by Scarlet Palmer on 30/11/2016 | Legal & Politics

Clark French Interview part 2: More about the United Patients Alliance

Clark French In part one of our recent interview with Clark French, he spoke about the United Patients Alliance. In part two of this interview, Clark explains more about the UPA, providing invaluable input on the All Party Parliamentary Group for drugs, what steps they are taking now to consolidate their progress, and what lies ahead.

clark-french-interview-part-2-4kWhat began as a group of people coming together to affirm that medicinal use of cannabis helps them, and trying raise awareness of this, has grown into a nationwide support network of patients and their carers. Featured in every major newspaper and news channel in the UK, the UPA is going from strength to strength and has big plans for the future. To find out more, watch part two of our interview with Clark French above, and read the text version below. You can find Part One here.

The United Patients Alliance is a non-profit-making organisation, but does it have registered charity status?

C: No, actually, we haven’t. It’s such a long process. We kept going to banks, saying “we need a bank account, we are a non-profit community organisation”. They went “oh yeah, ok, fill in all these forms, rah rah rah”. A few months later, they say outright “no. No. NO”. We were denied by seven different banks, seven different banks all either told us no, or made it such a long process – like the Co-Op for example, they strung us along for about seven or eight months, going back and forth. Our chief admin was on the phone to them, asking “is this sorted now? Is this guaranteed now? We’ve done everything”. On the phone they said “Yes, yes, everything’s fine”.  Two weeks later [we got a] letter: oh no, you need to do [something else] now. And it’s as though they’re purposely… there’s something going on. What we had to do was register as a company, which is kind of crazy. So we registered as a company, and as soon as we got that company registration number, bang, straight away, bank account done.

We couldn’t become a charity without having a bank account, so we had to go through this ridiculous process of jumping through hoops: we had to become a company to get a bank account. Now we’ve got a bank account, we can raise the required funds to become a charity. You can’t become a charity if you don’t raise the funds to become a charity, so you have to have a bank account. The plan is that we will become a charity in the near future, and we’re currently raising the funds to qualify for that. It shouldn’t be too long. We’re hoping by the end of this year; if not, it will definitely be by the start of next year.

I think some people have used this as kind of a ruse, to be say oh, the UPA, they’re just “patients for profit”. Well, nobody at the UPA ever takes a single penny for what we do. Nobody even takes expenses, so everybody puts in their own hard [work],  their time, and their money into this; so it’s just ridiculous that people would think that becoming a company is to profit from it. It’s a means to an end.

You’ve achieved something really major recently with the UPA, which is the APPG report. Can you tell us about that?

C: The United Patients Alliance has been lobbying politicians for the last two and a half years. We had some big successes at first with Norman Baker, who was the current drugs minister, and came out as the first UK drugs minister to call for legal access to medicinal cannabis. That was a big first stepping stone. From that, we’ve continued to build. We’ve now been working with the APPG, the All Party Parliamentary Group for drugs, which consists of a hundred MPs and peers. They produced a report which essentially has recommended legal access to medical cannabis for patients. We helped them; we provided them with a patient survey. We surveyed about 600 patients in the UK about their cannabis consumption, what methods they use to consume it, where they get it from, and a whole other load of data around their medical cannabis consumption.  The report has used that data to help conclude the report.

Because we got involved in it and said, this is something that we feel is going in the right direction, we were at the table when it came to them talking about what they were doing. We had a big impact on what the report actually came back and said. The first recommendation is that cannabis is rescheduled from schedule 1 to schedule 4. The second recommendation is that there are licenced providers and producers, and licenced outlets for sale. So that covers all the regulation behind production. And the third, which I think is most important and most vital for patients, is that the report recommends that patients are able to grow their own cannabis at home as well. We had an impact on that because we were there.

We were able to say [cannabis] needs to be schedule 4 because of Sativex; Sativex is schedule 4 therefore cannabis should be schedule 4. We were also able to say patients need to be able to grow their own. The patients survey helped us with that as well, [it] showed that patients do like to grow their own. It recommended everything that we wanted. I was shocked, actually. When I first read the report, I was like “Wow! They’ve listened, they’ve actually listened to us. Wow”. And that’s really good. But I think it’s really important to stress that this is just a report at the moment, so while it is very important and it hasn’t happened before, we still have got a long way to go. There’s still so much work that needs to be done.

