Dad-of-three, Phil Monk has been self-medicating with cannabis for symptoms of chronic pain and PTSD for 20 years. He tells Cannabis Health why he’s taking legal action against the Government, as he fights for the right to grow his own medicine.
“I’m living in fear on a daily basis,” Phil Monk, 42, says over Zoom while he juggles homeschooling one of his daughters.
“I could lose my home, my children, my freedom, that’s what I have risked from day one by standing up for what is right.”
He adds: “I do live in fear of my door being smashed in. I actually phoned the police and told them they don’t need to use violence if they come to my house, they just need to ring the doorbell – but I’m disabled, so it’ll take me awhile to get there.”
For more than 20 years, Phil, a former teacher, has been consuming cannabis to help ease the symptoms of PTSD, triggered by traumatic events in his childhood.
But for years he lived with the shame of being what he describes as a “secret stoner”, not realising the therapeutic benefits it was having on him.
Aged 16, Phil was struggling with his mental health when he eventually gave into peer pressure from his friends and rummaged down the back of the sofa to get enough money together to buy a sixteenth of “hash”.
“We got home and smoked these terrible joints and for the first time in a very long time, my mind quietened down,” he recalls now.
“I didn’t feel suicidal, I didn’t have these horrible thoughts in my head.”
Phil would continue to consume cannabis, what he thought of as “recreationally” for the next two decades.
It was only later, when he developed chronic pain from bilateral ulnar impaction syndrome in his wrists – caused by extreme mountain biking as a teenager – and joint hyper-mobility spectrum disorder, that he noticed cannabis was actually easing his symptoms.
“After 10 years of debilitating pain and a deteriorating wrist condition, I ended up on a bucket load of drugs. It was the usual story, it started with paracetamol and Ibuprofen and then moved onto coco-damol and Tramadol,” he says.
“I was experiencing over 40 different side effects at one point; tremors, shakes, sweats, insomnia. I lost the use of my bowels, my bladder, everything just stopped working.
“I was hospitalised three times with a brain haemorrhage scare, a mini-stroke scare, then a bowel and bladder cancer scare.
Phil continues: “My two eldest children said to me, are you going to die, daddy? It was terrifying and traumatising for the whole family.
“The medicine should have been making me better, not trying to kill me.”
Phil came off the opioids and opted to rely on cannabis flower to manage his pain instead.
Knowing he wouldn’t be able to access the quality and consistency of cannabis that he needed on the street, in 2014 he wrote to the then Prime Minister informing him of his health conditions and that he would be growing his own cannabis for medical purposes.
He says he received a response, threatening him with 14 years in prison and advising him to “go back on the morphine”.
There started seven years of campaigning against what Phil describes as “corrupt” and “dishonest” legislation.
“They quoted misinformation, that cannabis causes psychosis and is a threat to public health. Then they threatened to put me in prison and destroy my reputation on the basis of those lies,” he says.
“It’s true that cannabis can cause psychosis and mental health issues, but it is an exaggeration to apply it to every single adult member of the population – one in 4,000 people may experience a cannabis induced schizophrenic or psychotic episode.”
He began researching cannabis and the endocannabinoid system and realised that the campaign for legalisation had been very much alive for the last 40 years.
After joining existing campaign groups, Phil attended a United Patient Alliance rally in February 2018, where he met many of those who would become members of his movement, We the Undersigned (WTU).
“WTU came about because I got very angry,” he says.
“I decided that this was a human rights issue and I was going to set about finding a solicitor to build a case against the Government and cannabis prohibition.
“If I hadn’t dragged myself to that event – and I literally did drag myself there on two sticks – if I hadn’t put myself through that ordeal, I wouldn’t have met the people who made WTU possible.”
A post on Facebook asking others to co-sign his letter to the Government became a 6,000-strong Facebook community, who, led by Phil, recently convinced expert cannabis lawyer, Robert Jappie to take their case pro bono.
Phil explains: “We spent over a year gathering information, research and evidence against the Government assertion that cannabis is a harmful Schedule One drug, which is what we’re trying to challenge.”
On 23 December, Robert Jappie wrote to the Home Secretary Priti Patel, calling on her to end the criminalisation of cannabis consumers and remove sanctions for the unlicensed acts of possession, cultivation, preparation and distribution of cannabis for private, non-commercial, adult purposes.
The group is currently waiting for a response, but is gearing up to launch a judicial review into the evidence for the scheduling of cannabis as a harmful drug.
“We don’t anticipate a sudden u-turn or anything, we expect to have to fight them in court,” says Phil, who despite his own medical use, advocates for the decriminalisation of all adult cannabis consumption.
“WTU fights not for medical cannabis or recreational cannabis but for the human right to the freedom of consciousness, the autonomy of health, the right to do with your body as you choose as long as you don’t harm another person,” he says.
“Ultimately cannabis is cannabis. The line between recreational and medical is actually very blurry – for example there are many people that aren’t afflicted with a specific condition, but still choose cannabis to unwind and cope with stress.”
He continues: “We’ve had changes in legislation that mean some people are making millions of pounds, from the therapeutic potential of cannabis and yet they are continuing to prosecute people on the basis that cannabis has no therapeutic potential.
“Is it moral to destroy the lives of people who are healthy with criminalisation?”
While Phil lives with the knowledge that the police could turn up at his door at any moment, life without cannabis is unimaginable for him.
“Most days I can barely move,” he says.
“I constantly feel like I’ve just worked out to my maximum in the gym, it’s crippling.”
He adds: “It is a constant worry but I do not believe a jury in the land will put me in prison when I present all the evidence that I am able to.
“I don’t think anyone in all good consciousness would declare me guilty.”
Read the letter in full and find out more about you can help WTU here
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