Nicole & Roderick at Cannabis: A New Green Deal by Uplift.ie | 20.04.2021

Nicole Lonergan first became involved in speaking out about cannabis circa 2014. Through 1Cork Cannabis Activist Network, she raises awareness about the benefits of cannabis and the extensive harms of prohibition. Roderick Campbell is a member of Uplift, as well as 2The Irish Medical Cannabis Council. He is currently setting up The Irish Cannabis Co-Op. The following extract has been adapted from the live stream for the purposes of clarity and brevity.

Emily Duffy (of 3Uplift): I’m going to get into some of (the viewers) questions, but the first one that I wanted to put to everybody was, what opportunities do you see for campaigning, specifically out of this 4report? Is there new information that we feel is a good lever of change? I’d like to throw that out to you first. Nicole, you’re laughing, so I’m gonna hand over to you to start. Nicole: I knew I was setting myself up for something there. Emily Laughs Yeah, no problem! I think we need to be very clear first of all whether the report is actually asking for decriminalisation or legalisation, because those are two completely separate things. Legalisation is what will give us a legal industry, whereby people can legally buy cannabis that’s been tested from licenced vendors. I think the most important thing to push for going forward is public participation. I mean, in all the TDs that I’ve engaged with, the main issue they say to me is that enough people aren’t speaking up about this.

Many of them aren’t even aware that this is an issue that really needs to be addressed. I know it can be quite daunting to people to approach a TD or to put their name out there. But I can assure you, it will be treated confidentially. And it’s really important to speak up and to be an active part of your community and to let your TDs know what issues are really, really important and what needs to be addressed. So this is one of them and I encourage anyone listening to be brave and speak up and be vocal about your cannabis use. Because if it benefits you, I feel that other people should know. Emily: Absolutely, I couldn’t agree more. Uplift is a community of over 360,000 people across Ireland. There’s people in every constituency in Ireland and we can provide the tools to start those conversations with politicians and to demystify and de-stigmatise something that is helping so many people stay well.

Would anyone else from the panel like to come in there? Laura Jayne Foley (of Wild Atlantic Hemp): I think Roderick put his hand up. Emily: I can’t see Roderick for some reason.. Roderick: I was hiding. Laughter Emily: “Where are you?” Roderick laughs Please come in, Roderick, thank you. Roderick: I think one of the things that stands out to me in terms of the narrative of the story that we’ve been telling is up until recently as cannabis campaigners, we’ve been telling the story that we think that cannabis is not necessarily bad for our communities. That it has either a positive effect or a neutral effect. And I think one of the stories that doesn’t get enough focus is that prohibition is really bad for our communities. It’s very unhealthy. It is killing people. Because we see that opiate use and opiate deaths particularly, drastically increase, when there’s prohibition. So we’ve got children’s use. Also, underage use increases during prohibition.

Criminality in the amount of money going to violent criminal organisations and cartels increases. So, what we see right now is thorough inaction. And I think this is a really critical, from my perspective, change in the story. It is the inaction and the cowardice and the pearl clutching and this “waiting for the brown paper envelopes” of our TDs. It is actively harming our communities, harming our children and killing people. And that switch of the narrative, I think, it changes the momentum of the campaign. Emily: Absolutely, I couldn’t agree more. And I think a lot of the health concerns that have been raised.. I think that actually a lot of it can be addressed through legalisation. If people can access strains that are more beneficial, that are less likely to cause certain things, then people will be healthier. And I think, also, that idea of bronchitis.. We know in California a lot of people don’t smoke it at all. It’s edible and things like that, so I think that’s an argument there as well that’s very strong.

Roderick: We’re launching the cannabis co-operative, which is starting in Kinsale. It’s about thirty people launching the thing, and (it’s) focused on the consumer development side of things, instead of growing. Dispensaries, e-commerce and delivery, that sort of thing. I’m actually in Washington right now where it’s legal, completely. So I’ve got legal cannabis in front of me. And I’m doing a little bit of research around products and particularly ethical businesses around it. I live in Kinsale, and there’s an island here in Washington that’s very similar in almost every way. A similar flow of traffic, people coming through tourism, a similar population. And there’s two shops on the island. And both of those shops, the dispensaries on the island, they’re paying a $20 minimum wage, before there was any increase in the minimum wage.

