Preston’s first cannabis club to challenge Home Office

Former welder Mike Dobson

Former welder Mike Dobson

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Preston’s newest club is taking the Government to court for the right to supply cannabis to its members.

Former welder Mike Dobson, who served a jail term for growing the drug, has launched Preston Cannabis Club and wants to make it legal.

Mike, a self-confessed user for 25 years, is seeking a judicial review following the Home Office’s refusal to issue a licence to allow club members to possess up to half an ounce of cannabis a week without prosecution.

He said: “There is a huge risk in what we are trying to do here.”

Cannabis is a Grade B illegal drug and it’s against the law to carry even a small amount.

Mike and his fellow club directors are seeking a judicial review after their application for a licence to supply cannabis to club members was rejected by the Home Office. If it fails he could be back in jail – a second charge against him for cultivating cannabis has been adjourned pending the review’s outcome.

There are a lot of skeletons that need bringing out of the closet in relation to cannabis use, a lot of myths. We would hope to do that.

“Hopefully that won’t happen,” he said. “If we win this – and there’s no legal reason why we shouldn’t – then I’d hope it would be dropped.”

Mike, 39, is happy to be the public face of Preston Cannabis Club, even though it offers complete anonymity to its other members.

It was launched in mid-December, its website went live a week later and it already has six directors and 15 members drawn from all walks of life.

The membership limit is 1,000, although Mike believes demand could be even greater than that, in Preston alone.

“It’s huge,” he said. “We’ve got interest from people from all age groups, backgrounds, and careers, from professional people and manual workers, right across the board.

“My own personal opinion is that it’s taken off, it’s happening, as a direct result of crazy legislation.”

Britain now has around 60 cannabis clubs, but Mike is quick to distance Preston from all the others. They are, he believes, just social clubs whose members get their supplies from illegal growers.

“We have no association with those and we don’t want to have any,” he said. “Because in my opinion they’re breaking the law, they’re inciting people to break the law by growing plants. What we are doing is legal and above board.”

The PCC has been set up as a private members’ club and its aim is to acquire a licence so it can supply its members with cannabis without breaking the law.

Such a licence would set a limit of half an ounce (street value £90 to £100) of the drug per member per week, which works out at around two grams a day.

“I’ve been smoking cannabis for 25 years and that’s a sufficient amount,” said Mike. “Some people don’t think it’s enough. But I’d say if people are using considerably more than that then they have a problem.

“There are a lot of skeletons that need bringing out of the closet in relation to cannabis use, a lot of myths. We would hope to do that.”

The club was launched at a public meeting. Mike and his fellow directors felt being open about what they were intending to do was the best policy. Feedback from the meeting, he said, was generally positive.

“We are very pragmatic and we understand the legal consequences of what we are doing,” he said. “To be honest there aren’t any.

“But the knock-on effects are massive. We aren’t a protest group pushing for legalisation. We just want to focus on being a community group – we are benefiting the community.

“We are an all-inclusive private members’ club, not exclusive. We are open to anyone resident in Lancashire over the age of 18.

“We are looking at providing people who are classed as users with a facility to enable them to acquire their drugs without actually breaking the law. It would be an opportunity to decriminalise their drug use.

“The service we are offering our members is that we will facilitate a Home Office licence. It is illegal unless you have a licence and we have looked at every possible aspect of it.

“The Home Office rejected our original application. When we challenged that saying there wasn’t anything in law to back up refusal, they just said: ‘OK, but you’re still not having one.’

“So we are filing for a judicial review to let the courts decide it. That way, if the Government loses, then it won’t look like it has decided to legalise cannabis, it will be down to the judges.”

But Mike is not just pushing to get Preston Cannabis Club legally up and running. He also hopes to launch his own production company – Cannabliss - to supply the club.

After serving one jail term for growing cannabis, and with another hanging over his head if the licence application fails, he reckons he is better-placed than most to run such a business if the law allows it.

“I’ve not hidden my past,” he said. “I got 10 months for growing around 65 plants. It would have been longer had it not been for my circumstances.

