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UK: Cannabis could have saved dying mum

Horley & Gatwick Mirror Mirror

Thursday 22 Nov 2007

Drug Should be available for medical and recreational use says activist
who believes it is less harmful than drinking and smoking

'Cannabis could have saved dying mum'

The Government is considering restoring cannabis to a class B drug after
a medical report published earlier this year suggested use of it could
increase the risk of schizophrenia by at least 40%. But, with cannabis
use having fallen since it was downgraded to Class C in 2004, activist
Winston Matthews want to see the drug legalised. Mark Mudie looks at the
controversial issue.

Winston Matthews' arguments for the legalisation of cannabis are
well-rehearsed. Alcohol and nicotine (or, at least, the carcinogenic s
it is served up with) kill, and yet are legal, cannabis does not, and
yet it is outlawed.

Binge drinking is the scourge of ASBO Britain, bringing chaos to town
and city centres across the land, and smoking-related diseases plague
the debt ridden NHS. Cannabis, argues activist Mr Matthews, is much
less harmful that both of these vices.

A member of pressure group the Legalise Cannabis Alliance (LCA) Mr
Matthews, 51, of Upfield Close Horley, has made a vocation of his belief
that the drug should be available for medicinal and recreational use.

He said:" What we are fighting for is a choice in our culture. "We want
to offer people a drug that doesn't make you violent and doesn't get you
too addicted to the point where you have to wear patches to help you to
give up.

"And cannabis still has no deaths attributed to it."

His interest stems form personal tragedy.

When he was just 10, his mother, Violet died after accidentally
overdosing on a cocktail of alcohol and barbiturates. She was 46.

She had been taking depressants to help her sleep, and Mr Matthews
thinks cannabis could have prevented her death. He said: "Seeing my
mother die through a recreational drug and a medicinal drug made me very
sceptical about her drug usage and pushed me to becoming a bit of an
anorak about drugs.

Cannabis could have helped her then. You can't overdose on cannabis and
it’s a natural tranquilliser.

"I felt cheated when I found out cannabis could have saved my mother."

The prospect of cannabis being decriminalised for medicinal or
recreational use looks remote. With the government considering reversing
its decision, taken from 2004, to downgrade it to class C from class B.

The rethink was triggered by a report in medical journal The Lancet,
which suggested the drug could increase the risk of users getting
schizophrenia by more than 40%.

The report estimated 800 people in the UK were suffering severe
psychosis as a result of smoking cannabis.

But Mr Matthews maintains the link is unproven.

He said: ”I would debate whether there's a mental health attachment to
cannabis because there are so many other variables.“

And he cited figure, released as part of the British crime survey, which
show a drop in cannabis use since it was downgraded.

According to the statistics, 21.4% of 16-24 year old had used cannabis
in 2005-6, compared with 28.8% in 1998-9.

Mr Matthews said legalising the drug would "take away the criminal
mystique", thus removing many youngsters' motivation for trying it. The
issue is, of course highly controversial and provokes strong feelings on
both sides of the continuing debate.

Mr Matthews recently attended a talk at the houses of Parliament
entitled Cannabis and Children, at which mothers of children who had
become involved in harder drugs spoke passionately for the drug to be
returned to class B.

The move would effectively make possession of the drug an arrestable
offence again.

Mr Matthews, who described his reception at the conference as "hostile",
typically rejects any link between cannabis and harder drug use.

His own position on drug use could not be more clear.

He said:"I don't drink or do nicotine or even caffeine these days. But I
do smoke a bloody great bong.




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