Nicole runs the Cork Cannabis Activist Network across social media. She has been consistently drawing attention to how cannabis is presented in the Irish media and highlighting government inaction on legalisation. CCAN is on Instagram: @corkcan / Twitter: @cork_can
What first drew you to cannabis? I can’t actually pinpoint a specific memory, but I do remember that in secondary school (I’ll be totally transparent about it) my friends and I used to go down to a field on the weekends and smoke joints with hash in them. But I distinctly remember I didn’t like tobacco, so it kind of turned me off the experience. And then later, in college when I was doing my Masters degree, I remember that a couple of college mates and I got this notion: “Right, we’re gonna try cannabis flower.” I got all worked up and all excited about it and went home and crafted my own little bong out of.. Heaven forfend… Don’t slate me, a plastic bottle. Richard laughs And a pen, aww it was terrible! Looking back I cringe, like “What did I do to myself?” But it was a lovely experience, we all just kind of congregated in a little shed out the back. And I remember, I was just smoking away for about five or ten minutes and I was like: “Lads, nothing’s happening!”
And I remember I just shifted back in my chair and everything just went really slowly, and I was like: “Ohhhhh, okay!” Richard laughs And it was great, we just had a laugh, we had a chat, and then we just went back inside to get warm. And I just knew from that point onwards, this was something that was inherently good. It could inspire people to have a good time and laugh and just de-stress. It was great, I loved it.
And why do you use it, personally? What benefits do you feel it gives you? I don’t even know where to start, essentially the long and the short of it is, it makes me feel good. I mean I don’t even know another way to put it… Whether it be for relieving pain, or reducing my anxiety, or even just to promote a sense of introspection and just play! It’s fantastic for it, and I almost feel like there’s a taboo around feeling good in relation to cannabis, which really confuses me, because… Life is really stressful and it feels like people have forgotten that. And there’s such a stigma associated with cannabis. I don’t begrudge anyone a pint, if that helps someone relax and makes them feel good and helps them out, then cannabis is definitely no different. I don’t drink alcohol myself anymore, but again, I have no problem with someone who does. I don’t smoke, I don’t even drink coffee ‘cause coffee gives me shakes and I get really anxious, so it doesn’t suit me. I don’t like feeling like that, but again someone else might enjoy coffee.
For example, I can’t really stick prescription drugs. Like, even if they’re something like painkillers. Anything with codeine in it, I’m really sensitive to it and it makes me really sick. I had keyhole surgery a few years ago and when I woke up from the surgery they’d obviously given me morphine and I was throwing up left, right and centre. And then the drug that they gave me to combat the nausea from the morphine also made me sick. And I remember just being in the hospital saying: “Please just let me go home, I wanna smoke my bong.” And they were just like, “You’re crazy!” Laughter Essentially it was just this kind of dismissal: “Like, seriously?” And I said: “Look, I know my own body, these drugs are not helping, I just want to go home and use cannabis.” I checked myself out of the hospital early. But the second I sat on my couch, pulled out my bong, put some flower in the bowl and lit it, I was just like: “Finally, relief!” And like, that’s fantastic.
Just another more recent example… I somehow managed to mess up this entire part of my body the week before last, just by turning around in a car. The most stupid of injuries, but the whole muscle controlling my left arm, all the way through to my back. It was in agony and I was literally going around the house swearing every two seconds trying to move. And obviously I called the Doctor. They told me I had to come in right away, it could be something very serious. And they prescribed me Naprosyn, it’s a strong painkiller. Now to be fair, it did get rid of the pain, but the effect it had on me… I wasn’t able to eat a decent meal in nearly eight days and I was so, so weak. And I hadn’t consumed cannabis for maybe two or three weeks at that point, because I ran out and I just didn’t get any more. Then I finally got some more cannabis and I was able to eat a dinner! And I was so happy! I literally went from being so weak, with no energy, to dancing around the room, because I was so joyful that I was able to eat again. So, you know, this is a wonderful medicine that everyone should have the right to experience in a safe and controlled way.
So when did you decide to begin campaigning for the legalisation of cannabis in Ireland? I don’t know if there’s a pinpoint moment, but I would say roughly 2014, 2015-ish, to the best of my recollection. Basically I just started trying to raise awareness about cannabis because I believed that it was a good drug, it was here to help. But then I was just frustrated at the lack of awareness that other people had about it. And especially the reaction I would receive from other people. You know, you would pull out my vapouriser and people would be like – makes a dramatic gasping noise – And you’re like, “You’re drinkin’ pints! No, this doesn’t work!” It’s ridiculous. So, it’s something that honestly I find really stressful. It’s something I’m passionate about, but sometimes it gets too much for me and I have to take a break away from it. Because it’s such a common sense thing to me that this should be legal and I don’t understand why our government don’t see that, so I’m like: “But, but, but….”. And my brain just goes on a bit of a… a kind of an Error 404, d’you know? Yeah. But I always come back to it, because this is just something that needs to be done, it’s just the right thing to do.