Sativex cannabinoid spray is Schedule 4 in the UK
Sativex cannabinoid spray is Schedule 4 in the UK

I think that people really need to take this as some form of inspiration, to say look, we are going in the right direction, things are happening, but really we need everyone to stand up, and we need everyone who is already fighting to fight harder. Because we’re not there yet. We’re still a long way off, really. People are still getting their doors kicked in, people are still going to prison, people are still having their lives ruined, people are still being stigmatized. Across the UK, across Europe, across the world. Because of this stupid law based in misinformation, fear, and lies, frankly. Lies. So we’ve still got a long way to go. This is just a small step in the right direction, but it is a step. And it is in the right direction. So I think it is a battle that we’ve won, and it’s a small victory, but the war is far from over. We’ve got a long way to go. Everywhere’s  got a long way to go. Even in places where it’s regulated, even in places where it’s better than it is where I’m from, it’s still not perfect. There’s still the UN, there’s still global prohibition in force, so until we change that, the war’s not won.

What’s the next stage for the APPG report?

C: The government are yet to respond to it at the moment. They have to respond to it. We’re expecting a negative response, but we have plans in place to counter that and to use it to get more awareness around the issue as well. The government constantly says “there’s no evidence”. Now, there is evidence. There’s this whole report, and part of the report is a comprehensive look at all of the studies around 60 different conditions by Professor Mike Barnes, who works for the NHS. So this is real stuff, this is genuine; and you can show this to any politician when they say there’s no evidence. Well, here’s a whole load of evidence.

Members of the UPA with the APPG report
Members of the UPA with the APPG report

Not everyone who uses cannabis in the UK is behind this approach. Why do you think that is?

C: I think there’s a kind of fear, a big fear in the UK from some aspects of the cannabis community. They’re scared because they think that all of these changes that are happening are going to mean that there’s corporate, “pharmaceuticalised” cannabis and that’s going to be the only option. But I think that these people are probably not living in the real world. If – sorry, when cannabis prohibition is fully over, there’s going to be ‘Big Cannabis’ industry, it’s going to happen. You can’t stop that from happening. We live in a capitalist world, we can’t just suddenly say oh, let’s end capitalism and then we’ll legalise cannabis, then we’ll regulate cannabis. It’s really not going to work like that.

There are going to be big pharmaceutical players that are going to be doing big pharmaceutical grows of cannabis, that are going to be giving it out through pharmacies to a load of patients. That’s going to happen. We can either accept that and get on board with that, and go well, great, that’s a step in the right direction, but we need certain things to happen. Or, you can stand and shout at it from the outside and then no-one’s going to listen to you. So what we decided to do is get involved. To say yes, that is going to happen and we’re being pragmatic and real and living in the world that is actually here and now.

Why is it important to have diverse options for people to obtain cannabis?

C: Not everyone’s going to be able to grow their own. And this is why we’re in favour of the social club model as well, and collectives. Not just home growing by patients, but also collective grows by patients. Also, if a person wants to go to a pharmacy, they should be able to be allowed to do that. There should be all options available to patients. Because I know that my grandma, she’s not going to want to go to a coffeeshop or a social club and get any cannabis to help her arthritis. That’s not an option. Would she go to her doctor, and then her doctor gives her a prescription for a cannabis cream, and she then goes to a pharmacy, would she get it then? Yeah, she’d love it then.  She’d see no issue with it whatsoever then.

So everyone needs access to cannabis. For some people, it is the whole ‘I want to grow my own’, it is ‘taking matters into my own hands’. Some people have that whole kind of strength and sense of purpose and the ability to see past the State and what it says, the ability to see through that. Some people have that. But some people don’t. To some  people that’s their lives, and that’s all they know. Those people equally deserve access to cannabis. We need all of these different aspects to help everyone have access to it. It’s so important.

Bedrocan, medicinal cannabis available in Dutch pharmacies
Bedrocan, medicinal cannabis available in Dutch pharmacies

Do you think legalisation and ‘Big Cannabis’ are definitely on the way in the UK?

C: Yes, and I think that’s why it’s so, so important that  we do actually get involved with this, we do actually say these things are happening, let’s go and talk to them and let’s tell them what we want as well. Let’s not just have a go at them and say their ideas are stupid, and say oh they’re corrupt, let’s not have anything to do with them, they’re politicians, they’ve probably got private healthcare interests. Well, some of them probably do, but if that means we’re going to effect change, and if that means sick people are going to be well, what do you want? Isn’t that why we’re doing this?

This is the end of Part Two of our interview with Clark French, but not the end of the whole interview! In Part Three, Clark tells us about the new documentary GrassRoots. Filmed over the course of three years in Europe and the US, it covers medicinal cannabis use and users, campaigners, growers, and the struggle to make medicinal cannabis available to everyone who needs it.

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