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UK: Couple guilty of giving cannabis to MS patients

Patrick Barkham

The Guardian

Saturday 16 Dec 2006

· Drug helped alleviate symptoms, say sufferers
· Operation ran for six years from domestic kitchen

A couple who gave thousands of chocolate bars laced with cannabis to
multiple sclerosis patients for pain relief were found guilty yesterday
of conspiring to supply the drug.

Mark Gibson and his wife, Lezley, who has the condition, said they would
be forced to abandon their voluntary operation, which they said had
helped more than 1,600 MS sufferers, after they were convicted of two
counts each of conspiring to supply the drug throughout 2004 and until
February 2005.

Their associate Marcus Davies, who ran a post office box and a website
for their organisation, Therapeutic Help From Cannabis for Multiple
Sclerosis, was also found guilty.

The couple made the Canna-Biz chocolate, with 2g to 3.5g of cannabis per
150g bar, in the kitchen of their home in Alston, Cumbria, and posted an
estimated 33,000 bars to people with MS over six years. They told the
jury at Carlisle crown court that they did not sell the treatment but
instead relied on donations to cover the cost of making the bars. The
court heard they only provided the chocolate to people with MS and
insisted that they were given a doctor's note confirming the patient had
MS before they would supply the chocolate.

Two MS patients in wheelchairs told the court they had provided official
medical letters to obtain the chocolate. Michael Wood, a former
solicitor, said: "I continued to get bars of chocolate regularly because
they were having great benefit to my condition."

Mrs Gibson told the court she had been told she would be in a wheelchair
within five years after being diagnosed with MS when she was 20. Now 42,
she said she took no conventional medicine and could walk without a
wheelchair, which she attributed to a regular dose of cannabis.

The Gibsons made no secret of their project to give cannabis to MS
sufferers during its six-year operation. While an internal police memo
revealed in court concluded it would be "oppressive and vindictive" to
monitor them after Mrs Gibson was acquitted of possessing cannabis in
2000, two years later the couple were informally advised by a senior
police officer to take the chocolate manufacture out of Cumbria.

They were arrested in 2005 after a bag containing the bars spilled open
in a sorting office and the police raided their home, where they found
chocolate-making equipment. The prosecution said receipts linked to
donations totalling more than £39,000 were found at the home of Mr Davies.

There were gasps and sobs in the public gallery and Mrs Gibson broke
down in tears when the verdict was delivered.

"I'm absolutely devastated," she said outside the court. "I've been told
what I've done is against the law but the law is wrong. Who is going to
look after all those 1,600 MS sufferers now? ... I can't understand why
no one wants to stand up for disabled people."

Mrs Gibson said she felt let down by the doctors and nurses who wrote
letters confirming their patients had MS knowing they would then receive
the cannabis chocolate but refused to speak out in favour of their work
in court.

Mr Gibson said he believed he had a defence of "medical necessity" in
law. But the Crown Prosecution Service has taken a tough line on the use
of cannabis to relieve chronic pain, despite the downgrading of the drug
from class B to class C.

In May last year, the court of appeal ruled "medical necessity" could be
no defence for the possession or supply of cannabis as a pain relief.

A form of prescription cannabis has been available in spray form for MS
sufferers on a special licence since November last year but many
patients say they have found it impossible to obtain.

A spokesman for the MS Society said: "This case gives even more weight
to the calls we have been making for properly-trialled cannabis-derived
medicine to be provided on the NHS for the relief of painful and
distressing MS symptoms."

The Gibsons said they would consider appealing against the decision. It
is not expected that they will receive a custodial term but they could
face a lengthy suspended sentence and community service punishment. All
three defendants were ordered to return to court next month.,,1973451,00.html




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