Brendan and Ryan of Crainn

Crainn (the Irish word for ‘trees’) are a cannabis advocacy group who boast Ireland’s largest online cannabis community, with over 30,000 members on their Reddit page alone. They started life there, but have since expanded their presence to Twitter and other social media outlets. Recently, on April 20th (‘420’) they organised a team of volunteers in Dublin to provide information on the benefits and potential of cannabis. In this interview, Richard is joined by Brendan and Ryan, who are both Crainn moderators.

When was Crainn first planned and what aims had you in mind for it originally?

Ryan: This is a bit of a complicated question actually, because the subreddit has been around since 2010 and I would’ve been around nine years old when it started. Richard laughs We don’t actually know who set it up originally. Someone set it up and it was sitting there with a couple of hundred members for a while. Then it got passed down to a Reddit user called Golden161 and he was running it with two guys who are still with us now. Golden161 became busier with responsibilities, so he stopped moderating the subreddit and it was left for a while. In 2017, we started rebuilding the subreddit a bit and we began to moderate it and put guidelines in place.

For a while, it was just a little forum that was a kind of free-for-all. From around 2018 onwards, we started to see a growth in engagement. That’s when members started to come in and moderating had to be taken more seriously. A little under a year ago, after a Covid lockdown when we had a really big spike in users, we said: ‘There’s a lot of people here. There’s a lot of demand for change. People want something to happen, let’s get organised.’ And that’s where we are now. Is there anything you’d like to add to that, Brendan? Brendan: Ah no, not really. I first became aware of Crainn through Reddit around 2016. I’m not a big Redditor, so I was mostly lurking, keeping my head down so to speak. During the lockdown, I got heavily involved in the history of prohibition in Ireland and that’s led me down a rabbit hole and on to political campaigning, so here I am.

Why was the name Crainn chosen?

Ryan: Are you aware of the subreddit, Trees? It’s a general cannabis subreddit. There’s different offshoots of that, like UK Trees and Canadian Trees. The lads who set it up originally wanted to make an Irish Trees, but they didn’t want to call it Irish Trees, so they called it Trees ‘as Gaeilge’ [in Irish], which is Crainn. So that’s where the name comes from.

Your subreddit was created back in November 2010. How long was it before it really started gaining recognition? Was there a point before the pandemic where mods started noticing much pickup? Ryan: I could speak to this a little bit. There’s a graph [see below] showing the subreddit subscriber growth, from when it was set up until today. It was gaining slow growth from 2010 up until Covid but when the lockdown hit in 2020, the subscriber rate went up exponentially. It doubled or tripled, it went from around 15,000 to 30,000. I think the subreddit really grew during the lockdown.

Did you focus much on promoting the subreddit to gain members yourselves, or has it mainly been an organic growth in your experience? Ryan: We’ve never promoted the subreddit, bar the stickers we did a while ago. People just come to it. It grows organically on Reddit. I think it’s the only significant thing that’s on Reddit for cannabis in Ireland, to be honest. Reddit is probably one of the few social media channels where people can publicly talk about cannabis without fear of being banned. It makes sense that it would gain a large following there. Brendan: My intro to the Crainn subreddit stemmed from my involvement on Discord with people in the US and Canadian cannabis scenes. Things have been largely normalised in those regions for a while. Lockdown left me looking for what’s there in terms of an Irish cannabis community. It’s one of the things that brought me on to Reddit

Do you guys feel that Reddit going public has had any effect on how subreddits are moderated? Do you feel that site mods have come down more harshly on cannabis-related content? Ryan: It’s funny that you mention that. We’ve always been on Reddit’s good side because of how well we moderate according to the terms of service there. On the subreddit, you’re not allowed to ask: ‘Where can I buy cannabis? Can I sell you some cannabis? Can we meet up and trade cannabis?’ It’s illegal, so we don’t allow it. We’re always on top of that. But recently, in the States, there’s been a ban on sending vapes out in the post. This includes dry herb vapes, CBD vapes, all of that. Any subreddit relating to vaporisers has been wiped out or put on lockdown, we noticed that straight away. We have to put new rules in place whenever Reddit clamps down.

We’re now not allowing people to buy, trade or sell vaporisers on Crainn. If they do, we have to remove their posts. We need to keep on top of Reddit’s terms of service and make sure we moderate within those limits – then we’re on their good side. Reddit going public has had an effect on moderation, because we increasingly need to keep an eye out [for updates to the terms]. We actually have a bigger problem with Instagram. Our Instagram was taken down for posting about cannabis. We never posted a picture or anything like that, only infographics and we still got taken down. And we haven’t heard anything back. Luckily, Reddit isn’t that bad. If it was, we would be long gone, because people like posting their bongs and everything like that. If you posted that on Instagram, you’d be gone in an hour.

How was Crainn’s experience of partaking in 420 events this year, in Dublin and online? Ryan: On April 20th, we were in town volunteering and the experience was great. It was our first time actually getting out there doing an event like that, in person. Roughly how many people were involved in the volunteer team? There were about eight to ten people at any given time, because certain individuals were also getting involved in other things. I’d never met a lot of them in my life, but I knew a lot of them for a long time online. I was meeting them in person and getting the high vis [jacket] on and talking to people and seeing everyone’s different knowledge bases, ‘cause everyone was into different things. One of the lads was really into the medical side of things, one of them was really into hemp. It was good to get out there and see that and connect with people, not just from the cannabis community. The older generation were a lot more receptive to our campaign than I thought they’d be. They were really into it. It must be because of CBD interest nowadays. They were saying, ‘I’d love to try that, people are telling me to try it.’ I was surprised by it, because you often hear from the community online that the older generation are holding us back, and that is true to an extent, but when we were out on the streets campaigning, they were really into it. To be honest with you, it was an excellent experience and it was eye-opening in some ways. 

We were at the picnic as well, which was hosted by the Major Group for Cannabis Reform [on Saturday the 23rd]. We just went to that as civilians, I suppose you could say. Brendan: It was my second year at it. I went to their event last year as well, which was under much more restrictive terms. But it was during one of the gaps in the [Covid-19] lockdowns, so it was all sort of manageable. The turnout this year, I thought, was a bit down on last year. It was a good event, although it was a little chilly, in my mind. As Ryan was saying, you’d get to put eyeballs on people you know online. We might have known each other for years, but it was our first opportunity to meet in some cases, so it was really good in that way. And I think that this sort of thing is very important actually, because it’s beginning to normalise [cannabis use] within our own community. Self-stigma is holding us back a lot of the time, we’re afraid to talk about it. This is a perfectly normal thing for grown-ups to do in a lot of parts of the world, to consume cannabis.

Did you notice any growth at all in media or political attention relating to this year’s Irish 420 events? Brendan: Yeah, I definitely did. I think the attendance was down a bit because Dua Lipa was in Dublin on 420 and the following day, while Ed Sheeran was on the 23rd and 24th. There was a lot on that week. Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan was at the Major Picnic, as was Gino Kenny. Luke gave a really good speech, there was some beat poetry on the day. It was good, it was well-ran, they marshalled it well, the park was left tidy. The guards weren’t in evidence, but I’m sure they were there. The organisers had clearly gotten the necessary approvals because there was a PA system and various other things that couldn’t be facilitated last year when they were there. I think more of these kinds of events are necessary actually, to bring people together, out of their shells. In some ways, as well, if you’re looking at drug use in general – it’s better that it’s a shared experience, in terms of health and attitudes and understanding what you’re doing and safe consumption.

Ryan: I noticed RTÉ covered the Major Picnic, which was good to see. Brendan: Yeah! It actually made the news, which I think was a first. It hadn’t been covered the previous year, even though there was a substantial turnout. Ryan: I think overall, there was a lot of media coverage on 420-related events this year. There was the Crainn info day, the protest and the Major Picnic. So there were different outlets picking out different parts of what was going on, which made it a little bit more spread out. There were a couple of articles on the info day that were put out pre-empting it, by District and Buzz, who did great coverage. Then, after the fact, RTÉ was there doing their own little bits and bobs. So it was actually quite good.

We were hyping the info day up for a while as well, to try and get it out there. I think that if events like this are happening, especially on 420, do a lot of planning and try to get the word out there and the media are gonna follow. They need stories to cover. Cannabis stuff is a kind of fringe topic and it’s exciting to cover and it gets clicks. So I think the more events there are, the better. Brendan: Yeah. I think Ryan’s hit on a really important point there, actually. One of the problems we’ve got is that cannabis reports of busts and raids and things generate huge amounts of clicks for the media industry, so they want to cover stories in a certain way because they get a lot of page impressions. But cannabis in general will get you the page impressions at this stage, so give them good content that’s not necessarily somebody having their life changed for half a gram and the coverage will follow, I hope.

Have Crainn got any interesting campaigns in the works that you’d like to share with us? Ryan: I can speak to this a little bit. I don’t want to give too much away, but we are planning to do some more events in person. We’d like to do another info day and we’re having a few more online events as well, but we’re not going to announce them just yet. We’re just gonna wait till we have everything ready, but there is stuff for the cannabis community in Ireland to keep an eye out for, we’re looking forward to it. We’re taking part in the Patients for Safe Access national conference [June 11th], as speakers. That’s not our project, but we’re happy to get up there and speak and try to help give them a voice. We have our own things planned as well, so just keep an eye out for some more things we’ll announce, hopefully in the near future. Perfect, looking forward to that!

How do you see yourselves helping to increase support for cannabis reform in the future? What’s next in the development of Crainn? Ryan: I think to help to increase support you just need to have the facts on your side. One of the pillars of the Crainn organisation is education, we place major importance on it. We try our best to make sure we’re talking facts and making sense. We always have a study or a source if we’re making a point on Twitter or on Reddit, so we can refer to it. Because sometimes you will have people saying, ‘That’s nonsense’. But you can say: ‘This is where we got it from. Feel free to have a look at it and come back to us if there’s anything else.’ We need to have education, because it is an emotional topic. You feel like you’re getting wronged with the current laws. But at the end of the day, you need to have the facts, because the people you’re up against have qualifications, sometimes.

People such as Bobby Smyth and the Cannabis Risk Alliance. They have the qualifications, but oftentimes they don’t have the facts. So we need to present the data and say: ‘What can you say about this? Teen use is dropping in various legalised states in America. This is how we protect young people – not by banning it, by legalising it.’ That’s just one example. Brendan: I think we’ve all heard our various government advisors speaking in radio interviews and things in recent years. And quite often, when it actually comes to facts, they will tell you stuff with their professional hat on. When questioned by the journalist about it, they’ll say: ‘Oh, well just Google it.’ But we need better than that. There’s a huge amount of harm being done, I think, in the teenage to early college years age group at the moment, particularly post-lockdown.

The supply chains have been very badly damaged. Synthetics, which were a problem prior to lockdown, are now endemic across pretty much everything, except for [cannabis] flower. And even flower is contaminated at times. These are really genuinely dangerous substances that are harming people, so we have to educate. This shouldn’t be our role. A health-led policy should mean that we are making moves in the right direction, but we’re not at the moment. Another thing I personally find shocking is that the Director of Public Prosecutions delegates all the small case stuff completely to the Gardaí. Where is the public interest oversight that this Director is supposed to have? It looks like we’ve got a bunch of laws that are running on autopilot because it suits certain people. And politically, there’s an utter unwillingness to touch them.

Where would you see the development of Crainn happening in the short to medium term future? Ryan: We have projects that we’re working hard on. One of the things that Brendan touched on is synthetics. We want to become an educational force on what’s going on in Ireland. There’s a big problem with Spice edibles going around, which you’re probably aware of from social media, but it’s being completely under-reported. This is what the government should be doing. ‘There’s synthetic cannabis here, this is what it looks like. This is what it does to you, avoid it.’ And we want to just keep doing what we’re doing – educating, normalising, developing a great community that’s collaborating and helping each other out. We want sensible reform.

Brendan: Normalisation is, in effect, what the current drugs policy is fighting against. It’s got its targets on that. It’s like trying to hold a tide back though, because the forces of normalisation are coming from everywhere now. They’re coming from Canada and the US and soon from Malta and Europe and other places. Ireland will look like a backwater. I’ve tweeted about the original debate on the [Irish] Misuse of Drugs Act and it has got some real gems in it. It wasn’t a black and white debate at all. The people who made certain decisions that have left us where we are now were told by senior politicians of the day what the outcomes would be, including the negative impacts on the justice system. There’s actually quite a contrast if you look at the debate that took place around Ming’s [2013] Bill. The government didn’t read it, they just ridiculed it. But I’ve a feeling they won’t get away with that again when Gino’s Bill goes forward.

We’ve seen under a freedom of information request that the government has been trying to keep cannabis entirely out of the Citizens’ Assembly [on Drugs] process. There’s not a chance of that happening. It feels again like there’s some tyre-kicking going on. Ryan: When this Bill comes to the Dáil and it’s debated, I don’t think politicians will get away with spouting misinformation anymore. I think that the climate’s changed. If they come out talking rubbish, people are going to call them out on it. Brendan: I don’t know, I think they might well carry on talking rubbish for a while, It’s hard to say.