That’s more than double the normal minimum wage in Washington State. And in addition to that, full benefits. And in addition to all of that, the businesses that own these two shops are still pulling in between $50,000 and $100,000 per month in revenue, for the community. So, the revenue is just off the charts. And I think that the big race now that we’re going to see, and the reason they haven’t moved on legalisation, is because they don’t know how to monetise it and monopolise it yet. And the big battle here I think, is for us to get the legalisation over that line as soon as possible. And also to make sure that we can bolster co-operative, community-owned businesses and enterprises to dominate this thing. If we don’t, you know we’re gonna lose a lot of money out of our communities. Emily: Absolutely. And I think there’s a real opportunity for forming a new type of economy here, for doing things quite a bit differently and better.

I think that some of those models in the US are fascinating. And the thing as well is that politics in Ireland are quite local and people are very interested in revitalising their communities. There’s often even more of a chance of convincing politicians of that, so that’s an opportunity to get a little strategic campaign in there. I’m gonna go hand over to Nicole! Nicole: Yeah, just to expand on what Roderick said, because all his points are completely valid, it is a massive industry. It’s a multi-million dollar industry. I’m pretty sure the cannabis industry has created about 321,000 jobs in the States and there’s now more cannabis-employed people than dentists. So that’s insanely significant and that needs to be looked at here. I don’t think we can afford to turn our noses up at the revenue that can be generated from this industry.

It just makes sense. Apply this to alcohol – would people rather drink alcohol out of a shoe that was made in someone’s shed, or would they rather buy it from a legal premises where it was tested? I mean that’s a no-brainer, and the same applies to cannabis. While we’re relying on the illegal market, we don’t know what we’re getting. So, I personally would much rather go to a store and choose from a wide range of products. And that is just gonna create a massive amount of revenue, which in turn can be used to fund addiction services, or just generally we could put (it) back into our communities, and to fund our education. It’s so important and my mind is boggled as to why this hasn’t been implemented in Ireland yet. I’m just hoping it will be soon. 

Emily: Great. You touched a little bit there on another great question that came in from a member called Eno, which is, given Irish history and habits, wouldn’t it be effective to produce a proper academic comparative study? He doesn’t know of any studies that are out there, but basically, should we talk about the health and societal implications of alcohol and compare them to cannabis? Is there anybody that would like to answer that one? Yeah, Nicole, keep going! Nicole: I’ll keep going while I’m on a roll! Laughter It’s important to do that, but at the same time you have to acknowledge that cannabis is very different from alcohol. There are always conversations around cannabis, “recreational” versus medicinal, but cannabis itself is inherently medicinal. There’s no budging from that, it’s on the use of the person. Responsible use and personal responsibility are massive when it comes to this.

But yeah, absolutely, it would be worthwhile comparing hospital admissions, for example, between alcohol and cannabis. And the amount of money that’s actually spent on treating both. Because as we know, most people who go to hospital for cannabis… all of those symptoms will resolve themselves at home, with time and re-assurance and rest. There is usually no need for them to actually be in hospital in the first place. It is an important comparative point to make, but at the same time we have to recognise that these are two completely different substances. Emily: Perfect, yeah. I think that’s a great answer. This is a great question here from Maria, who is talking about chronic pain in particular. I think the medical conversation is really important, but I think, and some of you might touch on this, the means by which people can access cannabis has been highly regulated and restricted.

“How much does the Irish government spend on pain management medications with incredibly serious side effects?” She said that she’s “seen people in Ireland with Rheumatoid Arthritis, 5Ehlers Danlos, back issues, hip issues”, going off very high strength prescribed medications, which have a lot of side effects. And that if people could access the right strain, that people would get much better outcomes and much better medical care. But I think the question there is, how does the law need to be, to make sure that people can access the types of cannabis strains that they need? Nicole, you’re coming in there straight away! Nicole: Thanks. Yeah, I think it’s really important for people to recognise that what’s in place doesn’t work. There’s currently two systems in place, whereby people maybe can access medical cannabis products.

So, the first is the licensing system. That’s not fit for purpose as far as I’m concerned, because basically you have to apply via a Consultant. They will then be issued a licence to prescribe products containing THC. You have to choose from the products that you get from the Dutch pharmacy, and most patients are actually paying anywhere from €600 to €9,500 every three months for a prescription. That’s ludicrous, nobody should be paying that money for any type of healthcare. The Medical Cannabis Access Programme, that’s not even been active yet. Legislation that was signed in 2019, it’s still not active. It’s not due to be active until June 2021 and it’s only for three specific conditions and four cannabis-based medicines. And the part that’s actually quite upsetting and very wrong I think, for something that claims to be a compassionate access programme, is the fact that the conditions which it allows access for can only access these products as a last resort.