I agree. When was the Cork Cannabis Activist Network put together? Roughly when did that happen and who had the idea for that? It’s just me! Richard laughs Well, no sorry, I could be arrogant and say “just me”, but being honest, this is just me on my own, at home. Because, with my health, I have this extra time to devote to something that I care about. But honestly, I would argue that anyone who gets in touch with me on the page, anyone who shares anything from their phone or whatever, anyone that engages or helps raise awareness, they’re part of the network to me. Anyone that treats each other with compassion and respect and helps to promote cannabis and the need for cannabis law reform, they’re a part of it as far as I’m concerned. It takes more than just me to get this off the ground. It takes everyone’s support and everyone’s willingness to be vocal about it. So yeah, I’m just behind an account, but it is a network at the end of the day. I’m able to reach out and contact so many people around the world which has been amazing. And the support that people give each other, it’s really, really heartwarming. I love it, it’s fantastic.
How strong would you say cannabis activism is in Ireland currently, in your view? So strong. It’s a shame that we don’t get more publicity for the work that we’re all doing. I can only speak for myself, but when I look at the documentaries that are being made, the things that people are engaging in to try and raise awareness.. It’s incredible, and I don’t understand why it’s not getting more momentum in the media and why instead they’re choosing to publish such damaging articles… Don’t get me on a rant now, ‘cause.. Nicole laughs Rants are good, we want rants… one or two! Laughter Oh no, no, no! I’m so tired you don’t know what would come out! It’s very strong, but again we need more publicity, more TDs to pay attention to us and that’s just my goal. I’m gonna keep botherin’ ‘em! I’m so sorry like, but I’m gonna be a thorn in their side until they go, “Oh right, these are real people attached to these concerns!”, instead of just dismissing us. “Oh right you’re drug users, okay see ya!” No, this is a serious health issue and if you really care about a health-led approach to drug reform, you need to listen to us. We’re going to be the ones who are helping to shape this drug policy, because you don’t seem to know anything about it.
Can you tell me about some things you’ve been highlighting recently, as a campaigner? I wish it was more positive things, but I suppose it’s the negativity that spurs me to act because I’m like: “No, no, no, this isn’t right. We’ve got to speak up.” Last week, an apparent addiction specialist came out in an 1article with The Irish Examiner, and in his opinion, stated that cannabis and its effects long term and its abuse were apparently comparable to that of heroin, crack cocaine and benzodiazepines. And I just had a 2Kill Bill moment, where I was just like – makes Kill Bill siren noises – I don’t know how you’re gonna transcribe that, but.. Richard laughs I’ll figure it out. You know, I was just so caught up in “Hang on a sec, why is this allowed to be published? How come The Irish Examiner aren’t publishing patient stories or consumer stories? It’s just always negativity and it’s being perpetuated by the Gardaí who are like: “Cannabis is a scourge in every community in Ireland…” No, it’s not! We’re cannabis advocates and consumers and supporters. We care about our community.
We’re not lookin’ to cause hassle or crime or anything like that. We just want to stay home and especially with Covid, having a bit of cannabis helps. I mean, I’m content to just stay at home and watch movies or do yoga. I don’t want to be out causing hassle, definitely not. So, the comments that were made were really upsetting to a lot of people and it’s really inspiring that loads of people actually stood up and said: “No, we’re not going to accept this narrative”. And they contacted the addiction centre where the addiction specialist worked and complained about his comments. So much so, that they had to set up a call list, because they couldn’t deal with all the calls coming in. I was kind of proud, it was amazing! As you should’ve been. It was nice to know that people care enough to act, and that’s what we need. We need so much more of that. There’s so much that’s been goin’ on. Again, it’s the stories with people attached to them that inspire people to act.
That article that came out in the 3Echo (The Evening Echo) about the pensioner that was charged with cannabis possession in November 2019. That was just crazy and I made contact with a number of people around the world and they were just appalled that the Gardaí and the Courts would criminalise a pensioner who was sittin’ at home, playin’ his guitar or whatever his instrument of choice was, mindin’ his own business. And I love how he just openly admitted it, like: “Yeah, it’s for creative purposes, what’s the harm?” I understand the Gardaí have a law to uphold, but not at the expense of our elderly. That’s nonsense! And to give him a two year suspended sentence, only on the condition that the Gardaí could search his house any time they saw fit! That’s just madness altogether, there’s no need for that in a somewhat civilised society in 2020, no way.
You mentioned lately that Helen McEntee and the Department of Justice were hosting a 4public consultation online for their new strategic plan. That was another thing you were highlighting. Yeah it’s just really important, when I saw that pop up I was like: “Woah, this is huge! People get to have their say. And I don’t want people to be intimidated by it at all, it’s literally just a very quick survey of “How do you think we could better improve tackling policing issues, improving our Courts, protecting our communities?”, and cannabis law reform impacts all those sectors. So it’s literally just a case of making a point and submitting an article or a study or a set of statistics to back that up. It’s really simple and it would make such a big impact. Because the Minister for Justice really needs to work with us and make this happen. While cannabis remains illegal we’re just wasting time with this nonsense. There’s no need for it to be brought to Court, absolutely not. And with the tidal wave of legalisation over in the States, it’s surely becoming harder for them to ignore the will of the majority.