Something you touched on earlier, Ryan, was that the older age group seemed a lot more open to cannabis than expected. With my age group, starting with people slightly younger than me, that’s when the bullshit in terms of drug education really began. The ‘Just Say No’ stuff. And the people who are a little bit older than me come from a time where we had quite a different justice system that wasn’t so focused on prosecuting – it was much more focused on diversion. There was a different culture towards justice at the time. Really, the war on drugs weaponised everything. And if you look at what various Ministers of Justice have done with it over the years, it’s revitalised the careers of many a failing Minister, by giving them something to ‘be tough on’.

Let’s hope Ryan is right and that politicians won’t get away with ignoring cannabis data and misinforming the public any more. Thanks so much for your time this evening gentlemen. All the best with Crainn moving forward!

 

My Introduction to Cannabis

Richard reminisces on his year in San Francisco, where he embraced cannabis use as part of the cultural experience and realised what he had been missing out on for years. [All photos below were taken by the author]

In my teens, I bought into the ‘cannabis as a gateway drug‘ myth. I was hesitant when it came to drinking alcohol as well. When schoolmates began dabbling with booze, I wondered why suddenly they always felt the need to be seen with it, getting drunk at every other get together. I wasn’t really religious, but in my head I thought I’d probably keep the pledge I’d made on my Confirmation not to drink alcohol, as a discipline thing. That fell by the wayside at age seventeen, when I got sick of abstaining during a music festival. But my lack of personal interest in weed would continue through college. Certain school friends and acquaintances became very interested in it during those years and were harder for me to get a hold of socially, although this was partially due to differing life circumstances and social circles. When I was with them I had no issue with the smoking, but it often felt like we were on different wavelengths (which of course, we were!) This was partially because I was still a bit wary of weed, as I had been taught to be. I once had a foreign roommate on a work placement abroad who was fairly annoying a lot of the time, and he was more or less always stoned. On one of his first days there, he lay despairing on his bed for ages because he was out of ganja. It must’ve been a rare supply gap for him, but being around him for months didn’t necessarily sell me on smoking weed either! (If you were curious, he got hooked up with more through a workmate later that day).

Flash forward some time to a year where I was living in San Francisco, California. I worked at a few bars within a larger bar company. Seemingly everyone in the industry there enjoyed a regular smoke and those who partook often had such positive, upbeat auras that I was beginning to think that maybe I should try some! One night as we were cleaning and closing a bar I worked at, it came up in conversation that I’d never tried weed and my workmate promptly told me that I’d be smoking with him and the manager after work. After a while, we stood around chatting on Columbus Avenue and passed a joint around. I’ll always remember a faintly tingly, numb sensation I started feeling along my upper neck to where it connects with the head, as the high began kicking in. It was a pleasant little signal I’d anticipate every time I smoked. As it hit me, my enthusiasm for our conversation was amplified and I felt a general sense of calm. Gradually, I found it harder to make sense of all that was being said in conversation and I felt concerned that I’d start sticking out like a sore thumb. I probably made a few semi-relevant remarks and jokes as vain attempts to stay part of a conversation that suddenly felt alien to me. It got to a point where I decided I was too confused to keep track and that I’d order an Uber home. I must’ve toked too much, too soon… Regardless, I loved the relaxing, cerebral new buzz I gained from cannabis that evening and I looked forward to getting high again.

I discovered it was fairly commonplace at work for staff and managers to enjoy cheekies (half shots of tequila, mezcal, whiskey or other spirits, but seldom upper shelf stuff) to keep morale high, particularly during busier shifts. We’d do a toast, knock ’em back and get right back to work. A few nights each week after closing time, staff would hang out at a company bar after hours with the music up really loud, often with workmates from other company bars stopping by. We’d drink Millers High Life stubbies, smoke weed and perhaps indulge in more cheekies. When she heard I’d developed an interest in weed, one colleague who would become a close friend of mine gave me a number, saying to text it with my first name and to explain that it was she who gave me the number, before asking: ‘What’s on the menu today?’ Upon doing so, I was sent a menu du jour with the flower strains and concentrates on offer and how much they’d cost in different amounts. This menu changed each day and I’ll never forget placing my first order and asking where I could meet the dealer, only for him to say: ‘Where can I meet you?’ How considerate! These weren’t shady, dodgy-looking guys either – they were ordinary-looking fellas on bikes. It really says something about how widespread cannabis is there, when buying from the black market guys is that convenient!

Though not without its social issues, San Francisco is a beautiful place (as are the breathtaking natural parks and coastal drives of greater California, but that’s another story!) Whether you’re trekking around Ocean Beach and the Sunset district, eating out in North Beach or Chinatown, browsing the hippie-themed Haight-Ashbury district or exploring the beautiful, vast Golden Gate Park (20% bigger than New York’s Central Park), there’s a lot to it. Cannabis gifted me another level of appreciation for these places. There are scenic views from parks and hills there that I’ll always think back on fondly. But I didn’t just smoke up sociably – getting high at home to derive more wonder from my introvert pastimes had great benefits too. I’d really zone in on the ambience of music and all the intricacies of its production. Music such as Anderson Paak‘s soulful Malibu album, which I got to see live at The Fillmore theatre, or A Tribe Called Quest‘s long-awaited comeback album, We Got It From Here I would become super-immersed in YouTube, films and handheld video games, and I’d feel so grateful for all of the marvellous, complex visual art humans have created. Food would taste more mouth-watering than ever before. Add to all of this the agreeable weather and the generally friendly people of the Bay Area and it’s an ideal place to develop an appreciation of cannabis.

Because I never liked cigarettes, I had no experience rolling papers and was therefore terrible at it, so I opted to buy a pipe. I never felt any urge to mix tobacco with my weed and to this day I still don’t use it; even if it does extend the life of a limited weed supply, or allow for a less potent smoke. Sadly, here in Ireland the weed is criminally expensive (forgive the pun!) and you never have any knowledge of what it is you’re buying. This is thanks to the Irish government and their insistence on upholding prohibition, where weed and many other drugs are left completely unregulated! I’ve heard horror stories about the weed here too. One example would be weed being sprayed with an unknown ‘hairspray-like’ chemical to make it extra sparkly, as a false indicator of quality…

I don’t want to smoke that!!

If there’s anything I took from my year in San Francisco, it’s the realisation that countless kind, intelligent, productive, ambitious, hard-working and athletic people live their lives successfully while benefitting from cannabis, often using it on a regular basis. While I was there, it began dawning on me how ridiculous and immoral it is for authorities to continue demonising this plant and making it out to be a dark, nefarious substance that will somehow lead you down a road of self-destruction. In my experience, this plant helps people to connect. It helps people to tolerate and get through difficulties. It can help mentally, physically, medicinally. In essence, it helps with our enjoyment and appreciation of life. Because of this, I’ll always be thankful of San Francisco for such an enlightening introduction.

Kyla Cobbler | Barcelona, Spain | 21.08.21

Kyla Cobbler is an Irish comedian and cannabis advocate living in Barcelona, Spain. She has built up an audience of 53.6 thousand followers on Instagram over the past two years, as her comedic ‘Stories’ have gained popularity. Recently, she announced that she would step back from social media for a break and some time to reflect. Earlier this month, she officially began working in a Cannabis Social Club in Barcelona, called Club Guru.

Hello Kyla! Hi! I’ll start the recording now, if you don’t mind. *Robotic Zoom voice confirms the recording has started* Oh, there you go… Did you hear that? ‘This meeting is being recorded.’ That was cool, I didn’t know it did that. The robot? I sorted that out from my side for the meeting, I wanted it to seem professional.

Excellent! How long have you been living in Barcelona? I’ve been living in Barcelona since February 2020. Right on time for the pandemic. I got here on the first, and then it went into lockdown. But I was living in Milan previously, for seven years. So, I literally went from the fire pot into the pan, or whatever the expression is. You had quite the experience with the post package that one time, and the threat of prisonYeah, you did your research, yeah! That was a mental situation, glad you got out of that one. Yeah, it was. It was quite an experience. Especially when it was an experience with drugs, that weren’t my drugs. I don’t take cocaine or ecstasy, I was like… *shocked expression* ‘Nooo!’ So it was a little bit hurtful. But yeah, I got here in February 2020 and then we went into lockdown Friday the 13th of March. And then we stayed in for sixty days, so that was fun. That was exciting. I bet it was, yeah. How did you manage to get the gig at The Comedy Clubhouse? Basically, I came in to do stand-up and there was an open mic and I met one of the owners.

The two owners are Dr. Matthew Murtha and John Allis, they’re both comedians, from America and New Zealand. I came in to see stand-up and I saw that they are absolutely hilarious and brilliant comedians, but terrible bartenders! So, obviously, with the Irish background, I slipped in, as an opportunity, and asked if they needed a hand, even just on weekends. Because I was waiting on Club Guru to be open, it was still under construction. But I was very lucky, because one, it was fun, and two, just to be around comedians and writers and creative people, it’s very stimulating and it’s just a good time. You know what I mean? It doesn’t feel like work, ever. I consider them my friends, for sure. Would you have a background in writing? Because I got the impression from an older post once that you were having a bit of a creative block. Yeah. I’ve always written. I’ve always done, we’ll say, more background work. So I’m very much happy to be the right hand man, or the wingman. That’d be more my kind of role.

Because I love writing jokes, and if someone comes to me with a thread or a sketch I am more than happy to write with them. I mean it depends on what the premise is, or what platform you’re using to perform the joke, ‘cause it always changes. I did stand-up comedy in Italy as well, in Milan, but in Italian. Oh wow! And I was always writing, you just always do write. If you see comedians, they always have notepads, they always have stationary shit in their hands, (stuff) written in their phones. It’s an observation, it’s a constant comic thread. And I write as well for pleasure, just to journal, for my business. Very impressive that you did stand-up in Italian, that’s mad! It is impressive. I’m glad you said that, it is impressive, I’m surprised myself (that) I did it! *Laughter* Do you know what it is? I wasn’t great at school. In the Leaving Cert, I got 225 points only. So I barely, barely passed. And then I didn’t go on to third level education. I did foundation maths. You know, I wasn’t necessarily an academic student or someone that would’ve thrived in that situation. But with languages, I love talking. I love chatting, I love expressing myself.

I’m very, very curious about other people. I think that’s one of my passions, just humans, you know? Yeah. And going to Italy and being forced to learn the language, it was just such an easy way to learn, for me. That’s how I learn, how my brain works. After about two or three years, I became fluent. Their sense of humour is very different from the Irish, and it was very curious to me. Because, you know in Ireland, it’s like.. Not ‘dog eat dog’, but they’re merciless like. If you go to the pub with a new hat, or new runners.. Oh my God, when it’s your night, Richard, you know yourself (slang translation – ‘you know how it is’). It’s fucking depressing. So, it was great to go to a different culture and just immerse (myself) in that way of joking. And they have a very stupid sense of humour. Yeah, clowning around. People walking into doors, or slipping on floors, and I love that. I love Dumb & Dumber, I love Jim Carrey. I love real expressive comedy, where it’s a lot of body, and there’s metamorphosis body-wise, you know? That would be right up my street. And then, Bud Spencer, do you know Bud Spencer? I don’t, I’ll look him up.

He starred in Spaghetti Westerns, that was a whole new world to me. I had never seen any of them and that was really fun. And then I just said: ‘Fuck it, I’ll give it a go!’ And then as well, I think because I speak another language, I was more confident, because it was almost like.. Not a mask, but I suppose you’re almost ‘in character’. I’m not expressing myself in English, I’m a very different person when I speak in English to when I speak in Italian. Which I think is true for everyone, they speak in their own way, in a different language. It was really, really fun. I got a good response as well, which was great. That’s mad! Were you involved with the comedy in Milan for a long time? Not the way I am here. The comedy I did when I was in Italy was more, with other comedians online, or in English, ‘cause a lot of the writing I do would’ve been in English. But there it was just stand-up. It wouldn’t be great, the scene (in Milan), to be honest. And they’re kind of up their own asses when it comes to women. Like, people would say: ‘Oh you’re SO funny, for a girl.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh, thank you. What a compliment.’ *Kyla laughs*

How generous of you’, yeah. Yeah, yeah. ‘Fuck off’, d’you know what I mean? But I think that was a learning curve for both myself and them. Then I was working in fashion and I had a lot of jobs and I made a lot of money. I paid off my Credit Union loan, which, as an Irish person, you know.. They were hawkin’ you for that, yeah. So yeah, I didn’t do that (comedy) much. I’m a lot more involved with this one here. Is The Comedy Clubhouse at Pub Limerick, or am I mixing things up? It used to be called Pub Limerick, that was the original name. And then it was, PCP, The Piña Colada Palace, because our Piña Colada shots are.. I don’t wanna say ‘world renowned’, but I’m gonna say ‘world renowned’. And now it’s called The Comedy Clubhouse. We were very lucky, ‘cause we had Michelle Wolf in recently, Matteo Lane… These are big, top notch comedians coming in from the States and doing open mic and practising new material, which is an absolute honour. When did you first become interested in cannabis? When I was in Ireland, I used to smoke hash. But I didn’t have any idea about the plant.

