The common theme across the board is the hard work being done to broaden understanding and improve access to cannabis-based products for medicinal purposes.
Changes to the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001 that occurred in November 2018 resulted in medicinal cannabis products moved from schedule 1 – meaning they have no medicinal value – to schedule 2, allowing doctors to prescribe cannabis products in certain circumstances.
While fellow leading Commonwealth countries – namely Canada and Australia- are embracing its legal, medicinal use as a non-toxic, non-physiologically addictive alternative to pharmaceuticals, the British remain unimpressed. Due to our government’s restrictive criteria for patient access, only 18 NHS prescriptions have been issued, and just 104 within private healthcare.
These awards serve to celebrate those who, despite the challenges surrounding it, are campaigning for something they believe in. Categories range from Community Superstar to Best Event, Outstanding Patient to Activist of the Year so the field is full of those striving for what they believe in.
Advocate: the verb means to publicly support or recommend. The noun is something we’re passionate about – a person, or the people, who do the publicly supporting. This year there are 17 individuals vying for the ‘Advocate of the Year’ award which will go to the person who has been voted as putting in the most work advocating for cannabis rights.
Among them is former police officer turned ‘illegal drug smuggler’ Lisa Quarrell from East Kilbride, who turned to cannabis oil as a last resort for her son, Cole.
Suffering uncontrolled focal epilepsy, Cole experienced seizures from three months old and by age one was confirmed as drug resistant.
After seeing marked improvement after taking CBD oil purchased from a clinic in Barcelona, Lisa began a very public campaign to give her son and other children in Scotland access to medicinal cannabis and turned to politicians in Westminster and the Scottish Parliament who demanded answers.
Although encountering small victories, Cole’s health did not improve so Lisa took drastic action – flying to Holland and smuggling cannabis medicine back to Scotland.
The action – which was picked up by national press from a TV documentary – resulted in months of police and child protection services investigations (which were not pursued into a full case).
Since then, the powerhouse woman has spoken at the Scottish Parliament, triggering a cross-party support letter, signed by MSPs from every party asking the health minister to fund cannabis medicine for families that need it until it is available on the NHS.
But she hasn’t stopped there, raising awareness of cannabis medicine among health professionals and politicians has become something of a crusade for Lisa and has presented Cole’s story at several official gatherings, as well as working closely with campaign group Medicinal Cannabis Reform Scotland.
We spoke to Vera Twomey – another Advocate of the Year finalist – in January about her fight against the medical, political and societal barriers stopping her daughter Ava (pictured, top), who had been diagnosed with a rare form of epilepsy, and other children accessing potentially life-saving treatment in Ireland.
“The delivery of what Ava’s future was going to be is something that I will never forget and I will carry with me for the rest of my life,” she explains after Ava was given a life trajectory of only three years which would be spent in residential care.
“You wouldn’t wish any parent to hear that. But if there is something that can help a child, and it’s being withheld, then that’s wrong. There is no justice with that at all. So, I try to do what I can.”
Vera’s tireless campaign began after securing medical cannabis in the Netherlands and providing the dramatically positive impact it had on Ava – she’s even walked from her home in Cork to Leinster House in Dublin in protest to personally ask health minister Simon Harris for help.
As a winner of Ireland’s People of the Year awards in 2018, she was given the opportunity to address prime minister Leo Varadkar from the stage after being dismissed earlier in the evening. “The reaction was overwhelming with people standing up and applauding. It was so special and their response reflected the general view in the country that it’s time for medical cannabis to be taken seriously.”
After many frustrating setbacks and small victories, Vera published her book, ‘For Ava: An incurable illness, a reluctant activist, an ongoing campaign.’
“I wanted a written record for my children in future to see how brave their sister was and what she went through,” explains Vera. “Also, their mummy was on the phone a lot and going to a lot of meetings, so I want them to know when they’re older why I was doing that. The other reason is that I think hope is incredibly important.
“We were given no hope at all of what Ava could achieve, but we didn’t accept what they told us and I want the book to give hope to other parents and patients in a similar situation – I want people with any condition to know that you don’t have to accept verbatim what you’re told. Doctors can be wrong and with love and determination you can turn the situation around, into something so much better.”
In June 2018, after a long and tireless fight for her son Alfie, Hannah Deacon was the first person to legally enter the UK with cannabis oil.
Hannah had tried everything with neurologists here in the UK – even falling out with one over the care of her son – but found a breakthrough when a new neurologist agreed that going abroad for medical cannabis was the only choice.
