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UK: Drug deals or mercy missions?

P Coleman

News and Star, Carlisle

Saturday 16 Dec 2006

Exhausted, angry, and tearful, Lezley Gibson sat in the dock, shaking
her head, silently mouthing the words: “It’s just not fair”.

The 42-year-old former hairdresser, diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 21
years ago, had just heard Judge John Phillips explain a court ruling
that effectively scuppered her defence in this week’s gruelling cannabis

With her husband Mark, 42, and co-defendant Marcus Davies, 38, she had
helped create an operation that supplied cannabis-laced chocolate to
1,600 people.

Like herself, all had been diagnosed with the neurological condition
multiple sclerosis (MS).

From her own experience, and from months of research, Lezley knew there
was compelling evidence suggesting cannabis can produce dramatic
benefits in people with the condition.

Twenty years ago her doctor’s prediction was that she would be in a
wheelchair in five years.

Mainstream medicine offered little help: anabolic steroids left her with
horrendous side effects, her weight ballooning to 14 stones. Then Lezley
discovered cannabis.

She became – and remains convinced – that using it has kept her out of a

In 2000 that contention was tested in a trial at Carlisle Crown Court
and – despite clear evidence that she was using the drug – the jury
accepted her medical justification for using cannabis and acquitted her.

In the months that followed Mark and Lezley turned their home into a
mini cannabis chocolate production line, determined to ensure that
anybody with MS who needed the drug should get it.

Marcus Davies, who used cannabis to ease symptoms associated with his
epilepsy and diabetes, agreed to help, setting up a website, under the
banner of their THC4MS campaign group.

From the start, the couple tried to ensure that only genuine sufferers
could get the chocolate, produced with what the couple said was only the
best quality cannabis.

Only those who could produce a doctor’s or MS nurse’s written
confirmation of diagnosis could get it.

But everything changed on May 27, 2005, when law lords at the Appeal
Court gave a decisive ruling in the case of a man called Barry Quayle, a
38-year-old double amputee who had grown and used cannabis to ease his
chronic pain.

Along with four others, he had pleaded medical necessity, but the court
ruled that this defence should not be available to defendants in
cannabis trials.

It meant the defence the Gibsons and Davies thought they had – they were
accused of conspiring to supply cannabis between January 2004 and
February of last year – was taken away.

Yet throughout their trial this week, the Gibsons and Marcus Davies
clung to that argument.

Three MS sufferers – one of them a middle-aged solicitor – spoke of how
the drug had benefited them.

Quizzed about whether she made money from the operation, Lezley Gibson
told police: “You’ve seen my house, my clothes.

“You’ve seen my car. There’s no profit in this whatsoever. I could give
you a few people who would do it to line their pockets, but not me.” She
said their supply was an attempt to take “scumbag” drug dealers out of
the equation.

Her barrister Andrew Ford described Lezley Gibson’s motive in a single
word: altruism.

Marcus Davies also contested that there was nothing genuinely criminal
about what he and the Gibsons did.

“We lost loads of money doing it,” he said. “Crime is something where
you have a victim, but there is no victim in this.”

Lezley Gibson’s defence barrister urged the jury of six men and six
women to defy the 2005 Appeal Court ruling on medical necessity defences.

He spoke of the celebrated book A Time to Kill by US author John
Grishman, which tells the story of a black man who kills the two white
men who raped his daughter and walked free from court.

When the case goes to court, the fictional US jury refuse to convict,
recognising a moral justification for this most serious of crimes.

“Ultimately,” Mr Ford told the jury, “this case is about the tension
between the law and what is just.”

For his part, Mark Gibson’s defence barrister Greg Hoare echoed the
words of US president Franklin Delano Roosevelt following Japan’s
surprise attack on Pearl Harbour, almost 55 years ago to the day.

Mr Hoare said: “It would be an infamous day in the English criminal
calendar for people to be rendered liable to conviction for serious
offences where they had no moral blame or criminal intent.”

The facts of the trial were never in any doubt: this was a trial not
only of the three defendants, but also of the current law on cannabis
that had landed them in the dock.

Lezley said yesterday that the effect of the trial on her health has
been dramatic.

“It’s crippled me,” she said. “At the start, my immune system crashed: I
ended up on antibiotics, with boils and pins and needles across my face,
nose and mouth. I haven’t slept for two weeks.”

Mark Gibson too is adamant that the prosecution was fundamentally unjust.

Speaking after the verdict, he said: “We’ve got 65 letters from doctors
and nurses saying their patients could benefit from our cannabis
chocolate. So you could say that they are all co-conspirators. That
information was available to the prosecution so why were these doctors
and nurses not put in the dock?”

Marcus Davies said THC4MS would now revert to being a pressure group and
would not supply cannabis-laced chocolate.

Both Cumbria’s Crown Prosecution Service and Cumbria police defended the

A CPS spokesman said: “We prosecuted this case because it is an offence
to possess or supply cannabis, or to conspire to supply it. We don’t
make the law, we simply prosecute the laws made by Parliament.

“The Gibsons sent out cannabis chocolate bars and had no control over
who ultimately consumed it.”

Superintendent Steve Johnson said: “The law has been upheld. Class C
drugs are illegal and it’s an offence to supply them. It’s a political
debate as to whether cannabis has medicinal benefits – a debate that is
for agencies other than the police.”

He said the police decision to initially not pursue the Gibsons in 2002
was based on the facts as known to senior officers at that time.

By January of last year, the scale of their operation had grown to such
an extent that officers had to take action.

“We’ll take each case on its merits,” he said. “It’s an offence to
possess and supply it and people who are in possession of or supplying
illegal substances will be investigated.”




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