And then when I got to Italy, I started smoking weed. I would suffer with anxiety quite badly. And I was prescribed pills and medicine from a Doctor. And although I didn’t feel anxious, I didn’t feel anything.. at all. Yeah, I’ve heard that before (about anxiety medications). And for a creative person, it’s just depressing. I’d prefer to feel a little bit anxious than (feeling like) a zombie, you know? Of course. So I started experimenting with marijuana and different strains and growing when I was in Milan, for myself, just to feel better. And it just grew from there. I’m really big into nature. My grandfather was a fisherman, my dad was always outside too and I’d be with him. Plants, and flowers, and trees. I’m an absolute hippie, Richard. I love it. I love being outside, I love being around it, I love watching it blossom. I find it very fascinating. And for me it began from that. The difference when I realised marijuana is a flower, that it’s actually a flower that comes from the Earth… And it can help me in my physical form, my mental form, my emotional state, my spiritual state.

That, for me, was a very, very interesting and new way of looking at a drug. Because it’s so stigmatised at home. You know, like coke and marijuana are the same thing! And I was so afraid of it, I was so ashamed that I liked it. But then, I’ve worked in Irish pubs my whole life. And I can serve you sixteen pints till you get sick on yourself, and that’s fine. And you can come back the next day and drink again, and that’s fine. But me smoking a joint is a problem. So it’s very confusing as well, when you start to get into the drug itself. Yeah, it’s hypocrisy. It’s not even hypocrisy, it’s just absolute ignorance. And I think people are terrified of that word, ‘ignorance’, but it is. If you’re missing information, you don’t know what you’re talking about. You just don’t know. And I think that’s very, very apparent when people start the debate of ‘drink and drugs’. And ‘the drugs’, that’s what they say, you know? Marijuana, ‘the drugs’. *Kyla laughs* 

Do you have a preferred way to consume cannabis? I love the art of rolling a joint. I absolutely love it. I love being able to roll, I think it’s really cool being able to roll. I know it’s a very basic thing, but for me it’s flex. I think I look cool when I roll a joint. And as well, in Ireland, because we come from such windy places and everyone’s smoking outside, we can roll in any conditions. We’re made for it like. Right, you’re like a hardened joint roller. This is it! Rain or shine, Easterly winds, let me know and I’m gonna fuckin’ get this doobie done, you know? Yeah. What I started doing recently, since I opened Guru, is smoking with a sorrel mix. And it’s actually (supplied by) lads from Dublin, Herbernia they’re called. They sent me over a mix, they’re brilliant. They’re beautiful. I opened it in the club last night and I smoked it with Lemon Kush and Lemon Zkittle. So, anything (with) D-limonene will really stimulate your creativity, and having that lemony taste with the Purple… I can’t remember the name of it. It’s got CBD in it as well though, the tobacco mix. It’s fucking amazing. It’s a really lovely smoke. And it gets rid of the tobacco buzz too, which is always a plus, you know?

Do you see the cannabis debate developing in Ireland much over the next few years? To be honest, I haven’t been following the cannabis debate, because I do think that the divide in Ireland at this point of the marijuana journey in the Western World and in America.. I mean, you cannot sit there and be angry about it. People are so unwilling to listen. I’ve been asked to come on and talk online for activists in Ireland, and I’m like: ‘With all the love and respect in the world, I’m in a place now where it’s progressive and I’m doing something with it.’ But to sit and try and convince Biddy, who’s 55, that a joint isn’t gonna do any harm, it’s just.. I dunno, I haven’t been following it. But I know the stigma. You could have vodka (and) Red Bull for the whole night, right? You could drink shots of vodka and get so, so sick and be so hungover. And you’ll go back to it the weekend after. But people, unfortunately, because of the stigma attached to marijuana, they have one whitey, one time where they feel sick or paranoid when they smoke… They never go back to it, and they have this horrible idea of it that terrifies them.

Instead of trying to fight that stigma, over here, I take another approach. I make sure that whatever I’m giving to people, whatever I’m putting in that they’re consuming, I know exactly what’s in it. And I know why everyone has been like that, and I know what it’s gonna do for your brain and your body and what high you’re gonna get from it. I don’t know how it’s going in Ireland but I do think, personally, that once America does it, we’ll all do it. Can you fucking imagine Ireland with coffee shops? It would be incredible, and it would change our society for the better. Because, let’s face it, we’ve had our issues with drinking. In so many families… Alcoholism has destroyed so many of us, and it has caused so many problems. And I’m like, ‘Why can you sit there and this be socially acceptable for you, because you’re used to it, yet be so closed off to the idea that something comes from the ground. A flower that grows from the ground causes all these problems?

It’s causing problems because the shit that you’re buying off streets and putting into your body now isn’t regulated. We don’t know where it’s being grown, we don’t know what strains are in it. We don’t know if it’s Indica or Sativa, what cannabinoids, what terpenes.. There’s just nothing, there’s no information there. And they’re so angry about it. And I don’t follow it because it annoys me. Prohibitionists will go on all day about all the harms, and the danger it has for our children and communities. But the whole reason it’s like that is because it’s prohibited to begin with. Of course, even decriminalise it! I’m not saying legalise it, just fucking decriminalise it, it is a plant! When I see people getting shitty with me about it, or they try to open dialogue about it, like: ‘Yes, well my nephew smoked weed and then he had schizophrenia!’, I’m like, ‘Do you think if your nephew, who suffered from mental health issues, drank sixteen vodkas, or went out on an Irish night out (and you know what they’re like), or an Irish wedding, you think that wouldn’t have happened?’ The more you demonise it and put it as The Boogeyman, the scarier it becomes. You know what I mean? It’s so frustrating.

And you know what, there’s so many fuckin’ people (and I’m) like, ‘You need to fucking smoke. You need to have an edible and you need to fucking chill.’ *Laughter* You need to calm down. You just need to chill, you need to take it a step back, you know? What resources and supports were available in Barcelona to help set up Club Guru? It wasn’t easy at all. It was probably one of the most difficult things. Now, if you go to Italy, or Spain, anywhere in mainland Europe that’s not an island, the bureaucracy side of things is a fucking shit show. I remember applying for my Passport in Ireland, and after every page they would say, ‘Well done! Next page.’ And I was like, ‘This is so lovely.’ *Laughter* ‘This is so nice, being talked to nicely.’ But here, it’s just an absolute fucking shit show. It was very difficult, very time consuming, it was very expensive for the licenses and stuff. But I think it’s the best thing that’s ever happened (to me).

To be able to experience marijuana the way I’m experiencing it now, in such a calm and tranquil environment, is such a different smoke. You get high differently. Yeah. You’re with people who love it, you have these insane conversations. And of course, there’s a bit of stupidity there, because it’s still a drug, it’s still fun. But it’s been great, it’s been so worth it. Did you ever hike up to a hill and it’s a cloudy day and the view is cloudy and you’re like, ‘Fuck this’? *Kyla laughs* Well, it was the opposite of that. At times, it was like: ‘Fuck this hike’. I don’t know how to put it into words, but sometimes I know when something is gonna work. I have a good business mind and I thought: ‘This is gonna work. This is gonna change my life, and I know it is.’ Which is a gift. I’m beyond grateful, it’s something else. I had a group of people yesterday that were trying the non-tobacco Herbernia stuff. I was reading some of your blog posts for people and they were shocked at the things you have to discuss on it, because of the idea in Ireland of marijuana.

I was like, ‘Yeah, these are writers who have to dance around something, dance with the Devil, hide their names.’ It’s fucking insane. And they were shook from it, it’s such bullshit. They were like, ‘Irish people are so fun though!’ And I’m like, ‘No.’ We ARE, but.. It is odd, ‘cause we are a fun-loving people, but we’re just so afraid to embrace weed. I remember the last time I was home before the pandemic, and I met another Instagrammer, she’s a really famous blogger. And I was at about 20k (followers), and she was like: ‘I’m gonna give you some advice. You’re doing really well on Instagram, but you need to stop talking about weed.’ And I said, ‘I absolutely won’t. It’s helped me so much on my journey in life. It’s really, really changed my life and I won’t not talk about it.’ And then the same night, we were out, and she asked: ‘D’you want a line?’ And I was like, ‘Are you fucking kidding me? You’re gonna sit there on your high horse and give me fucking advice and you’re shoving that shit up your nose that’s been smuggled in in someone’s ass? Fuck you.’ It’s such hypocrisy, such bullshit. 

Can you give our readers an outline of how a typical Cannabis Social Club works? You come into the reception to become a member. You have to be recommended, you can’t just walk in. You give me your ID and I put in your ID details. You top up there, so you give a donation to the social club. We’ll say it’s €12 or €15 a gram for the good weed, and you’ve got, whatever, €30 on your membership. And then you’ll say, ‘I’d like to collect four grams of Lemon Haze.’ And then I’m like, ‘That’s absolutely fine, thank you for your donation.’ But it’s all non-profit. You have to say ‘collect’, and ‘receive’, and ‘donate’. There’s no buying, there’s no selling, etc. Why do you think Catalunya, and Spain in general, has a more tolerant, open-minded attitude about weed? In Ireland, there’s about 4.5 million people. And about 2 million are in (Greater) Dublin. So, the rest, there’s no one. We’re living in a place here where there’s shitloads of people. When you have that many people, no one gives a shit if you want to smoke a joint or not smoke a joint, once you’re not causing any distress to anyone.

I think that it’s just, having the amount of people that are in the city, and having that diversity. I’m sitting in the club now and Kobe Smith is from Hawaii, and Matthew Murtha is from Ohio, and there’s another comedian downstairs from Berlin. John (Allis) is from New Zealand. There’s just other shit to do! So it’s not just any old comedy club there, it’s an awesome place! Oh no, no, we are the crème de la crème of European comedy. And I know what you’re thinking: ‘You’re sitting there, licking your own nipples.’ I’m not, this is what other people have said. *Kyla laughs* I love Ireland to the ends of the earth and back again, I really do, it’s my soul. But, in Ireland there’s this thing a lot of the time where we talk about other people, a gossip culture. Whereas here, people just have their own lives, and they’re fulfilled in their lives, and you talk about stuff. About different things. And I know that sounds silly, but I think this society’s way of being and their relationship to marijuana is very hand-in-hand. And the fact that no one gives a fuck. It’s a different thing, it’s just a completely different relationship to the drug.

And people have been around it longer, and they’ve seen the long term effects and realise that it’s nothing. If you have a boyfriend or a girlfriend of a life partner that is a stoner, you are guaranteed they won’t do the dirt. And not because they’re some amazing human being, but because they couldn’t be fucked. It’s a different buzz, you know what I mean? It really, really is. So I don’t think it’s tolerance, I think it’s just not giving a fuck. I think they just have bigger fish to fry than a plant that grows out of the ground. What do you think the Irish government can learn from the Spanish system of Cannabis Social Clubs? I think the Irish government can learn that you can have it in your society and amongst the general population, without it being in your face. Here, it all has to be under recommendation, you have to know someone in the club. So, if you don’t want to have this Amsterdam vibe, where everyone goes to get high, you can do it in a smart way. You can do it in a discreet way, which is fine.

The other day, I was in the club and this guy came in. Fucking ride, gorgeous. He’s a Doctor. But an actual medical Doctor, not a fuckin’ voodoo guy, an actual Doctor. He works in Germany as a GP and they’ve legalised medical marijuana. So, he comes in and he’s telling me about all this stuff. And as I’ve said, when I’ve suffered with anxiety, weed has gotten… Like, I would never say now, ‘I have anxiety’. Or, ‘I’m anxious.’ Nah. I just have this little thing that I can fix with a flower the Earth gives me. That, in itself, is incredible. If we just legalised it for medical reasons, it would be amazing. It would. And I think the only reason that we’re not is ‘cause the big pharmaceutical companies would be out of business, because it would just be so much easier to manage, and so much cheaper to heal people from what Mother Nature gives us. Rather than producing things in labs and putting pills into our bodies. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a complete hippie. I know that medicine is great and thank God for it.

What I put into my body on a daily basis is so important, because (cannabis) is my medicine. It’s the same with food, drugs, liquids. I think that’s just how it has to be. Everything in balance, in moderation. I can’t imagine going home and having that stigma on me, not being able to talk about weed. Being with my family and not being able to go for a smoke. It just seems so silly to me now, you know what I mean? It’s fucked up, but fair play to you for doing what you’re doing. You can talk about it, but many people seem indifferent unless they smoke. People often don’t seem to want to learn more about it. It’s not on their radar. It’s strange to me. I think, if they did know more about it, they’d be all about it then! They’d love it! Me and my mom used to argue over weed all the time. When I first started doing Instagram, and I used to post things about weed, she was like: ‘You’re not gonna get a job, you’re not gonna get an agency, you’re not gonna get a brand.’

And I said: ‘I don’t wanna work for someone who doesn’t believe in what I believe in.’ Yeah. I can make money, I’m a hard worker. I don’t need to make money quick and give up who I am and what I think and what I stand for, for a little bit of extra cash. I’m not willing to do that, you know what I mean? Yeah. And I think that that could be a big reason why Ireland isn’t progressive (with cannabis). Because we are very, keeping up appearances sometimes, ‘cause we’re a small place. If you go on to the gossip websites, about me, ‘cause obviously now I’m a big Instagram guy, (they say) ‘Oh yeah.. Yer one, the slut, with her waccy tobaccy!*Richard giggles* Sex and weed! They’re not insults! The fact that I have good sex and I smoke good weed, that’s not an insult.. You’re not getting it! *Laughter* Thank you so much, Ms. Cobbler! My pleasure! Thanks for everything. I wish you all the best with Club Guru and indeed your comedy career! Thank you so much, bye!