“It was an amazing process,” Hannah says. “The doctors there are licensed to prescribe cannabis for patients if they feel it is an appropriate treatment – rather than individual licenses having to
be secured. Having said that, they still tend to use pharmaceutical drugs first and cannabis might be a third or fourth line of treatment, so they don’t use it as generously as people might think.
“We saw the neurologist there every two weeks which was amazing compared to England where you might get to see them once a year. She laid out everything that they were going to do very clearly. They didn’t change any of his anti-epileptic medication so they could understand what difference the cannabis was making. They introduced CBD first for three months.
It took six weeks to have an effect but once we got up to a dose of 150 milligrams a day, Alfie started having seizures every three weeks again. When we moved the dose up again, they were happening every month.” And these were just solitary seizures rather than the clusters he had previously been having.
But the real game-changer to Alfie’s situation seems to have been the introduction of THC. “The overall presentation was much better, but when we added in the two drops of THC a day, he stopped having seizures completely within a few days. Then we got home and had to take him off the THC, since it was illegal in the UK at the time, and he became very poorly again.”
That was the start of her high-profile campaign to get Alfie access to THC at home in Warwickshire – and ultimately win. But her fight didn’t stop there – she was inundated by families frustrated by the continual lack of access to the medication, partly due to the low awareness and engagement among GPs.
She says: “I will carry on talking about this until it is available to people when they need it – until doctors can prescribe this medication and understand what they are doing.
“Having seen the change in my child, and having talked to families that are really suffering every day, with no support because of the breakdown of child services, which is a separate issue, I will carry on campaigning about this. People deserve the right to try this medication which is available in many different countries all over the world.
“We need to catch up in this country. As long as they have good medical practice, doctors should be able to prescribe this.”
In 2019, Edinburgh mum Karen Gray was among parents from 10 families (campaign group End Our Pain) who headed to Westminster to deliver a giant £230,000 invoice to the government – the amount they had spent on buying vital cannabis medicine for their children – earning her a place as a finalist for Advocate of the Year.
Far from financial, Karen’s motivation is the desire for other families to benefit from the type of remarkable results she has seen in her son Murray, which she attributes purely to cannabis oil.
Diagnosed with Doose Syndrome, an epileptic condition, anti-epileptic medication resulted in a variety of seizures that at worst were occurring up to 600 times per day. When drugs came and went – including ketamine – with none having the desired effect, Karen took inspiration from Hannah (detailed above) and journeyed across the North Sea to the Netherlands in search of a doctor’s prescription.
After a particularly bad attack that resulted in Murray being hospitalised and tube fed in a vegetative state, Karen did get a prescription for cannabis medicine from a Dutch doctor. But was told by Murray’s doctors that if they knew about it, they would have to report her on child protection grounds.
After giving Murray the medication behind the curtain in hospital, his condition began to improve and ultimately he became seizure free.
“I really want to see funding in place so that, if the NHS can’t write a prescription, there are funds so families can buy the medicine,” explains Karen.
The future prospect of an NHS prescription for Murray is uncertain.
In Scotland, says Karen, “there are GPs willing to write a prescription – and healthcare trusts that I have been told will not block it. Yet those GPs are not on the specialist register set up to manage medicinal cannabis access in Scotland.”
Although a significant sum, the £15,600 annual cost of Murray’s medicine is a small price to pay for his newfound quality of life.
As someone who smoked marijuana for pain relief, and who is keen for progressive cannabis reform, Gary Weevil Youds from Liverpool has been selected as a finalist in the Community Superstar category, celebrating those with a selfless, enduring passion.
After setting up a café for other medical cannabis users to get together to smoke and support each other, as well as enjoy live music, Gary was sentenced to nine months in prison for the possession of £11,000 of cannabis after ‘the Chillin’ Rooms’ was raised in 2015.
Another potential Community Superstar winner is Deanna Jean (DJ) from Minnesota. After suffering a traumatic brain injury, DJ uses marijuana – her medicine of choice – as a criminal due to the state not having medical marijuana laws in place.
After becoming a valued member of her community, an article in her local newspaper where her use of the drug was made public saw her kicked out of the farmer’s market she supported, and losing her job due to concerns about the company reputation.
But that hasn’t stopped her from advocating and fighting for what she believes in!
Self-styled ‘accidental campaign founder’ Phil Monk is a former teacher who has launched a campaign to legalise cannabis for medicinal use as he fights his own health issues – earning him a place as finalist for Activist of the Year.
The Swindon native said: “The objective is to achieve freedom and equality for all cannabis consumers equal to that of drug consumers of alcohol and tobacco.”
The shortlist features so many who are doing incredible work for the cannabis community and we can’t wait to find out the winners! You have until July 1st to cast your vote so don’t miss your chance to celebrate the achievements of those who have worked so hard.
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