So that means for patients with MS, they are forced to endure high doses of botox, I think it’s a medication called Tizanidine, apologies if I’m butchering the pronunciation, before low-dose cannabis-based medicines will even be considered. That’s not compassionate, it’s not accessible, so it doesn’t work. I really feel that if we’re gonna be relying on headlines and just accepting what crumbs are thrown our way, we’ll never get what we need. And what we need is actual compassionate access for people who do need these products. People shouldn’t have to jump through hoops. I think it’s very wrong for people who are ill and who are already suffering to put them through so much financial stress to try and get access to a natural product.

So again, I just hope that people will actually push for this and not settle. Because we deserve so much better. Emily: Great answer and I couldn’t agree more. Roderick, would you like to come in? Roderick: Sure. A few small things. I’m biased, because I’m trying to push that 6petition. Laughter So the Uplift petition, there’s some really small things. There’s 102 people here. And there’s one thing that if you did this once a day, or once a week, or with any regularity, that petition would begin to explode. Go on Facebook and join some related Facebook groups, like permaculture, cannabis or drug-related groups, community groups, it doesn’t matter. And if you don’t want all your friends to see it all the time, that’s fine, go to a private one. And then consistently, every day ideally, or every week if you’re willing to, go in and share the petition and say something about cannabis.

A fact about legalisation, and share it and ask people to sign it. And if we can get that fucker to explode, I think that that will give us the organising ability that we need to add a bit of pressure on TDs. That and then one other thing. I think the other big thing is culture-making. Ireland is still in sort of a time capsule, in terms of the culture around cannabis and the expectations, even though fucking everybody smokes, or has at some point. Emily laughs So, that’s the sort of paradox. I think particularly, we’re running into this cultural phenomenon where older people don’t wanna encourage younger people to smoke, even though they smoked. So they want to pretend like they never smoked and it’s bad. Fuck that! The way that we overcome that is by forcing people into a corner, especially our family members, and forcing the conversation.. in a really friendly way.

Emily laughs And if we can do that en masse, we will change the culture. Just like what happened with marriage equality, just like it did with abortion. So, culture-making, and push the fuckin’ petition please! Emily: Absolutely, brilliant Roderick! I love that answer. Nicole, I’m gonna come to you. Nicole: No bother. Excellent points Roderick, love it. Just to expand on that again, just talk! Never shut up! I mean, I talk to the Tesco delivery man about cannabis. He knows what’s coming every week. When you bring the issue of cannabis to anyone in government, they’ll go: “Oh the harms, we have to protect people!” Let’s compare it with Penicillin. How many people are allergic to Penicillin? How many people will have a really, really severe reaction to Penicillin that might put them in hospital, might even kill them?

We factor that in, but we don’t overlook the overwhelming benefits that come with Penicillin. And this should be applied to cannabis, cannabis is no different. We cannot afford to overlook the benefits that cannabis can bring to so many sectors in our society. So again, talk, talk, talk. Share as much as you can. Don’t be afraid to speak up, because once you do you kind of… you never can shut up then really, you’re kind of (saying): “I want to share this information with people!” If your family and your friends are your support network, they will understand and they will listen to what you have to say about cannabis. So yeah, it’s just really important. Please talk, please speak up, don’t be afraid!

References

1 Cork Cannabis Activist Network’s central hub can be accessed here –

https://www.linktr.ee/CorkCAN/

2 For official updates from the Irish Medical Cannabis Council, see

https://www.medcan.ie/

3 The Uplift website can be found here – https://www.uplift.ie/

4 Seán McCabe’s presentation about an upcoming TASC (Think Tank for Action on Social Change)

report on cannabis can be read here –

https://greenlensblog.com/2021/05/28/seanmccabe-new-green-deal-uplift/

5 For more on Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, check out our recent interview with Evie Nevin

https://greenlensblog.com/2021/05/31/evie-nevin-26-05-21/

6 Uplift petition – https://my.uplift.ie/petitions/legalise-cannabis-in-ireland

* The full recording of this Uplift panel discussion, Cannabis: A New Green Deal, can be seen here –

https://bit.ly/3fMje97

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