Natalie O’Regan | Cork, Ireland | 01.11.2020

Natalie is a Master of Law candidate at University College Cork with an interest in drug policy reform and harm reduction. Her area of research involves the criminological theory of stigma and its impact on cannabis users. She advocates for decriminalisation as the first step needed in the process of removing such stigma. Twitter: @NatalieORegan1

When did drug policy and harm reduction first catch your interest and why? Well, I think it was Vera Twomey was the first person that kind of sparked my interest in cannabis and the laws surrounding cannabis, and that was even before I studied law. And I remember feeling passionate about her fight to get access to medicinal cannabis for her daughter. And I remember, I think I was living in Wicklow or Dublin at the time and she was walking up to the Dáil and we drove and we stood on the side of the road while she was walking past and I started bawling crying. I didn’t know why I was crying, I didn’t know this woman, I didn’t know her daughter. It kind of resonated with me an awful lot. I think that she made a big impression. Yeah, I think that she kind of turned the tide on the view of cannabis in society, that it wasn’t just a drug anymore. That it is a valid medicine. And I think because she was able to show through her experience that it did help her daughter and that it had more benefits than side-effects, I think that changed a lot of peoples’ attitudes when it comes to cannabis and drug policy in general.

Personally, I have grown up with friends who have used all forms of drugs and I always thought there was a better way that society could respond to them and to respond to drug use in general. And I’ve seen the cycle of drugs, suspended sentences, criminal records, prison sentences, and it just seemed like it was a revolving door. They were going in, they were coming out, they couldn’t get a job, they were going back into prison and I just saw it as a waste of time and a waste of taxpayer’s money. Even where friends did go to treatment for whatever drugs, including cannabis, it was always abstinence-based and it was: “You have to abstain from drug abuse”. And I know a few who it didn’t work for. They’d relapse, they felt shame, they felt guilt, they felt like they were a failure. And it showed, especially in some of my friends, that abstinence is not a measure of your success when you are dealing with drug use. And I just thought the way all of that works is more damaging than helpful, in society.

So that was drug policy. For harm reduction, I left school at sixteen years of age. I went back to college at thirty and I remember the first couple of weeks at UCC [University College Cork] coming across 1Students for Sensible Drug Policy. And it was the first open conversation that I was witness to for safe consumption, what to expect when you’re taking drugs, what are the side effects, what feelings are you gonna have… And as a thirty year old woman who was around drugs in the community growing up, it was shocking that it was the first time I heard of it. It’s the first time this conversation was being had. And it’s not a very open conversation in Ireland, I think. Everything is very hush hush. Yeah, and even on campus you could see you were getting a couple of funny looks from a few people. But I was shocked, thirty years of age and this was the first time I was actually hearing a conversation about drug use. 

Do you have any particular examples of drug policy or harm reduction that you came across in your studies that would have very strongly formed your views on both?

I suppose the first example of a different drugs policy that shocked me was the typical example of going to Amsterdam. I think it’s a kind of a right of passage at this stage, to go to Amsterdam. And I remember the narrative around cannabis and drug use in general in Ireland was very, very negative. When I went to Amsterdam, it was legally purchased and openly consumed… Before going over there, I had an image in my head that you’d have drug addicts on the street and all the really bad social consequences that you would hear of that surrounds the narrative of the use of drugs in Ireland. But there was none of that, there were no social consequences that you could see. People were openly buying and consuming it. And I think when you look at the laws in Ireland and everywhere else, these social consequences are the grounding of this prohibition. This is why we have to prohibit it.

But when it’s not prohibited, or when it is legally consumed in Amsterdam, there are none of those social consequences that surround the narrative in Ireland, and that really, really was an eye-opener.

Where do you think cannabis users face the most stigmatisation in their lives, we’ll say in Ireland, for example? In my opinion, it goes through every aspect of a cannabis user’s life. And in a way it almost has been weaponised in the war on drugs. It’s been used to shame people, to tell people that it’s wrong. For external stigma, you have the general public’s attitude towards drug users and cannabis users. “It’s your own fault”, there’s blame-worthiness attached. They don’t want drug users living in their community. It’s a major barrier to employment with the criminal records and Garda vetting. It even affects accessing health. You’re going to hide your cannabis use from health professionals for fear of shame, for fear of stigma. And research has shown that health professionals, nurses, Doctors – they are very prejudicial and stigmatising toward drug users. 

Another thing that was surprising in my research was that, while training or practising, education on drug use is key to removing this stigma. That attitudes of health professionals changed dramatically once they were educated on drug use. Do you think that’s more of a systemic thing with third level education for people studying medicine, that the problem mainly lies there? Or that it’s more a case of what your parents and other authority figures would have said as you’re growing up?

I think education is something that’s not being utilised enough in all areas. From Doctors, GPs, nurses… Educating the young, the public in general.. I think education is a key that’s not being utilised properly. And when you’re talking about nurses and Doctors training… During their training in third level education, and qualifying to be a nurse or a Doctor, there is no training whatsoever on substance use. That’s astonishing, really. Even GPs have to get specialised training to be able to prescribe methadone to their patients. Unless a GP is going to specialise in it.. It’s disgraceful, why are you not getting trained in it, if you’re going to come across it in everyday life? There’s a lot of drug users in Ireland. And the fact that you get people addicted to drugs who arrive in the emergency room on a pretty regular basis from overdoses. It’s amazing that they’re not given that training by default. You’d think even in an emergency setting they’d get a little bit of training ‘cause they’re going to come across it but there’s nothing! It’s quite shocking.

Have you personally become aware of, or witnessed, examples of cannabis user stigma? If you look at the world it’s everywhere. From movies, to TV, to the language that people use like your stoners, your unproductive, your undesired, your lazy, like Cheech & Chong. It’s the typical example of “That’s what stoners are, that’s what cannabis users are.” And even in media portrayals, the use of the language and the way that they frame cannabis users is often in a very bad light and that reinforces the negative perception that the public holds. So people think: “Oh, I’m legitimised in holding my bad opinion of cannabis users.” Personally, I’ve witnessed friends who have smoked cannabis that have been rejected by their family, kicked out of home, rejected by the whole community. And friends who have been convicted of personal possession that wouldn’t have been able to work in their chosen fields because of their Garda vetting and their criminal records.

I think it is everywhere if you look for it and I think I wouldn’t have noticed how much of it was there until I started my research. Yeah. I think a lot of people would be surprised how much that can affect someone’s life, even if they’re caught with a small amount of cannabis. Like, caught with a joint you get a suspended sentence, but you still have a criminal record. Yeah. Why do you believe that decriminalisation is a crucial part of removing the stigma faced by users? I don’t think it is the final solution, I don’t think that it’s the absolute solution. But it is the first step. Ideally, I’d love to see full legalisation but I think we’re a good few years away from that yet in Ireland. If you remove the criminality that’s associated with cannabis use and remove the criminal label, you remove the legitimised stigma that the public holds. So, once the public perception is no longer legitimised, they feel that their opinion is no longer accepted so it may allow people to think again and have another look at cannabis users in general and maybe change their opinion. 2Portugal’s main aim of their decriminalisation was to remove the stigma, so by removing this, they changed the public perception which is very slow to change, but it is changing. They’ve increased the uptake in health and treatment options. They have increased the public perception of cannabis users in general. The public, as I said, it is very slow to change. But I think once everything around the public changes, it’s like a default that the public will have to change eventually.

It’s been said that racist fear-mongering in relation to immigrant minorities and their use of cannabis was a core deciding factor behind the original prohibition of cannabis. Would you agree that that was the case? It can be said. There have been articles on the original prohibition in America and how it was targeted at the jazz scene, that they were all marijuana smokers. But I think besides racist fear-mongering.. I think in general, society needs to label those that they do not want in their society. And they need to label them as outsiders, as undesirables. That creates a kind of “Them Vs. Us” attitude. “We are not like them, we don’t want them in our community, we are better than them”. By labelling people as undesirables, those that feel that they are at the higher end of society are able to legitimise their feelings towards the lower end of society.

And I think through prohibition, this label became formalised through the criminal justice approach and the prohibition of cannabis users. So I wouldn’t break it down to race or minorities or ethnicities, but I think it can be said in every society that there is a labelling process of undesirables and that’s where it came from. It just grows in society.

Do you believe that there is a high level of ethnic profiling in Europe, in terms of stop and search procedures by police checking for cannabis possession? I don’t think that it can be broken down to ethnicity alone. I don’t think that is the underlying reason for profiling. I’d say the stigma and negative perception of cannabis users can attach to a whole community as well as the individual. So anyone from a certain area will be under suspicion for drug use if there’s high drug use in the area. Like, here in Cork you can drive through certain areas and you’re stopped and you get searched ‘cause the Gardaí will use the excuse that there’s drug dealing in the area. Again, I think it comes down to labelling and stereotypes where you need to label the undesirables and this is what the undesirables look like. This is where they live, this is how they act, and that’s why it came, I think. In my opinion anyway.

What are some of the more promising examples of drug laws around the world, from your perspective? I think the increase in legalisation across the world is taking strides in the last number of years. There’s more and more countries legalising, whether it’s for medicinal purposes or recreational purposes. Even in the recent New Zealand referendum, although they didn’t vote for recreational cannabis, it was surprising that almost 49% of the country voted ‘Yes’. So, even that shows that a good campaign of information and education to the public has merits and can be beneficial. The example that comes up all the time for promising drug laws is Portugal’s decriminalisation. As I said, it’s not the be all and end all, it is not the final solution or the brilliant solution that everyone may think it is, but it has shown success. And it means that a generation of cannabis users will no longer be criminalised. From there, you can step up. That will have knock-on consequences, they won’t be criminalised. We’ll say, if it was in Ireland, they wouldn’t have a Garda vetting problem, they wouldn’t have a criminal record. And that little thing of removing criminalisation can have knock-on consequences far beyond anything you would originally think of. 

What is your opinion on the implementation of MCAP [Medicinal Cannabis Access Programme] in Ireland so far? I’m not really very up to speed on the medicinal aspect of it legal-wise, because I just steered away from it in my research. But, just in general, it needs to be expanded to more illnesses and more issues. You were talking to Alicia Maher recently. An amazing girl, an absolutely fantastic woman. Incredible. She stopped taking thirty tablets a day, I think she was taking? And it’s all cured by a plant you can grow yourself, and that is cheap as chips when you grow it yourself! In Ireland, she wouldn’t qualify for that programme. So, I do think it needs to be expanded to more illnesses. I also think that access to the programme needs to be a valid first option when you do go to the Doctor, where a patient can choose their treatment. Currently, it’s available only when all other options are exhausted. And I don’t think that’s right, I think it should be available as a valid first option. Also, in terms of access to filling your prescriptions in Ireland… There’s a lot of issues around it. People have to travel, they’re finding it hard to get their prescription filled… You shouldn’t have to travel to get your prescription filled. If you are legally entitled to it, you should be able to get it in a pharmacy, where you get everything else. And also it needs to be available on the medical card. 

You need to make it a viable option for people, you need to make it a viable choice for people. And when you don’t include it under the medical card scheme, or have a reimbursement for it, it is a barrier to a lot of people who would benefit from it. Yeah, and even the amount you have to pay up front to access it when you do qualify.… I think it needs to be made open to a lot more people. How do you envision drug policy, and in particular cannabis policy, taking shape in Ireland in the next decade? Well thankfully my name isn’t Mystic Meg, so I’m not very good at prediction! Laughter But I do think the first step of what we were promised when people were voting in the general election was a 3Citizens Assembly. That will at least guide the Oireachtas on what is the general public opinion and the general attitude towards cannabis in Ireland. I think without the Citizens Assembly, it’s gonna be the blind leading the blind in terms of making legislation for any form of cannabis policy in the future. Without some form of engagement with the public of Ireland on what the attitudes are, and what the issues are, through a Citizens Assembly, the Oireachtas are not going to do right, in my opinion. I think they’re probably gonna mess it up more than they will fix it, if they don’t. The Irish government’s current drug policy claims that it’s health led and health approached and health focused, but it’s still administered through the criminal justice approach. 

So even in August 2019 I think, they announced that for personal possession of cannabis, for the first and maybe the second time, being caught would not result in a criminal conviction. But yet again, it is still administered through the criminal justice approach, regardless. Yes, you’re staying away from the Courts, but it’s still an adult caution, you still have contact with the Guards, you still have contact with the criminal justice system. And I don’t think that needs to happen, I think that it was just laziness on the part of whoever was writing the drug policy. I’d love to see decriminalisation in Ireland as a first step. Hopefully legalisation in the future, but I think we’re about ten or fifteen years away from that yet I’d say. 

How do you think current Irish government policies in terms of harm reduction practices could be improved? In terms of cannabis, in general, there’s very little direction in the national drug strategy and in documents themselves, in relation to harm reduction. The dominant conversation around harm reduction in cannabis is usually about administration and mixing it with tobacco and mental health issues. So, I think a significant investment in mental health is needed in general in Ireland. Not specifically down to any cannabis side-effects, but investment in treatment, in alternatives, in education are some things that are greatly needed in Ireland. For example, education in the national drug strategy is limited to school settings and youth services, so this excludes a lot of people who are not in an education setting. I left school at sixteen, I didn’t go back to college till I was thirty. The first drug conversation I had was at thirty years of age. 

Health – there’s no discussion around the everyday health of a drug user in the national drug strategy. As I was saying a while ago with the GPs, they’re not trained, they’re not informed on drug uses and that has consequences on a cannabis user’s life. If they don’t feel that their GP is aware enough, they’re going to hide the fact that they use cannabis from their GP, which may have an impact on whatever medical issues they have. And then you may have other prescriptions that you’re using alongside it and you don’t know what you’re doing properly… Yep. I think that stigma is a valid harm of cannabis use. We don’t have the high risk of overdose like heroin users, or of contracting illnesses from sharing drug-taking equipment. We don’t have that risk. And I think there is an overlook of how important stigma is on a cannabis user’s life. It is a valid harm, it needs to be minimised. It needs to be discussed first and foremost. Even in the national drug strategy, decriminalisation is mentioned once, and I don’t think stigma is mentioned at all, at all, throughout the whole strategy. So, without incorporating that into your conversation of harm reduction, you’re not gonna get anywhere. Especially in terms of cannabis use. It’s not compassionate basically, it doesn’t think about it on a human level. No, it doesn’t. It’s very rigid, departmental, focused. There’s no compassionate conversation around it.

In terms of the harder, more dangerous drugs, like heroin, and people who are addicted to those substances… What suggestions would you make for harm reduction with those. Are we severely lacking in safe injection centres and facilities like that? Yes. What would be the first steps to start to deal better with severe addiction issues like that? They promised safe injection zones left, right and centre. But a lot of the backlash and the rhetoric for them is the ‘not in my back garden’ mentality. Nobody wants 200 heroin users turning up on a daily basis in their back garden, I completely understand that. But, if a community has an overwhelming heroin addiction, it needs to be addressed. So, we need safe injection zones, sterile equipment, needle exchanges. But I think one thing that’s not being discussed enough around heroin users is Naxolone. You need training, you need a prescription. It’s not available for the people who are out on the street, who are in the community of heroin users. It’s not available to homeless services, who go out in the evening. The Guards walking down the street, why don’t they have Naxolone on them? You have to get a prescription, you have to get it filled, you have to get training, licences… It’s a life-saving option that’s there, but it’s too difficult to get access to, or to be able to use it effectively.

Could you give some examples of some of the more shocking or striking examples of data you discovered over the course of your Masters research? I always figured that cannabis use was… not prevalent, but I always presumed that there would be a high level of cannabis use. But, some of the figures I came across in the European report, millions of people in Europe are using cannabis! It is the most widely-used drug and it’s far beyond heroin use, cocaine use, prescription abuse… And, I think, for something that is so prevalent and so widely used there’s not enough focus on it. The focus is always on the lower-use more dangerous drugs. I think it was 92 million in the European Union who use cannabis in their lives. Even when you look at prison numbers in Portugal during my research. They had the highest proportion of drug users in prison in 1999, to having the lowest in 2008. I think they decreased nearly 50% in the first 8-10 years of decriminalisation. The shock of how many people were criminalised for cannabis use. The drop of 50% can show you that that many people did not need to be criminalised. It’s amazing. It’s a bit puzzling why more countries in Europe don’t try to emulate their success. Even if you look at the figures by the 4Commission for the Dissuasion of Drug Addiction (Comissões para a Dissuasão da Toxicodependência – CDT) in Portugal… 80-90% of the cases that came before the CDT had no evidence of addiction. They were not addicted to drugs, they were recreational users.

I always had the thought in my head, that usage does not equal addiction. And I think those figures from the CDT really cemented that view of: “Just because you use a drug, does not mean you’re addicted and you need help”. What was the focus of your research paper? What was your main area of interest? The title I ended up with was: “Blunt Trauma – Effective Stigma on Cannabis Users and Why We Need to Decriminalise Personal Possession”. Okay. I wanted a pun title. I was playing around with so many puns, I was absolutely determined to get one in there, to keep my Supervisor happy, ‘cause she begged me: “Please get a pun in the title, I love my puns!” Richard Laughs And she came up with a brilliant one, she called it: “Nip it in the Bud”. And I was like, “Oh that’s so good, but I can’t use it, it’s yours! I really have to come up with my own one now, but you’ve taken the best one!” Natalie laughs Yours is better, but they’re both good! So, I titled it “Blunt Trauma”, which I was proud of. 

Was that research paper focused on Ireland, or was it more international? It was kind of a happy mix of everything. I explained the international overlook of where Ireland is in terms of flexibility and room for manoeuvre in international law. I discussed the changing attitude internationally, from back in the United Nations Special Assembly in 1998 about advocating for a drug-free world, which you’re never going to get, to harm reduction and decriminalisation in 2016. And it has moved away from the fact that we’re never going to achieve a drug-free world. They were probably a bit optimistic! And I think the most striking part was looking at 5Kofi Annan. In 1998, he was a real advocate for a drug-free world, and he completely changed his narrative by the time 2016 had come around. He had joined the Global Drugs Policy Commission. He completely changed his view on international drug policy and it was quite refreshing to see that… no offence… even someone at that age can change their mind. You can be educated and you can change your opinion! 

Natalie, it’s been a pleasure, thanks a million for your time. Thanks very much! I’ll leave you with Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity.. Doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result! I think that sums up drug policy perfectly in Ireland!

References:

1 Information on Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP): https://ssdp.org/ssdp-history/

2 A commentary on Portugal’s decriminalisation of drugs, by The New York Times:

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/05/upshot/portugal-drug-legalization-treatment.html

3 A piece on the Irish Citizens Assembly on Drugs by The Irish Examiner:

https://www.irishexaminer.com/opinion/commentanalysis/arid-40042595.html

4 Dissuasion commissions are mentioned in this BBC article on Portugal’s decriminalisation of drugs:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/from_our_own_correspondent/8106689.stm

5 Kofi Annan’s opinion on the illegality of drugs: https://www.drugpolicy.org.au/kofi_annan_time_to_legalize

Anonymous | Ireland | 05.10.2020

Richard chats with a multi-faceted performer who incorporates burlesque, aerials and pole dancing into her shows. That’s when she’s not modelling, organising events, producing, or booking talent. She also runs a burlesque and cabaret variety show. This interview has been redacted in places, with certain sections cut to ensure the interviewee’s anonymity.

Hello! Hi! You went to see a show in 2009 and that was what inspired you to take up burlesque. Yes. And what about the aerial arts side of things, when did that become a part of the picture? Well, it was actually my son who started doing the aerial stuff as a part of his occupational therapy when he was a kid. And when the unit closed, I went to find somebody that was doing some kind of aerial work to see if they could help me to buy the equipment and if I could possibly do it with him at home somehow. So that’s how I started taking classes. And when did you begin pole dancing? I started pole dancing in maybe 2008 or 2009, originally. And I started aerial, maybe 2010. But my first aerial performance was 2012.

It must be very strange for any people who perform that all of this restriction is in place now. I presume there’s been a virtual burlesque show or two in the last few months. Absolutely, there’s loads of them! I’ve performed at a few, I know loads of people that are running regular shows. There’s some great ones running from Ireland as well! There’s a lot of variety out there. Roughly when did you begin using cannabis? As a teenager. I would’ve started smoking hashish, I don’t think I ever saw actual cannabis. I didn’t see weed until… I was maybe seventeen before I ever saw it. Before then, it would’ve been hash. But I probably started smoking at about fifteen, sixteen. Okay. So you’re tenured in that area! She laughs Do you ever use it as a part of the rehearsal process or a part of the show, and if so, does it help in terms of skills and stage presence? Does it enhance the overall experience? I wouldn’t smoke before I go on stage, because obviously you need to be quite sharp. And I’m not a sativa smoker. It wouldn’t be my preference. And if you want that kind of mental clarity, that kind of sharpness, you’d want to be smoking sativa. 

My preference would be for indica and I would use it for several different things. Often for anxiety, or for nerves if I’m particularly anxious leading up to a performance. You always get a certain amount of nerves and that’s a good thing. You want that, you know? It means you care. If you stop getting nervous, then you should worry. She giggles Yeah. And you should throw in the towel, probably. Yeah, because that’s when you’re getting complacent and then that’s probably when you’re gonna make a mistake, or you’re gonna fall over yourself, or something’s gonna happen. Just to keep you on your toes. I also would predominantly use it for stretching, because I would do a lot of flexibility kind of stuff. And I didn’t start anything to do with flexibility till I was nearly thirty. I couldn’t touch my toes. Okay. And everybody thought I should not aim for it. Everyone was kinda like: “Ooh, I wouldn’t really bother with the splits.” Doubters! “You don’t need it!” And I’m like: “What you really mean is I’m not gonna get it, right?” And they’re like, “Well, you’re just on the wrong side of twenty. And when you’re twenty-five, your flexibility doesn’t really get any better.

So you’re just not gonna get anywhere. And look, don’t worry if it doesn’t happen!” And I was like: “Oooh girl, watch this!” Very supportive! Laughter Well, you ultimately proved them wrong. Yeah, I got my splits at thirty. Nice! And very proud of it. And I still have splits on both sides. But that’s because I take time to work them. But I also take time when I do want to relax and I want to stretch for a few hours. I’ll have a smoke and then I have the patience to stay still for long periods of time and actually really relax and move into a stretch, so that I’m not holding or pushing against it, which is kind of counteractive. So you’d say it helps you to get in the zone, in the right mind state as well.  Very much so. And I do know a lot of athletes that would use it specifically with things like that, when they need to focus and concentrate and they need to stay in one position for a long time and relax into it when your body doesn’t necessarily want to, you know? Yeah, or if you yourself are kind of restless with all of the thoughts going on in your head. Yeah. 

A previous interviewee of mine, Sienna Moodie, said similar. That it helps her to get in the zone, to stretch and to do meditation. She incorporates it into her daily lessons with clients. I feel that lifestyles like hers and yours help to disprove the stereotype of the lazy stoner or the waster. I really don’t get that. I mean, don’t get me wrong. We all have a couple of friends that probably smoke too much for their motivation. She giggles If that makes any sense? Where it doesn’t balance. But most people I know would be very high-functioning stoners. People that smoke quite regularly, when they want to, when they need to. But still have a very high-functioning lifestyle. That train a lot, that work out a lot, that use it to balance, because it’s so… We run at such a high level all of the time that it’s good to have something that helps you to – clicks fingers – switch off really quickly and just disengage. If only people had easier access to it! I know! It would be very helpful. I also would use cannabis for chronic pain. I have a lot of gynae issues, I had a lot of cysts on my ovaries that burst and I ended up having a couple of operations. 

And I had a part of my womb removed – one of my fallopian tubes and one of my ovaries on one side. I’m really sorry to hear that. It sounds like you’ve been through a lot. That’s okay. Well, it was a few years ago. And there was a lot of rehabilitation on my pelvis and stuff that needed to be done. A lot of scar tissue, which led in itself to its own problems. But I can pain manage just fine without any medication whatsoever, if I have weed. I don’t need to take any painkillers, which I’d prefer not to. When I was in hospital, I was on morphine and it didn’t agree with me. I don’t do very well with very strong painkillers. I vomit a lot. I’ve a very easily upset stomach, so even though I was on a morphine drip, it meant that I vomited quite a bit and I was hallucinating. And I really didn’t like it and kept begging to be taken off it. So once I got home even though I had very heavy painkillers, the first thing I did was start swapping them and lessening the dosage of the painkillers and then changing over to a more natural approach. Okay. And still now, if my hip in particular gets very caught up, or if I have a lot of bloating… because I do have a tumour on the one remaining ovary that I have, still. 

But if they take out the one remaining ovary I have I’ll go into early menopause, and I’m only nearly forty. So obviously we’d like to avoid that, if possible. So some days it would be more painful than others and it also helps me to manage that, you know? So for me, it’s very much an all-rounder. You don’t wanna see me when I’m sober. I talk so fast that it’s really hard to keep up with me. Laughter So it’s very valuable to you in your daily life. It can do for any number of issues and for me it’s a part of my life in a very fundamental way. I genuinely don’t believe that I’m addicted to it in any way, shape or form. Because if I don’t have it I’m not upset, I’m not angry, I’m not annoyed, I’m not pacing. Right. I might get that way if I don’t have a cigarette for twenty-four hours. It’s the only thing I can genuinely say I’m possibly addicted to, cigarettes. And coffee! Richard laughs You and me both! Although, I changed to decaff and that can happen too. I just have to get the flavour of it. Okay. I don’t see it as an addiction by any means, but I definitely see it as something that enhances my life, makes me more comfortable to live in all aspects.