For sure, every time they’re posting, I’m like: “What about cannabis law reform?” I’m sure they’re sick of hearing about it, but at the same time I’m not going to go away until something’s done. And more and more people speaking up about it and getting it into their faces, into their line of sight.. that’s definitely gonna push things forward. And it’s so heartwarming to look across at the States and see Oregon decriminalising all drugs, that’s incredible. That’s just so beneficial. For people who don’t know anything about drugs, they’re probably thinking: “That’s mad, people are probably gonna be goin’ out shooting up heroin left, right and centre.” But that’s just not what it leads to. You recently appealed for people to contact you regarding treatment by the Gardaí, the Courts and the healthcare system in relation to their cannabis use. Do you still want people to contact you for the foreseeable, are you collecting stories per se? Yeah, so it’s basically just when I’m speaking up about it. I can only speak on behalf of myself.
But it’s very useful and enlightening to share these stories of experiences that people have had, so that other people can realise what kind of stigmatisation we face when dealing with mental health services or the Gardaí or the Courts. Thankfully, I haven’t had any run-ins with the Gardaí or with the Courts. I have had issue with how cannabis is treated by people in mental health services. People go in to get help about life stresses, life situations, but as soon as they mention cannabis it’s just an instant change and people dismiss them as drug addicts and drug users and go: “Oh well, cannabis is causing all your problems.” And it’s shameful really, because people just want to get well. I always say, this isn’t about wanting to get high, people just wanna get help.
What can you tell me about the 5European Cannabis Advocacy Network? (Launched by Volteface, a UK-based advocacy organisation) You just became involved with them. I’m so excited! Any time that anyone’s passionate enough to start something up off the ground on their own momentum, it’s just awe-inspiring and it makes me want to continue what I’m doing too. So essentially, they’re a platform that connects advocacy organisations and focuses on cannabis reform all over Europe. It gives us a network of people so that when something is happening with cannabis in our respective countries, we can share that and then promote it in our own countries to raise awareness. It’s fantastic and I’ve only been involved such a short time, but everyone is engaged and sharing all of these articles and ideas and it’s just really inspiring and I’m so excited to be involved in it.
Personally, do you know people in your life who have experienced stigmatisation for using cannabis? Well, I can share a personal story that I’m quite hesitant to share. But I’m doing these kinds of interviews and appearances and stuff, not because I’ve any desire to be in the spotlight, I really don’t. I don’t want to put myself out there to be some sort of figure, I’m doing this because it’s right. I’m doing these because I’m almost scared to do them, and that’s even more reason to do them. The story I suppose I could share is… A few years ago, I did another interview for a publication, when I was first getting involved in activism. And it was this big deal for me, because it was a public thing. I didn’t really like how I came across in it. I felt like a bit of a weed nerd. I guess I was just embarrassed because of the stigma that was associated with cannabis at the time. I then had a discussion with my older brother about cannabis just to see how he felt about it and he said he’d looked into 6Sanjay Gupta and his report and that he was fully in favour of it. So I decided to put myself out on a limb and show him the article that I was in. And instead of receiving a positive reaction as I thought I would, like: “Congratulations for speaking up on something you’re passionate about!”, instead I got told: “You have embarrassed yourself and your family and you should be ashamed of being a poster child for an illegal drug.”
Now, I was in my mid to late twenties at the time, and was being called a child still. But that really, really hurt me. Instead of being encouraged to speak up about something that was important, I was shamed instead, only due to stigmatisation. Because cannabis consumers ourselves, we know there’s nothing to be ashamed about when it comes to cannabis. It’s inherently good, that’s why we talk about it, because we want to share it with people. Unfortunately, there are so many other people that have gotten in contact over the years and they’re afraid to speak up, again because they’re afraid to lose their job or it might put their family at risk. They’re just worried about being viewed in a certain way, the stereotypical dumb stoner. But cannabis consumers and patients aren’t like that, we’re just people. We are just people. And we’re all so complex and varied, so to generalise everyone into this one category, “Oh you’re a lazy stoner”. No, that doesn’t work anymore, we can’t do that, that’s silly.
Thank you so much for your time. And thank you so much for providing this platform for people to speak up, because we need one! And we need somewhere to put our aggression and our passion and make it public. That’s the only way that legalisation is gonna happen in Ireland. Personally, I think you’re a huge inspiration to anyone in Ireland that feels that they should start speaking out. Thank you, I appreciate the kind words. Have a lovely evening and take care. You too, mind yourself. Bye!
1 The Irish Examiner ran this article recently on drug seizures, which includes the controversial comments
made by the addiction specialist in question near the end:
2 Kill Bill is a two-part film by Quentin Tarantino. It features scenes in which the protagonist, The Bride,
steels herself for battle to this dramatic, siren-based theme: https://youtu.be/cOy6hqzfsAs
3 The Evening Echo published the article mentioned here:
4 The public consultation in question was open until November 20th, at noon.
Here is the government information page about it:
5 The European Cannabis Advocacy Network (ECAN), which Nicole is now a member of, was recently announced
by Volteface here: https://volteface.me/european-cannabis-advocacy-network-ecan/
6 Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s CNN report, which was aired in 2013: