoke about the medical benefits of cannabis at the British Pharmacological Society4 both professional men in the field of science, and both being ignored by the Government.

6. “According to the IDMU report5 £500 million is spent every year on the criminal justice system for cannabis alone of which £200 million is for police costs. In 2009–10 Drug offences accounted for 5% of offences as a whole, of which based on 80% of drug offences being cannabis-related, cannabis offences would represent approximately 4% of the annual total. In 2010 the Ministry of Justice Budget was £9.5 billion and the Police budget was approximately £5 billion. Significant cost savings can be made if cannabis offenders were removed from the criminal justice system. These cost savings would be in three areas:—Investigation costs (Police & Customs/UKBA/Forensics), Prosecution costs (CPS, Courts & Legal Aid), Sentencing Costs (Prisons, Probation)”.

The costs of police time and resources just relating to cannabis are premises searched usually involve four or more officers, with cultivation cases probably among the more expensive usually involving more officers, requiring photography and/or video recording, storage and/or disposal of plants and equipment and more detailed forensic and expert evidence. Based on the presumption that 4% of police caseload relates to cannabis offences, and an annual police budget of £4.8 Billion (2010–11), the potential annual savings from police funds would be in the region of £200 Million. My caution cost the tax payer about £20,000.

7. Cannabis has been used for over 20,000 years evidence proves that where countries such as the US, Holland, Portugal have either de-criminalized or legalised for medical use cannabis use decreases, particularly amongst children, alcohol sales go down and drink drive deaths fall. Evidence also showed that when cannabis was downgraded to class C in 2004, cannabis use actually increased the first year, but then went down every year, but since being upgraded back to class B it use has dramatically increased, year on year, especially in the young.

8. The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 says that it’s about the “misuse” of drugs “having harmful effects sufficient to constitute a social problem”. I would argue that there is a big difference between use, misuse and abuse.

9. I am tee total and although trying wide variety of drugs around the world in my youth, ranging from LSD to opium, I had no urge to become addicted and use no other substance now, nor have any inclination too. Alcohol is one of the most dangerous drugs if not for its impairment effects then for its link to violence and sexual crimes. I draw no distinction between drugs. All should be regulated and treated as a health and personal choice issue.

10. People cause the problems not the drugs. Most “illegal” drugs are in fact much less harmful than the “legal” drugs alcohol and tobacco as well as a great many pharmaceuticals, why aren’t they controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971? Alcohol is a case in point, just as ingrained in history, once just as widely used but the effects of alcohol are much more destructive than cannabis, yet tolerated.

11. These are only occurring due to prohibition. People who do not want a criminal record but wish to alter their state of mind for a short time look to legal alternatives. Nothing should be sold without being tested. I would recommend that we follow the Dutch example with cannabis ie cafes but all other drugs should also be made legal and regulated from pharmacies.

12. It is obvious to see the links between cannabis, organized crime, and terrorism; not just here in the UK but on a worldwide scale, the amount of illegal immigrants being imported into the UK specifically to grow cannabis is also very disturbing, the youngest illegal immigrant forced to work in a grow factory was just 10 years old.

13. When other countries develop their own laws, such as Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, it makes us appear backwards.

Under the Schengen agreement a person travelling within the European zone can import and use his prescribed medication, so If a person has been prescribed cannabis of any kind from his doctor in a European country where cannabis is used for medical reasons that person can bring it into the UK and use his medication, while a British medical user can get locked up for doing what another human being is doing, this is unfair.

Why can’t Britain follow the sensible route the rest of Europe is taking or at least allow us to use the Schengen act to bring our medication into the UK.

14. Legalisation + de-criminalization+ taxation + regulation; or prohibition. These are our choices, its plain to see prohibition does not work however legalisation without a regulated supply will keep the supply chain with the criminal. Likewise being de-criminalized without a regulated supply chain also keeps it with the criminal, just like Holland. De-criminalized with a taxed and regulated system or legalised with a taxed and regulated supply chain is the route we must go down to reduce teenage use and improve the quality of the product.

15. To sum it all up, prohibition does not work, is not fair to medical or adult users and causes untaxed drug money to be used to finance crime. Prohibition causes more harm than the drugs ever could.

January 2012

1 http://clear-uk.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/TaxUKCan.pdf

2 http://www.nta.nhs.uk/uploads/healthharmsfinal-v1.pdf

3 http://www.bedrocan.nl/

4 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_7wZpt22Kpo

5 http://clear-uk.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/TaxUKCan.pdf

Prepared 8th December 2012