Whether it’s down to pain, down to anxiety. Just helping my creativity, my focus, my stretching. It enhances my life in a lot of ways. So it’s very, very, very upsetting to me, the laws here. I have to constantly remind myself that it’s not legal, because I genuinely forget. I have been approached in a very busy bar before… where I had forgotten myself and started rolling on the table. While having a conversation with a couple of other people, one of the bar staff came over and went: “Sweetie, will you do me a favour? Will you put that away? Because it’s really smelly.” And I looked really surprised and went “Sorry?”, and then looked down at what I was doing and went: “Oh my God, I’m so sorry! I’m so sorry!” Richard laughs Like, “One second, I’ll just fly it off the table!” and he just started laughing and said: “I wasn’t really sure what was happening for a second. Smells beautiful by the way!” And I was like, “Sorry!” Laughter These things happen. So many people smoke. I’ve never, ever… I’ve never had anybody turn around and be like, “Oh…” Even if they’re not smokers, I find people very accepting, very open. 

It’s only recently that I felt shame about it. And really disliked that, a lot. Is that down to what happened [some months ago]? Yeah. They went out of their way to make me feel shame and that bothered me a lot. Do you want to talk about that? Yeah that’s no problem. I can give you some information on it of course, but as nothing has come of any proceedings as of yet, I don’t know what I can say. I have a solicitor who advised me to be very careful about what I say in general. But I’m pretty sure five years ago, if I had had an abortion, I would’ve been told to do the same thing! Right. I fought for 1Repeal the Eighth [a campaign for women to have the right to a legal abortion in the Republic of Ireland] and I never had an abortion, and obviously now knowing my gynea history I’m never going to have one. I couldn’t even get pregnant if I wanted to. But I fought for it because I thought it should be a fundamental right for anybody to make that choice for themselves. And that’s how I feel about this as well. 

Most friends that I’ve spoken to agree with me on that, in that they may or may not be smokers, but they believe that as a fundamental human right, that I should not be made to feel ashamed for something as simple as a plant. Yeah. And as an adult who knows how to use it responsibly and who in your case actually requires it. I have my own house, I keep to myself, I run my own business. I don’t bother anybody. I barely go out, so it should be of no consequence. And if they could make me feel like that, and if they could treat me the way that they did. I would consider myself pretty well-spoken, I’m quite calm, I’m quite coherent. I’m usually pretty okay at diffusing a situation, and that was very hard to diffuse. And I felt very threatened in my own home by a member of Gardaí. And that felt extremely uncomfortable. And it just made me think, “If that’s the way they’re behaving to a thirty-nine year old woman, what way are they behaving to sixteen year old young fellas?” I had to remind them that I wasn’t some teenager that they found 2gattin’ in a field. She giggles And I also had to remind them it wasn’t 3Narcos. 

Richard laughs You know what I mean? This is [Ireland]. She laughs In broad, general terms, can you give me an outline of what happened? I would be surprised if any charge could be made from it, being honest. I’d be surprised. I wasn’t fully within the law, but how far I was outside it is kind of questionable. Because yes, there was plants. None had flowers. None had buds. None had anything but leaves. They were about four weeks old, and quite bushy. They were not auto-feminized, and very likely male. But technically that’s not quite legal either. It seems to be a grey area of stuff. Yeah, with seeds. It doesn’t really make much sense, in my opinion.  Yeah. So apparently, once you have planted that seed in soil and put water on it, then that technically counts. And I just think the whole thing is quite ridiculous. The more you look into it, the more ridiculous it gets. And it is all at their discretion. She laughs Human nature kicks in there as well, you know? With discretion. Yeah. And I’d like to say they’re all exemplary human beings, but unfortunately out of my experiences with them, [it was] not great…

And it was [redacted] of them who arrived – Well there was… [redacted] male Guards and one female, who actually came into my house first. By the time they were leaving, they had brought [redacted]. Oh my God. She giggles As if you were the cartel… I was like, “Lads, I swear! 4Pablo Escobar is not hiding in the closet here anywhere! I came out of the closet years ago.” She laughs “There’s no-one else hiding in there, promise!” Oh my goodness. So I still don’t know where it came from. I have no idea what the background to it was. I don’t know exactly what they were looking for. I don’t know exactly what they expected to find. I don’t know exactly why they felt it was necessary to have such a show of force at [redacted] that night. Yeah. And without identifying any of them, how did they deal with you throughout the raid? I have to say, there were two male Guards that I found particularly respectful. The female Guard was very respectful. There were [redacted] male Guards that behaved like schoolboys. A lot of giggling, snickering, this kind of stupid behaviour. And there was one actual aggressive Guard, who slammed me against the wall at one point. 

Slammed me against the door frame. I had to keep reminding him I wasn’t going anywhere. He told me not to run. I asked him where he thought I was running to, in my slippers and pyjamas. Yeah. I don’t even have a car! I have no idea what he thought I was trying to do. I just reminded him that I was trying to go and get the thing that he asked me to get. So, it was very unnecessary behaviour. He very definitely tried to intimidate me and didn’t like it when it didn’t work. I’m not intimidated easily. It sounds like he was trying to get an aggressive reaction out of you, to escalate it. Yes, a hundred percent. That is my belief. To the point where I told both of them, there was no point in trying to continue to goad me. So, at one point, the female Garda had taken me into my bedroom as they were going through my stuff. And there were [redacted] male Guards in the hallway that were snickering and whispering and laughing. And I overheard one of them say: “Yeah, she’s a stripper.” And I got annoyed, and I said: “Can I ask why there are [redacted] men in my house, and why [redacted] of them are behaving like schoolboys out in the hallway?”

“Can the [redacted] men, or at least [redacted] of you, leave my house now that you’re finished searching? There’s absolutely no good reason for you to be in here. Yeah. “You wanna ask me questions? You only need to have one guy and one female present.” I said: “The female Guard is not to leave under any circumstances. The guys can do what they want. Ask me whatever questions you want and get out of my house.” I won’t lie, I was very annoyed about it at that point. I was quite indignant also, at that point. Understandably. Mostly because I don’t like being pushed around in my own house, and slammed around the place, and spoken to like I’m a ten year old. When I kept reminding them that when they stepped into my porch immediately and asked me what I had, I gave it to them. Yeah. You were cooperative with them from start to finish. From the get-go. And they kept telling me to be compliant. And I reminded them that I had been compliant at every possible point. They had found nothing that I hadn’t given them.

And they had been searching for a good hour at that point, and it was all completely unnecessary and they knew it. Yeah. Well I’m very sorry to hear that you had to go through all of that. I won’t lie, I’ve never quite had that experience, and I was very shook afterwards. And you wouldn’t expect to have an experience like that really, over something like [redacted] plants. You shouldn’t have that experience from a member of the Gardaí, because you know what? Yes, they are held to a higher standard and they should be held to a higher standard than a normal human being. Because that’s exactly what their job is. And they shouldn’t be trying to goad somebody into reacting in a particular way. I’m lucky that I have the presence of a person to keep my calm. Not to say that I wasn’t upset, I was absolutely shaking. And I was annoyed, I was angry, I was upset and a whole range of emotions. And afterwards, it got to me a lot. To the point where I decided that I really… I wasn’t going to be made to feel ashamed anymore. And I wasn’t going to hide the fact that I was a smoker anymore.

And I was gonna stand up and I was gonna step out. And I don’t care if that makes me a target, which I realise that it is actually doing. But I don’t care. I’ve actually caught two of the Guards that were in my house following me, at least three different times. Yeah. And I obviously know their faces by now. They’ve been in my home and they’re not making much of an attempt to hide it either. And they brought me to the station that time, from my house, for the [redacted] plants. Now, I’ll be honest. One of the Guards had slammed me around so much that I said: “Look, you’re gonna have to ask me your questions.” And he said to me: “I’m gonna slap cuffs on you and take you to the station”, and I said: “You know what? If you’re gonna keep threatening me, just do it. Take me to the station, because your behaviour is getting out of hand. I no longer feel safe or comfortable in my own house, even with the female Guard here. So I’d rather you took me into a station so that there was other people and cameras when you’re questioning me. Because whatever it is that you want to know, I don’t know. 

I can promise you that much, because you’re behaving in a really ridiculous manner and I know nothing about anything… so, you’re shit outta luck.” So, they took me to the station. They fingerprinted me, they DNA-swabbed me, to run me past 5INTERPOL [the International Criminal Police Organisation (ICPO), based in France]. INTERPOL. INTERPOL! I started laughing, and said to him: “What is it you think you’re going to find on INTERPOL?” So, I should tell you. I was in court in [redacted] this year. I was raided last year. So all of this escalated pretty quickly. I was raided and they found about [redacted quantity]. Which I handed to them. And I went to court. And they brought me up in front of the Judge. And now, in fairness to my solicitor, I do have a range of jobs, as you’ve seen. I’m not just a performer, so I’m not just an artist. I’m also a producer, I could be a booker for circus entertainers, for Christmas parties, for festivals or whatever. 

So, my job is a bit of a broad range. So, my solicitor told the Judge that my job was a “recruiter for entertainment services, worldwide.” Okay. All I heard was sex trafficker. She giggles And I nearly shrivelled. I took a very sharp intake of breath and went – gasps – “What did you just say? What even is that, that sounds like a sex trafficker to me.” The Judge snapped his head up pretty quickly and looked at me and I was asked to stand. I stood up and the Judge went through me for a shortcut. Told me I should be ashamed of myself and all the rest of it. I had to stand and put my head down and take it, until the Judge mentioned that I was found with [redacted] worth and I was being fined [redacted]. Yeah. And I said: “Sorry, it was [redacted].” And my solicitor was like – makes a shushing sound – “You can’t say that.” And I said to him “Why can’t I say that?” And he said: “Because, then you show that you know what the weight is. And you know the value.” And I said to him: “That’s ridiculous!” Like, you don’t need to be some kind of scientist. 

But it’s a very strange setup, the whole court system. You sit in there, like I had to do for [redacted] days, for three hours each time. And you just watch the conveyor belt.  Young fella, after young fella, after young fella, after young fella. Weed, weed, weed, weed. [Redacted] cash fine, into the office. Cash to the solicitor. Cash in the office. 6Simon [Simon Community, a homelessness charity] must get at least five or ten grand a day, in €300 fines, that go through that court. That is a huge amount of money. But, it’s like watching a wheel. So that was in [redacted] this year, and then boom! Suddenly raided there again, months later. My goodness. One of the reasons why I felt it was in my best interest to go into the station and have it processed is so that they can’t keep just randomly raiding me. They need to have a reason. Because if that wasn’t processed and it was at their discretion, that technically would not be down as a raid. They would’ve gotten a warrant for a raid, but it’s not the same with a conviction. It’s not a finalised case, so it’s an ongoing investigation. So, before they raid me again, they need to have another good reason. An actual reason.

So that last raid then spurred you on to speak out more about it – And to want to campaign. And are you now collecting stories from others who have had similar treatment by the Gardaí in the past? Yes, so that is the plan for it eventually. It basically started because of me telling my story. I had a lot of people message me to talk to me about it, and then recount their own stories of either being raided or having their car stopped and searched. Or being stopped on the street and searched. And quite often being found with a little bag of weed or whatever. And nine times out of ten, the Guard just saying: “I’m just going to take that and it’s going to go away.” That’s happened to me at least [redacted] times. At least [redacted] times. She laughs I’ve even had a Guard compliment me on how well my joint was rolled, once, before putting it in his pocket and telling me: “Don’t worry, it won’t go anywhere.” And I said: “Except down your neck, is it?” So the last time when they found a joint here, when they raided the house this time, I made them process it. I made them process the joint that they found.

Because if I’m not going to have it, they’re not having it either! Right, absolutely yeah. Laughter So right now, loads of people have been telling me their stories. And what I’ve been doing is I’ve been asking them if it’s okay if I come back to them to collect them. Some people are totally fine with it and some people are very nervous about it. Some people are really fine about being completely public about it, some people are not so okay about being public about it and maybe say they’re okay with their stories being there, but not their names or their faces being used. So right now, it’s just talking to people and finding out their comfort levels. And also hearing the different stories. And not just people that have been stopped and searched. Because it’s interesting to find out how many times people… and I know people that are in their fifties, and they’re like: “Oh God yeah, Jesus, I’ve been stopped now at least thirteen different times. Because I’ve been smoking and they’ve smelled it and they just come over and they take it off me.” So what are we doing? Why are we not decriminalising? Why has that not been done already?

It’s the same thing over and over and over, for years. Exactly, time for change. And obviously that’ll affect people’s work lives or their employability and they can get a criminal record. That’s the threat that they use. So, I suppose for now with the stories thing, you’re asking them to jot down their own notes on an individual basis, and then at some point you’ll follow up with them and collect it all? Yeah. I’ve spoken to everybody individually, not just by message but by video calls as well. I do have some recordings from people who are okay with speaking about it. Right now, I’m predominantly speaking to women. My main interest has been interactions that women have had where they have felt threatened. And who felt that there was a man using his physicality to be looming over you to get close into your personal space, which is what I’d experienced. And I’d never experienced that from a Guard before, where I had to ask him to step back a few times.

