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Family loss inspires cannabis education drive

Tragedy due to drug misuse is depressingly common – but Steve Melhuish is using his loss to teach others how to safely use cannabis, as Ethan Sisterson reports.



Robert Cox was stabbed to death at age 24 while recovering from drug-related mental health issues at a home for vulnerable people.

His older brother Steve Melhuish was understandably devastated but, six years on from the tragedy, this heartbreaking experience is inspiring positive action.

Steve founded the charity F.A.C.E.S (free addiction cannabis education and support) to change young people’s views on cannabis by teaching them how to use the drug safety and about the risks behind it.

“We want to promote the benefits of cannabis and what cannabis can be used for,” he says. “We stand for the responsible side of cannabis.

“Through educating people at a young age, we hope they can understand and differentiate between the dangers and benefits of cannabis.”

F.A.C.E.S, based in Weston-super-Mare, educates children on cannabis to reduce risks associated with taking the drug and also to prevent drug dependency.

It also offers informal advice in confidence, for any under 18s who feel they need support.

And statistics suggest high demand for such services.

Figures from Public Health England in 2018 show that 88 per cent of under 19s using specialist services to combat addiction admitted to having a problem with cannabis.

The most recent survey of Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use among Young People, meanwhile, shows that cannabis is the most commonly used drug among 11 to 15 year olds.

This data, published in 2016, shows that 7.9 per cent of 11 to 15-year-olds reported using cannabis in the preceding year.

Among 16 to 24-year-olds, cannabis was also the most commonly used drug according to the 2017/18 Crime and Survey for England and Wales, with 16.7 per cent having used it in the last year. This equates to around one million young adults.

Against such statistics, Steve admits that his aim is not to block young people’s access to cannabis; but rather to give them the right education so that if they ever do get their hands on the drug, it can be enjoyed safely.

One way F.A.C.E.S does this is through an app, which allows children and young adults to seek advice and guidance via text.

Steve says: “Nowadays kids are very social media orientated. They don’t want to pick up the phone to talk to someone. What the app offers is support for the kids in a grooming gang or who have trouble with cannabis related issues.”

F.A.C.E.S runs talks and workshops for schools across the UK, in which people like Steve share their experiences with cannabis and advice on how to be responsible when using the drug.

Misusing street cannabis can, of course, lead to other problems in young lives – including a descent into criminal activity.

The Ministry of Justice reported a 14 per cent increase in the number of young people being prosecuted for supplying cannabis between 2012 and 2017, despite the number of adult arrests falling.

Steve says: “We offer mentoring courses for any kids that want to give up or lower their dependency.

“We offer a knife amnesty point and self-defence classes for the kids that choose to bring in their knives. We will also give support to kids wanting to move away from criminal gangs.”

Steve is very clear that the charity has a pro legalisation stance for recreational. “But we want it regulated,” he adds.

One of the benefits of legalising, he says, could be to ease access to the cannabis in the medical world.

“If we were to legalise cannabis for recreational use, there’ll be a lot of money generated in tax and so on that could go towards research into the medical side of things. If it helps the NHS then for me it’s a no brainer.”

Cannabis based medicines have been legal by prescription in the UK since November 2018. As of June this year, however, only around a dozen patients had successfully secured prescriptions since – and all of them in the private sector.

Steve says: “Legalising cannabis for recreational purposes would not only raise vital funds for the NHS, but it would also make trials into the drug much easier to carry out.”

One of the main arguments against cannabis legalisation is that many see it as a gateway drug to harder substances. Unsurprisingly, Steve disagrees with this.

“My response to that it is like alcohol, every single person on this planet is different. I don’t think is a gateway drug for everybody. I think some people use it as a gateway drug.

“I think on the flip side some people use it as a drug to get off harder stuff like heroine.”

It remains to be seen whether full UK legalisation is indeed on the horizon; According to one group of cross-party MPs, it will happen within five to 10 years.

Labour’s David Lammy, Conservative Jonathan Djanogly and Liberal Democrat Sir Norman Lamb made the prediction in July on a visit to Canada where cannabis is fully legalised.

However the situation plays out, Steve is committed to keeping young people safe when confronted with the substance – inspired by the memory of his brother.

And he has big ambitions for his charity.

“Our aspirations are to be national. We have just signed a sponsorship deal, which is going to allow us to set up one centre a year. So within the next five years we hope to have five centres scattered across the country.”


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