“I had quite significant health issues at the time and so the Crown accepted it was for my own personal use.

“But as a club we don’t have any opinion on why people use it, either for medical or recreational reasons, it shouldn’t matter.

“We are not pushing for change in anything, we are just using the law as it stands. There is zero regulation in place at the moment and it’s purely down to the Home Secretary’s discretion whether we get a licence or not. Right now in this country there is a huge hydroponics business worth £2m a year, with shops all over – there’s one here in Preston – and no-one’s going to tell me it’s all for growing tomatoes. Most of the cannabis consumed in this country is from home grown producers. What about the personal risks from putting a dent in the sales of organised drugs gangs?

“There are people with vested interests who wouldn’t want us to succeed,” admitted Mike. ”They are going to want to hit you, frighten you, crash your website, or do something.

“There is a huge risk in what we are trying to do here. I understand the dangers. It’s about territories and things.

“But there is anonymity in the club and I’m OK with being the public face of it. I could always remove myself from the board if I felt I needed to.

“Right now we are getting the message out there that we are here and it all seems to be moving very positively.

“I’m very hopeful it will all come together, in fact I’m 100 per cent convinced it will. My conviction and prison term doesn’t affect it. There is nothing in law that bars me from being involved. In fact I have a better understanding of the market as it stands as a result of my past.

“It has put me in a position where I can better understand the risks and eliminate them.”

Home Office response

A spokesperson said: “This Government has no plans to legalise cannabis.

“There is a substantial body of scientific and medical evidence to show that it is a harmful drug which can damage people’s mental and physical health.

“As cannabis is illegal and has no recognised medicinal value, licences for production, supply or possession are typically granted for scientific research or law enforcement purposes only.”

The Home Office says the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001 allow UK healthcare to lawfully possess, produce and supply controlled drugs which have recognised medicinal uses.

The spokesperson added: “Our licensing regime allows legitimate research to take place in a secure environment so that harmful drugs cannot get into the hands of criminals.

“The Home Office has not granted a Controlled Drug licence of any kind to Mr Dobson, or Preston Cannabis Club.”

Cannabis - The Facts

Cannabis - also called marijuana, weed, grass or dope - is the most widely used illegal drug in the UK. But less than one in eight adults admit they have used it in the last year.

Its use dates back to 2,700 BC in China. It can be mixed with tobacco and smoked in a ‘joint’ or in a pipe. Some users make tea with it and it can be baked in cakes or biscuits.

EFFECTS

Some users feel relaxed and happy, others become more chatty and giggly. The drug can cause hunger pangs and make users more aware of their senses. It is also common to feel as if time is slowing down.

On the flipside, the drug can cause nausea, drowsiness and lethargy and can affect the memory. Users can feel paranoid, anxious, confused, demotivated, disinterested and have panic attacks and hallucinations, especially with the stronger forms of the drug like skunk. Long-term use can slow the ability to learn and concentrate, thus affecting education and work.

RISKS

While cannabis is not highly addictive, an estimated one in 10 users are thought to be dependent. Only a small percentage go on to use hard drugs like heroin.

It affects your ability to drive, smoking it can be harmful to the lungs and it can affect your mental health - long-term use increasing the risk of developing psychotic illnesses such as schizphrenia.

The drug can also affect fertility and, if pregnant, can harm brain development in the unborn child and lead to small or premature births.

MEDICINAL BENEFITS

Herbal cannabis contains compounds which are used as pain relief in the treatment of muscle spasms in multiple sclerosis. Research is also being carried out to test whether it can help in glaucoma, cancer pain and epilepsy in children.

THE LAW

Cannabis is a Class B drug and it is illegal to possess even a small amount.

For adults, police often give out a warning to a first offender. A second offence is likely to bring an £80 on the spot penalty. Further offences will result in arrest.

For those aged 10 to 17 caught in possession, a first offence attracts a police reprimand, that is followed by a final warning for a second offence and any further cases result in arrest.

Anyone supplying cannabis - even to their friends - or growing the drug risk a maximum of 14 years in prison.