And I felt quite panic-y about it. Understandably. And I wouldn’t be a very nervous person. So, it was very apparent to me that he was very deliberately doing it. Yeah. And that was what I was getting from a lot of other women who would be a lot quieter than me. And I’m not quiet at all… She laughs Not by any means! I was shouting at the guy, I was telling him: “Back up! If you’re within arm’s length you are in my personal fucking space! Step back!” Laughter I’m not exactly a wallflower, by any means! So I was talking to women that would be quite shy, who had been caught with weed. Who felt very threatened, and who are very small! These are women that are fucking 5’2! That are being towered over by fucking men over six foot! What kind of a problem have you got, that you feel the need to do that!? And actually, you wouldn’t really hear the stories about overly-aggressive Gardaí. You hear all the time about the police in the United States being incredibly aggressive and violent. But you never really hear similar stories publicly in Ireland, about the Gardaí. So, maybe those stories are long overdue.

I think they are. I was surprised with the amount of women that got on to me. And that was actually what spurred it, you know? Talking to women that had found themselves in that position. Nobody had ever mentioned it before to me, and I had never experienced it before. I think it made me quite uncomfortable and it’s definitely something that a conversation needs to be opened about. Because if there’s people that I know in my circles that have had that experience, there’s got to be a lot more women in the country… We’re more than happy to promote your efforts with that in future. Thank you very much. I think the more that we create a cannabis community that supports each other, the better off we will be. 

[Gardaí] should be concentrating on heroin. Absolutely, all the truly dangerous drugs. The drugs that are actually sending people to the hospital. I’m sure there’s plenty of real crime out there. How many stoners do you know that have ever gotten stoned and went out and broke a window, or got in a fight? None whatsoever. But yet, every Saturday night, I bet you you’re gonna find a drunk person doing it. Oh absolutely, yeah. Throwing up and getting in fights and damaging property, the whole lot! Totally socially acceptable! Laughter Thanks so much for your time, it was an absolute pleasure! Likewise!

References:

1 Repeal the Eighth was a campaign to repeal the eighth amendment of the Irish Constitution,

so that women could have a legal right to abortion in the Republic of Ireland. It led to a

successful majority voting Yes in a national referendum held on May 25th, 2018:

https://www.rte.ie/news/analysis-and-comment/2018/1222/1018670-eighth-amendment-referendum/

2 Gatting is Irish slang for drinking alcohol, usually in an illegal context (i.e. in public outdoor spaces,

or when underage). It’s not likely to be defined in a long-established English language dictionary!

https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=gatting 

3 Narcos is a television drama following the exploits of infamous South American drug cartels, such as the

Medellín cartel. More information at the Internet Movie Database: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2707408/ 

4 Pablo Escobar was a notorious Colombian drugs kingpin who founded the Medellín cartel:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pablo_Escobar 

5 INTERPOL [the International Criminal Police Organisation (ICPO)] was first established in France in 1914:

https://www.interpol.int/Who-we-are/Our-history

6 Simon Community is a volunteer-based homeless charity in Ireland and the UK, which also helps to treat

people with drug addictions and to assist them with finding employment.

More information at: https://simon.ie 

 

Taming Cannabis: Drugs and Empire in Nineteenth-Century France | Review

Nicholas reviews educator and historian David A. Guba Jr’s book, Taming Cannabis.

One of the most prevalent fears promoted against marijuana use comes from the categorisation of its users and the subsequent stereotyping and fearmongering of the effects it has on these individuals.  This is shrouded in racist and xenophobic narratives perpetrated by a government to ensure control of its citizens.  The categorisation of marijuana as an exotic foreign-made drug heavily abused by the foreigners that introduced it had led France down a path for many prejudices against its legislation.  How weed became a tool of discrimination and stereotyping of a certain people is found in the history of every Western country, but there is a more intrinsic side of this repression and it is found in France.

In the wake of America’s legislative reform and the subsequent benefits that have followed in taxes and a decline in criminality, other countries have begun to look introspectively at their histories with the drug to test the waters with decriminalisation and eventually full legalisation.  Most countries find similar historical threads with marijuana prohibition, namely the perception of addictiveness, the gateway drug myth and the counterculture that has been attached to it. 

But the most predominant issue in its proscription is the racial profiling of ethnic minority users and the stigmatic agenda to associate the drug with crime and how it influences it.

David A. Guba Jr., an educator and cannabis historian, delves into this subject in his book Taming Cannabis: Drugs and Empire in Nineteenth-Century France.  From 18th century colonial laws to the brief musings of Emmanuel Macron’s drug reform, Guba sheds light on the systematic racism interwoven within France’s colonial past that still ripples into the 21st century.  The foundation of France’s drug laws today exist out of procrastination, deferring acknowledgement of two centuries of misinformation fuelled by racist notions and control.

The rise and fall of France’s history of cannabis consumption is explored from the initial French discovery of hashish during Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt, to France becoming the epicentre of hashish medicalisation, to the criminalisation of hashish in French Algeria.  The book investigates how French colonial proscriptions focused on the argument that the consumption of hashish produced threats to the social order of France.  Muslim North Africans were specifically labelled with this state-sponsored stigma.  The book continues into the 1830s and 1840s where French pharmacists and physicians began “taming” the drug to implement it within the homoeopathic treatment of epidemic diseases and mental illnesses.

As Guba writes, the main fear from the French government was what recreational opioid use could do to society, and thus began their efforts to prohibit drugs.  French colonisation generated a multicultural society in which hash was predominately consumed by those the state was most biased against.  The quest for social order continued with the assimilation of Arab and Asian minorities, forcing them to abandon their indigenous cultures in favour of French values, with antagonism for any whose cultural ways infringed upon such values.  Minorities’ use of hashish resulted in the drug being metamorphosed into an “oriental monster” in the minds of the French people.  Like today, hashish was portrayed as a gateway to violent behaviour.  Depictions of non-Westerns were seen as a race apart, often associating fanatical violence with Muslims, who were seen to turn people into murderers.

Guba examines the comparison of a new drug culture with foreign invasion, and how student rebellion followed.  The connection of drug abuse and anti-state violence became a talking point for French colonialists, stereotyping hashish users as Arab assassins.  Arab-Muslim communities became systematically targeted by authorities, leading to the mass incarceration of ethnic and religious minorities, who are often stopped and searched as part of France’s nationalistic prohibition measures.

At the turn of the 21st century, marijuana legislation reform began to gain momentum.  Various states in the U.S legalised cannabis with E.U reform in various jurisdictions all brought about due to tax revenues and prevailing attitudes from newly discovered data correcting the misconceptions of its use.  For countries that still criminalise cannabis, proscription had been loosened to stimulate medical research with mass studies on THC.  As Guba concludes, France continues to push against the progress the Western world has made by hosting some of the strictest anti-drug laws and harshest penalties in Europe.  While there is some level of intention to reform such archaic laws, the French government are dragging their heels due to two centuries of drug-related demagoguery and a reluctance from modern conservatives.

Guba outlines how France has the highest rates of cannabis consumption in Europe, yet they enforce the most repressive anti-drug laws.  At one point, France served as the epicentre of a global movement to medicalise hashish in the treatment of a litany of diseases.  Unfortunately, misdiagnosis, prescribing errors and inconsistent dosages fuelled the argument against its efficacy.

French physicians, most notably Emile-Louis Bertherand, a medical expert in Algeria’s criminal court, provided publications which became key pieces of evidence in debates in the 20th century that led to the prohibition laws France operates under today.  All of this stemmed from 19th century authoritative fearmongering, where Muslim North Africans were targeted as the proprietors of anti-social behaviour due to consumption of hashish.  Pharmacists continued to butt heads in medical journals on cannabis opinion while lies about hashish induced insanity spread in North African publications. The association of violent behaviour with hashish was to become a foundation for “taming” its use by French physicians and pharmacists throughout the 1830s and 1840s. 

By the 1850s, its usage in combating insanity, cholera and the plague was deemed ineffective and medical academics began to distance themselves from the drug.  However, the parable of hashish instilling violent tendencies in people was carried on to the forefront of the discussion, paving the way in the 1860s for authorities to frame mental illness, violence, and anti-state resistance as commodities of hashish use.  This became systemised within French colonial medicine, further becoming law by the end of the decade.  Today, France looks to reform these archaic laws to reflect the modern Western world’s view of the drug as many are moving towards legalisation or at the very least, decriminalisation.  These new attitudes along with the rise of drug-related incarceration have led the country to finally address their history with the drug. 

David Guba’s Taming Cannabis explores every facet of colonial France’s authoritative dominance and xenophobic policies to drive a narrative of social obedience and control.  More than ever, the untold history of cannabis legislation in France is needed to understand how cannabis in the Western world has been vilified to profile ethnic and religious minorities.  A major step in marijuana legislation comes from our understanding of the historical narratives that totalitarian regimes restrained cannabis with.  The history of governments hellbent on restricting anything deemed to offset the natural values and traditions of their respective countries is more accessible than ever as more and more people discover for themselves the history of cannabis in the western world. 

While most cannabis users familiarise themselves with their own country’s narrative of the drug, we must continue to educate ourselves on how the western world discovered marijuana and its eventual development in medical and recreational circles.  To only examine our history with cannabis is to approach the topic from a keyhole of perspective.  With Taming History, Guba presents a fascinatingly detailed look into France’s colonial past from the first anti-cannabis laws, to the treatment of mental illness to the fall of medicalised hashish driven by the racialised taboos currently enforcing Frances’ anti-drug policies.  Taming Cannabis is one of the most prolific pieces on the history of cannabis, the largely untold story of France’s marijuana prohibition.  I heavily recommend it to everyone interested in learning the history of cannabis as well as those interested in the history of autocratic control and the effects that stem from it.

Author’s Website: https://www.djguba.com/

Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Taming-Cannabis-Nineteenth-Century-Intoxicating-Histories/dp/022800120X

Booktopia: https://www.booktopia.com.au/taming-cannabis-david-a-guba-jr/book/9780228001201.html

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/taming-cannabis-david-a-guba/1134504152

Alicia Maher | Alicante, Spain | 23.09.2020

Alicia Maher is a University of Limerick PhD Candidate in Law, writing a paper on the regulation of medicinal cannabis in Ireland. She talks about her history of chronic pain, her difficulties accessing medical cannabis, the Medical Cannabis Symposium she helped organise at UL last year and more.

Twitter: @alicialmaher

Hi Alicia, thanks so much for joining me. Your chronic pain story began in 2001, when you were seventeen and went to get your tonsils removed. That’s right. And from there onward, you had a host of complications, which we don’t need to go into. But maybe you’d like to tell our readers a little about what happened next and why you later began to use cannabis? I ended up having to get a bag on my stomach and I was supposed to get it reversed in 2006, but I got precancerous cells. And after the operation, I got 1MRSA (Methicillin -resistant Staphylococcus aureus) and my coccyx bone was broken. So that was the start of the 2chronic pain that I had. From there until about 2012, it was just all medication and stuff. I was taking medication probably for about six years, and then I got referred to a Pain Specialist and it was actually him that found out that my coccyx bone was broken and that that was where the pain was coming from.

He gave me injections into my back every three months and different medication up until about 2018. That year, I was taking thirty opioids a day. I had pain patches on my back all the time and I was still getting the surgeries every three to four months, but it just wasn’t working anymore. The pain just got way worse, so I decided then to try cannabis. And a friend of my husband’s sent over a vape cartridge from New York, ‘cause he was able to get them over there, and I tried it and it worked straight away for the pain. So I decided then that I was gonna come off medication, because there was no point being on them. The side effects… it just wasn’t worth taking them anymore. I was just sleeping all the time. You have no quality of life on them at all. So I used the vape from 2018, started coming off all the medication and when I had come off half the medication, I told my Doctor that I was using cannabis and he was absolutely delighted. 

He said: “The first thing is, do no harm”, and he saw how the opioids were affecting me and he didn’t want me taking them either. So he said that he’d support my application for the medical cannabis licence. At the time, in August 2018, the Pain Consultant that I had been with since 2012 stopped working for the HSE (Health Service Executive). He went private. So he was no longer my Pain Consultant at the exact time I needed him to sign the licence. When my Doctor sent off the application, they wrote back and said that they weren’t declining it on the basis of chronic pain. They were denying it on the basis that I didn’t have a Consultant. And because that Consultant had just left the department, they were not taking more appointments. That’s right, yeah. I got another Consultant in the end, but it took till December 2019 to see him. 

