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“We’re the party for cannabis consumers – they just don’t know it yet”



Scotland’s youngest Lib Dem councillor and mental health activist, Ben Lawrie, tells Sarah Sinclair why we need cannabis law reform in the UK – but first access to cannabis-based medicines on the NHS.

At a Liberal Democrat party conference in 2016 members voted for a policy motion to create a regulatory framework for cannabis.

Ben Lawrie didn’t get a chance to speak at the time, but later shared his view on the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use on the Liberal Democrat Voice website.

In it, he referred to the US state of Colorado, which legalised cannabis in 2014. Within months it raised $10 million dollars in tax revenue, crime dropped by 10% and unemployment at its lowest since 2008.

‘You don’t have to smoke weed to feel the benefits of legalisation’, he wrote.

Elected to represent the Monifieth & Sidlaw Ward on Angus Council in Dundee in 2017 at the age of 22, Ben Lawrie is Scotland’s youngest Liberal Democrat councillor and parliamentary candidate for Angus South in the 2019 General Election.

It was his mental health activism which led him to politics. Having experienced depression and anxiety – along with many of his generation – he began campaigning to raise awareness and call for better-funded mental health services.

But one of the reasons he is proud to be a member of the Lib Dems is their policies on the legalisation of cannabis.

“We fully support the legalisation of cannabis for both medical and recreational use and I think that is the right approach,” says Ben, over Zoom.

“We would have the same amount of people using it, regardless of the law, but if you legalise it you can control it, you can make sure that criminals aren’t receiving funding for other more nefarious activities and you can ensure that what people are consuming is safe and regulated.”

He continues: “A lot of people who suffer with substance misuse issues are deterred from seeking help and support, because they’re engaging in illegal activities and there’s paranoia that comes with that.

“If we can be more open and more mature about cannabis, it will lead to better education and people will have much better relationships with it.”

Ben isn’t phased when asked by opposition how he can be both a mental health activist, and cannabis advocate – despite admitting that its link with mental health issues such as psychosis and schizophrenia are the reason many politicians avoid the topic completely.

“The issue of cannabis and mental health is tricky,”he agrees.

“Of course there are ways it can be unhealthy – and that’s one of the things that stops politicians talking about it – but a lot of people with mental illness gravitate towards substances such as cannabis to self-medicate.”

Ben adds: “I know people who consume cannabis for a diverse range of reasons; it helps them connect with friends, helps them sleep or helps them with a tricky relationship with food. I resent that the Government considers them criminals.”

Although he admits it might be because he lives in Dundee – widely reported as the ‘drug death capital of Europe’ – Ben believes there is a ‘huge chasm’ between political and public opinion on the subject of cannabis.

“Politicians don’t talk about it, it’s not an issue they are willing to take up and fight,” he says.

“We have had the Conservatives in power for a long time and they’re very prohibitionist, but even the Labour Party are not passionate about it. I think there’s far more acceptance of it in the public sphere.”

According to Ben, even his own party, despite its stance on legalisation, is ‘scared to be positive’ about cannabis.

“There is very much a tough law and order approach, rather than looking at health or the role cannabis can play in our environmental recovery,” he says.

“We’re the party of personal freedoms, but I suspect those who are the most passionate about cannabis advocacy aren’t in the political sphere and don’t feel represented by political parties.

He adds: “We are the party for cannabis consumers, I just don’t think they know it yet.”

Although Ben believes legalisation is inevitable for the UK at some point, he admits it is not likely to happen anytime soon. First, he wants to see wider access to medical cannabis and CBD products to be available on the NHS.

“There is a lot more sympathy for the medical cannabis campaign, but Britain is still much more timid than other countries.

“We’ve seen a shift in the law but on the ground it’s still far too hard to access,” he continues.

“I meet a lot of people who use CBD for anxiety and insomnia, but at the moment it is only available for people with the privilege and money to buy it and there’s a lot of people for whom that is just not an option.”

Ben hopes that as knowledge and awareness of the medical benefits of cannabis improve, this will lead to a wider acceptance of cannabis for recreational use too.

“I have close friends who consume cannabis not for medical use, but because it brings them peace in some way,” he says.

“I resent that they have to fear for their livelihoods and freedoms, because they are good, kind, intelligent people who contribute a lot to their communities.”

Until then, he’ll keep chipping away at the stigma.

“There are so many worthy causes that I feel like this always takes a backseat,” adds Ben.

“Unless a couple of people are willing to speak up on it, thousands of people will stay under-represented.”


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