Saturday, December 16, 2006
Cannabis chocolate makers guilty
The campaign to legalise cannabis for therapeutic use suffered a setback yesterday when a couple who supplied chocolate bars laced with the drug to multiple sclerosis sufferers were found guilty of a criminal offence.
Lezley Gibson, 42, an MS sufferer, her husband Mark, also 42, and associate Marcus Davies, 36, from St Ives, Cambridgeshire, were found guilty of conspiring to supply cannabis at Carlisle Crown Court.
The couple, who run a gift shop in Alston, a village in the North Pennines, had argued that they were operating a not-for-profit service to ease the pain of MS sufferers. They said that they had done more to relieve sufferers’ pain than the NHS.
Mr Gibson argued that he had a defence in law because the drug, recently downgraded by the Government, was used for medicinal purposes.
The couple, who ran the campaign group THC4MS (Therapeutic Help from Cannabis for Multiple Sclerosis), say that they posted about 36,000 bars of “Canna-Biz” to more than 1,800 MS sufferers.
In each case they asked their clients for a note from a consultant, doctor or nurse confirming their diagnosis. They were then asked to make a donation, from £1.50 to £5, to cover the costs. But the 150g (5oz) bars containing 3.5g of cannabis were sent whether the money arrived or not. Mrs Gibson told the court that her dream of running her own hairdressing salon ended at the age of 21 when she was confirmed as having MS. She was told that within five years she would be incontinent and confined to a wheelchair. Mrs Gibson said that the steroids she was prescribed — the only conventional medicine she was ever given — made her balloon in weight and grow a beard. She turned to cannabis and found it therapeutic.
She and her husband took over the manufacture of the cannabis chocolate bars from Biz Ivol, an MS sufferer living in the Orkneys. Ms Ivol died in late 2004.
The operation developed through word of mouth. Mrs Gibson said: “Every time there was anything in the papers, on TV or radio, we would get messages from MS sufferers. They were knocking on the door or sending letters addressed to ‘The MS Lady’ in Alston. It was overwhelming.”
A succession of MS sufferers in wheelchairs testified to the efficacy of the drug. Michael Wood, who was forced to retire early from his job as a lawyer, said he found it of great benefit.
Mr Gibson said that each bar cost about £35 to make, but much of the cannabis was donated. He preferred to use organic chocolate such as Green & Black, which was then moulded in a £500 melting pot specially bought from Belgium.
He said they had not made any money from the project, although he agreed that he and his wife had used the proceeds to travel extensively to campaign for the drug’s legalisation.The couple returned home yesterday knowing that they will have to return to court late next month to receive their punishment. They have been assured by the judge that they will not be going to jail.
Lawrence Wood, chief executive of the Multiple Sclerosis Resource Centre (MSRC) charity, said: “When pop stars receive minor fines for repeated possession, yet those affected by MS are forced to get their cannabis from street dealers in order to make their lives bearable, it is time for society to take a long hard look at itself.”
# Biz Ivol, an MS sufferer who died aged 56 in 2004, lived in Orkney, where she hit upon combining chocolate with cannabis to provide pain relief for non-smokers. In 2003 she was prosecuted for possessing, distributing and cultivating cannabis, but the Crown abandoned the case because of her failing health
# In 2004 Chris Baldwin, who suffered from leg spasms, was jailed for six months for running a Dutch-style coffee shop, the Quantum Leaf café in Worthing, Sussex
# Colin Davies, 48, a prominent campaigner who once handed the Queen a cannabis plant, was jailed for three years in 2002 for drugs offences committed at his Dutch Experience coffee shop in Stockport. He smoked a joint during a police raid on the café’s opening day