By that time, we’d moved to Spain. We’d moved there in November 2019, but I knew I’d be going back in a month to meet the new Pain Consultant. I told him the exact same thing and he said that he’d support my Doctor’s application, even though it was his first time meeting me. Thank God for that. Yeah, that was how I’d gotten the licence then, in the end. That was through him. You put out a Freedom of Information request in June. Yes. You tweeted about it on June 19th, asking exactly how many medical licences had been granted by the Department of Health since the Medical Cannabis Access Programme (MCAP) was launched in 2017. At that time, they’d only issued thirty-two. Are you aware of any significant increase in that number since then? No, I think it’s at about forty at the moment. You know when they say in the media, “There’s been seventy licences granted”? That includes repeat licences, so that could mean three licences for one person. At the time, you were also aware that there hadn’t yet been any licences granted for cultivation in Ireland. Yeah, they’ve not granted any for that. You helped organise a Medical Cannabis Symposium in UL (University of Limerick) in September last year. Yeah. You were a speaker at it. How did that go for you? I’m doing my PhD in the School of Law at the University of Limerick and it’s on medical cannabis as well, the regulation side of it. So I emailed Gino Kenny (People Before Profit TD and cannabis decriminalisation campaigner)

This was after I’d started coming off the tablets and the medical cannabis was working and I was delighted. I’d asked him if he had any events coming up, or anything that I’d be able to go to. And he said that “There’s none at the moment”, but that he was thinking of setting one up. So I said to him then if he would consider having it at the University of Limerick, and that I could ask the Professor of the Law Department there. So I went to the Head of the Law Department and I asked him, cause he knew everything that was after happening with me and he supported cannabis and all that. And he was absolutely delighted, so he said: “Yeah, work away”. We started off with fifty people. Then we put up tickets and there was huge interest in it. We ended up having to get a room for over two hundred people. Fantastic, considering it was relatively short notice in terms of organising it. Yeah, it was. It was February I think, when we started organising it, and then we had it in September. 

Did you get any interesting comments or stories from people who had seen you talk? Was your talk primarily about your own experiences applying for medical cannabis access? My talk was primarily about how it worked for me for chronic pain. And it was highlighting that we needed access under MCAP for chronic pain, because it wasn’t included (under the accepted conditions to qualify). A lot of people were actually crying! Alicia giggles That is an interesting response! It was so nice! It was so much better than I expected. The whole day went absolutely brilliantly. But the people, they stayed around for hours afterwards, chatting to each other and to me. Saying that they found it such a comfortable environment. People in the crowd stood up and shared their stories on the day as well, even though they weren’t supposed to, you know? So we just had an open floor and everybody was talking about how it impacted their families and.. yeah, they said it was just so nice to have such a supportive environment. That they had never been to something like that before where they could just talk freely. Even though it was a Law Department, you know? And it’s still illegal and we were all getting it from the black market. 

That’s fantastic that it went so well, I’m delighted that it did. Has there been any talk since then of a follow up, even loosely? Yeah. After that one we had arranged, we were gonna do another one, but then… Covid. But I’d love to do a follow up. Covid really threw a spanner in the works! You’ve been based in Spain since the pandemic kicked off and there was lockdown for quite a long time in Spain. Have you been back to Ireland since then? I went home for my husband’s graduation in February. Congratulations! We only went home for a couple of weeks. Came back to Spain then, but we were planning on going back home again in April, full time. So then we went into lock down on the 13th of March. I rang the Doctor and I was like, “What will I do, because of my underlying condition?” Would I get on a plane and go home, or should I stay in Spain? Yeah. And you were concerned as well about exactly how EU laws are, in relation to travelling with prescription cannabis. That was afterwards actually, I wrote to him (the Doctor) about it. He told me I’d be better off staying in Spain. 

We were in lockdown before Ireland was I think, and it wouldn’t be worth the risk travelling home. Plus, they didn’t know what was gonna happen with the medical cannabis licences. I don’t think they had collected any for anybody at that stage, so if I went home I would have had to get it from the black market again. Which was the whole point of coming here in the first place. So yeah, we decided to stay here! There was another issue with the licence as well. I have the licence and I have the prescription. And my prescription is for twenty grams of cannabis flower a month, from Bedrocan (a global medicinal cannabis producer). At the moment, they only have one 22% THC available, and it’s a sativa. Whereas, that makes the pain worse for me and the one that I need is an indica. So even though I have the licence, I can only get one strain from one place in Europe. 

And according to a tweet of yours on June the eighth, that’s costing nearly €2000 every three months, is that right? That’s how much I was told it was costing. I didn’t pick it up myself yet, so I don’t know the exact figure. And you were saying that in Spain, one seed is about €7. And you’re allowed to grow a personal amount over there. And there’s cannabis clubs. Yeah. Have you met with other people with similar circumstances to yourself, who would have also gone to Spain, for that sort of reason? The only person I knew of that would have gone to Spain as well is 3Kenny Tynan. The man behind 4The Cannabis Patient Podcast. Yes, that’s him. He was using it to treat a brain tumour, I believe. And he used the Treatment Abroad Scheme (TAS) and went to the Kapala clinic in Spain and had his treatment there. He lived in Spain for a good while and joined a cannabis club. Same thing as me, he used to get his cannabis there and he used it for seizures. And I think it’s controlling them now. 

That’s fantastic. You’ve said before that the Department of Health was willing to send prescriptions from the Hague (in The Netherlands) to Ireland, during lockdown. From April, they had the courier service. And you found out that they were willing to send prescriptions, but that they then decided that they weren’t going to pick up all of the CBD-only products for people, because of a technicality where people who only need CBD don’t require a licence. So they weren’t obliged to pick them up and bring them back. Yeah, that’s right, that’s exactly what happened. Because they didn’t need the Ministerial licence. Somebody decided: “We’re not gonna pick that up”, even though they went all the way over to pick up the ones with THC. And the courier service was only available for people who were able to pay around four grand up front for it? 

Yes. So, Kenny Tynan’s prescription is around €4000 every three months, paid up front. For the first three prescriptions, they actually covered the cost for him, but then they decided to change the goalposts and told him that he no longer qualified to have it refunded. Now I’m sure like me, he probably has a medical card if he has a long term illness. But they’re refusing to cover it on the medical card for everybody, so… it was only the people that paid for it up front who they would deliver it to. So then a load of people had to do fundraisers. Do you know about 5Pamela Fowler? Yes. Her son Ryan has a prescription. He has the licence for a large tumour in his back and he uses it for chronic pain as well. She and Kenny, when they found out about the courier service, they couldn’t afford it. So they set up a fundraiser so they could get their stuff sent over.

The government recently announced that there were budgetary constraints. I suppose that ties into why they decided not to pick up all of the CBD products… Have there been any developments from them since then? Because I see a lot of people saying that they won’t respond to them online. They don’t seem to be giving people many answers at the moment. No, absolutely not. 

I’ve been emailing Stephen Donnelly (Minister for Health) for weeks and weeks. I haven’t even gotten an acknowledgement. I’ve told him I’m here in Spain, have a prescription, the product doesn’t suit me. And… nothing back. So, they did another (prescriptions) collection recently. But the budgetary constraints thing was an email from Stephen Donnelly to Gino Kenny. That was about the MCAP itself. They said they’re trying to negotiate the price with the supplier and that he had no date now for the MCAP. So everybody that wants access has to still go down the Ministerial licence route. Even though the legislation was signed by Simon Harris (former Minister for Health and current Minister for Further & Higher Education, Research, Innovation & Science) last June, it’s still not operating and now they have no date for it. Wonderful. That was only this week that Gino Kenny put that up actually, that there’s no longer a date for it to commence. It’s astonishing really. It is. 

I saw you mention on the 2nd of September that the costs for your cannabis prescription each month were less than what the opioids and pain treatments would’ve cost you previously. Your Consultant and GP aren’t willing to cover the cost of your cannabis anymore. But they will cover the opioids and more expensive medications. Yeah, that’s the HSE for you. They consulted with the Doctor, they were happy to prescribe it. They were happy to prescribe the opioids and everything was covered on my medical card. ‘Cause that came to thousands every month. Their excuse was that they won’t cover the cost of cannabis because it costs more, when it turns out that it’s actually cheaper than opioids. That’s very strange. That’s what I wrote to Stephen Donnelly as well, that it’s actually gonna cost them less now that I have a prescription for cannabis, than it was gonna cost for hospital stays and medications. But again, I haven’t got a reply.

Are you planning on staying put in Spain for the foreseeable future, for pain management? Yeah, I’d say we will. The thing is, my husband’s doing a PhD as well and he’s almost finished, so he obviously would like to be back home to finish that and I’d love to be back home in the University, doing my work there too. Of course. It’s so hard doing it away from home and being away from everybody as well. I’ve never been away from home for as long, so that bit is really hard. But I think we’re gonna stay till next year at least, because if I go home now the prescription is useless, ‘cause the sativa drives my heart crazy. It doesn’t work for the pain, so I’d be buying it off somebody on the street again. I’d prefer to be growing my own, but we all know what happens then! Mm-hmm.

So, we’re gonna just stay. I was lucky enough. During the pandemic, on the 13th of March, all the cannabis clubs closed. So I was like, “Oh my God, what am I gonna do?” I had one day, so I could go in and stock up. But you’re only allowed buy three grams a day in the club. So my husband joined. He got three grams, I got three grams. I probably had about three grams at home. They were closed for three months and all I had was six grams at the start, but somebody put me in touch with a medical cannabis clinic in Spain. Thank goodness for that, ‘cause I’d say you were tryna make that last! Oh, I was absolutely terrified of running out! The cannabis clinic took me on, on a discretionary basis. They told me I couldn’t tell people the name of the clinic if they took me on. I sent them my licence to prove that I had it, but the licence is only to import into Ireland. So my Doctor sent them my prescription as well, just to say that it was twenty grams of indica a month. And they posted it to me, they post it every month. So it’s much better than at home. It’s amazing, someone in a different country is willing to help you more than your own government. It’s absurd. 

It’s everywhere in California. They have their issues with the taxes and fees they have to pay to run legal cannabis businesses. But there’s no shortage of it over there and you can get it for a whole host of conditions, it really makes you wonder why our government is taking so long to implement and expand upon MCAP. It puts us to shame, really. It does. It’s been nearly five years since 6Vera Twomey walking to Dublin was in the media in Ireland, and still nothing. Is there anything you’d like to say on a final note to the government, or to other people in Ireland that might have a similar situation to yourself? Without sounding too pessimistic…I don’t think MCAP, even if it is commenced, is working. It’s not broad enough to include enough people. It’s only for three conditions – epilepsy, MS, or nausea and vomiting with chemotherapy. Simon Harris asked the HPRA (Health Products Regulatory Authority) to conduct a report to see if they should bring in the Medical Cannabis Access Programme, so they were the people that recommended it for three conditions. In that 7report (published in 2017), they actually acknowledge that there’s good evidence for cannabis for chronic pain.

There’s more evidence for cannabis working for chronic pain than there is for it working for epilepsy. But they said the reason that they didn’t want to include chronic pain was because… There were lots of reasons. They said it could be psychological, there’s loads of different factors that affect chronic pain. And they said there’s loads of other treatments out there for people with chronic pain such as physiotherapy, seeing a psychologist…

They didn’t include it for policy reasons, which is absolutely ridiculous. And then afterwards, Simon Harris said that if more evidence became available, they would keep it in mind and that they could potentially add chronic pain. But they know that the evidence is already there, you know? 

As you pointed out before, that’s similar to the guidance from the NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) 8draft report on chronic primary pain in the UK. They recommended not to use opioids, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, benzodiazepines and all of that. They recommended things like antidepressants and CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), but they still didn’t recommend cannabis. That was it. They’re taking all the stuff away from people that are in chronic pain, but they’re not leaving them with a solution really. I mean, antidepressants for chronic pain. I tried them. They just didn’t work. Not to mention that a lot of opioids are highly addictive. Just look at the opiate epidemic in the United States. They’re trying to get away from opioids, but they’re just not giving any other solutions. It’s sad really. It is. Especially when you see how damaging opioids can be. 

It was awful trying to come off them, it was horrendous. I’d never ever want to do it again. ‘cause it took me a long time to come off them as well. They can give people severe withdrawals, you hear horror stories. I was on five medications, four of them were opioids. I think it took about nine months to come off them all and that was actually too fast to do it. But it was withdrawals the whole time, and I had withdrawals up to a couple of months ago with them. And since you began to use a vape pen in 2019, the ones you were taking were down from initial prescriptions of over thirty medications, including opiates. I was taking thirty tablets a day. And I first tried the vape pen in November 2018. I started coming off the tablets straight away and I was fully off them by June 2019. So that’s nearly nine months, but the effects still last for way longer than that. But I think the cannabis probably helped with the withdrawal symptoms as well. I suppose we’ll leave it at that Alicia! All the best to you and your husband with the PhDs. I really hope that you get word back from Stephen Donnelly and fingers crossed the government will truly get to work with MCAP. It was lovely talking to you. You too! Thanks Alicia. No bother at all. Bye!

References:

1 More information about MRSA can be found here: https://www.cdc.gov/mrsa/community/index.html 

2 The Irish Examiner covered Alicia’s chronic pain in more detail in this interview:

https://www.irishexaminer.com/news/arid-30926278.html

3 Check out Kenny Tynan‘s interview with us at this link:

https://greenlensblog.com/2021/01/14/kenny-tynan-6pm-07-01-2021/

4 The Cannabis Patient Podcast can be found at: https://anchor.fm/thecannabispatient 

5 Pamela Fowler’s GoFundMe page from April of this year, which describes her son Ryan’s chronic pain

condition and their difficulties getting him medical cannabis with current government policies in place:

https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-to-get-ryan-3-months-of-his-medical-cannabis  

6 The HPRA’s report can be accessed at this link: https://bit.ly/3yZdzFy

7 Check out Vera Twomey‘s interview with us at this link:

https://greenlensblog.com/2020/11/25/vera-twomey-cork-21-11-2020/

8 The NICE draft report can be found here:

https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/gid-ng10069/documents/draft-guideline