Crusade for Legal Drugs
Source: The Argus, Worthing, UK
Pub Date: Monday, January 12, 2004
Subj: Crusade for Legal Drugs
Author: Huw Borland
Contact: letters@the argus.co.uk
Cited: Legalise Cannabis Alliance http://www.lca-uk.org/
Cannabis Cafes cannabiscafes.html
CRUSADE FOR LEGAL DRUGS
CHRIS Baldwin, who stood as a candidate for East Worthing and Shoreham in the 2001 general election, has been a passionate campaigner for the legalisation of cannabis. His efforts led to the opening of a Dutch-style coffee shop, selling herbal marijuana and cannabis resin. He gave the Argus an exclusive interview before he was jailed on Friday for drug offences. HUW BORLAND reports.
The legalisation of cannabis has been debated by medical researchers and politicians for decades.
Pro-cannabis campaigners insist it can give effective relief for a range of physical and mental conditions with minimal side effects.
Opponents argue that smoking cannabis can lead to stronger, more addictive drugs and have a damaging effect on the psyche.
Chris Baldwin, of Carnegie Close, Worthing, had been using marijuana for about 30 years when he won 920 votes for the Legalise Cannabis Alliance (LCA) in the 2001 General Election.
Baldwin, 53, suffers from spastic paraplegia, uses crutches, and says using cannabis helped to combat debilitating leg spasms.
To further promote cannabis being legalised, especially for medical reasons, Baldwin took a step which would spur a series of police raids, spark threats from drug dealers and put him in prison for six months.
He leased a property in Rowlands Road, Worthing, and opened a Dutch-style coffee shop called the Quantum Leaf in the summer of 2002.
Set behind a pot smoking paraphernalia store called Bongchuffa, the café sold 13 types of marijuana, hash cakes and ready-rolled joints, as well as sandwiches and soft drinks.
Baldwin said: “I’d been to Holland but opening a cannabis café here in Britain was pure fantasy.
“Then I got invited to do a five-day course to teach you how to manage a coffee shop.
“The LCA had nothing to do with it. A coffee shop owner called Nol Van Schaik paid for the course because he thought cannabis should not be illegal.
“I’d written hundreds of letters to the Home Office went to every pro-cannabis rally, march and meeting and lobbied Parliament.
I felt a coffee shop was at the sharp end of the political campaign.”
Baldwin’s café was first raided by police on November 27, 2002 just a few weeks after it opened.
An estimated £2000 worth of cannabis and more than £4000 in cash was seized by officers. After the raid, customer numbers doubled and some residents complained of the queues of people waiting for the café to open.
Chief Inspector Russ Whitfield, police commander for Worthing district, said cannabis cafes were earning thousands of pounds every week and were devoid of any political stance.
Baldwin opened another coffee shop called Buddy’s in Broughton Road, East Worthing, and concerned homeowners demanded a police crackdown.
Baldwin said:” I’d say the response to the cafes was mostly pretty good.
“Some people felt uncomfortable but that was more due to a lack of understanding.
“Once we were taking up so much of police resources, we could not be justified and so we had to close. Police were pressing charges.
“I’m aware from the support I have that jailing me could make me a martyr.
“I did not set out to achieve martyrdom. I don’t see myself that way but putting me away will naturally create one.”
During the five-month period the cafes were open, drug dealers in Worthing were losing customers and their violent threats forced Baldwin to enlist doormen for the cafes.
They enforced strict policies of no under 18’s, no alcohol and no hard drugs.
Baldwin said: “The threats scared me. That was the first time I had thoughts of giving it up. People were going to get hurt. We got burgled on three occasions.”
He denied the cafes made thousands of pounds in profits. Instead, much of the money drained away as a result of giving free drugs to disability sufferers, running homeless charity events, police seizures and stashes of cannabis regularly being “ripped off” by volunteers.
He said: “If I started again I’d be a little more boss-like. But it was a family thing I created. The whole thing was a community project.”
Former Metropolitan police Detective Chief Superintendent Edward Ellison had met Baldwin at LCA marches and spoke as a character witness for him during his trial.
He said: “I would trust him (Baldwin) with looking after my children but if I wanted to look after a business, I’d probably go to my children first.”
On Friday Baldwin was jailed for six months for allowing cannabis to be used at a property, cannabis possession with intent to supply and possession of cannabis.
Judge John Sessions said his sentence was reduced because of the forthcoming reclassification of marijuana.
On January 29, it will become a class C drug, which means possession of cannabis will no longer be an arrestable offence.
Maximum penalties for Baldwin’s crimes will be reduced from 14 years to five years.
Baldwin said: ”To the voters of East Worthing, I will be back for the next election unless I die and my colleague Sarah Chalk will be standing for the West Worthing seat - we’ll be covering the whole of Worthing.”
After Baldwin was jailed, tearful cannabis campaigner Ms Chalk spoke of her outrage.
She said: “Chris has helped so many people and he’s repaid by being sent to prison. I think it is an absolute disgrace.
“It goes to show how the law of this country desperately, desperately, desperately needs changing.”