In 2017, Michael Dobson was sentenced to 14 months in prison for growing a small number of cannabis plants. Four years after being released, he is now distributing cannabis legally through his dispensary, Cannabliss. Here he shares the full story.
In 2016, Michael Dobson took the home secretary, Amber Rudd, to court. He was fighting for a licence to cultivate and produce cannabis.
Having grown his own plants for many years as he sought to produce a “better-quality product” than what he could find on the black market, Dobson set up a Cannabis Club in his hometown of Preston, Lancashire.
Established as a not-for-profit business, the Preston Cannabis Club approached the Home Office to request a licence for the company to produce its own plants and for all members of the club to be allowed to possess cannabis legally.
Michael recognised that the law did not have any statutory restrictions on who could or could not be granted a licence. This was purely down to the discretion of the Home Secretary, he says.
“If Parliament had never thought that it would be any benefit to the public to be able to get licences to grow, produce or possess cannabis, they never would have voted for that piece of legislation [the misuse of drugs act] to contain that provision,” he says.
At this time, it was still two years before Alfie Dingley received the UK’s first permanent medical cannabis licence and the Home Office was reluctant to engage with Dobson. His request was rejected.
In her defence statement, Amber Rudd stated that there would be “no circumstances” under which the Home Office would consider issuing licences for personal use. But Michael didn’t stop there.
“We said to the Home Office, ‘if you don’t provide evidence, we’re going stand up for our rights and we’re going to take you to the High Court under a judicial review’,” he recalls.
As the Home Office failed to provide evidence, this is exactly what he did. This time, he was acting under his company, Cannabliss, which he founded in late 2016.
The request for a judicial review was dismissed, however Michael was able to engage with the Home Office for the first time and received a response from the government.
“It was never my intention to drag anyone through the courts; I was only ever doing that to stand up for my rights and the rights of the people that I was helping to protect,” he says.
“We went through that long, protracted process which went on all the way through 2017.”
Throughout this time, Michael was also embroiled in a legal battle over a small number of cannabis plants that he was growing for personal use. The prosecution ended with him pleading guilty to the cultivation of 12 cannabis plants for which he was sentenced to 14 months in prison.
“Having your liberty taken away from you is the worst thing you can do to any man or woman,” says Michael.
“This is what we’ve had over the past 12 months and look at how many people are suffering as a result of it.
“You don’t have the freedom to choose to go out and breathe your own air, to go out and walk up a mountain or to just go and visit friends and family.
“When you have that taken away and when you’ve seen it from that side and you’ve seen how it does affect people, it’s tragic.”
Michael had been a regular cannabis smoker in his teenage years, during which time he says he became reliant on the drug. As he got older, he developed a healthier relationship with the plant as he dealt with his personal mental health and past traumas.
Now, he no longer uses cannabis at all.
Although he acknowledges the potential dangers of the drug if misused, he believes that throughout his life, when he used cannabis correctly, it helped “level” him.
“For people that use cannabis regularly, there are usually a lot of underlying issues that they are dealing with – usually psychological or mental health issues,” he says.
“Some people may say it’s not going to actually deal with the problem, but if I hadn’t had it in my life, I would have maybe turned to something else that could have gotten me in far more trouble.”
For Michael, cannabis consumers are often unfairly judged by society. Although he believes daily use of the drug can be a “serious problem”, he thinks branding recreational cannabis users as criminals is the wrong approach.
“I’ve grown up with a lot of good friends and family who use cannabis for social and recreational purposes and they’re all remarkably lovely people,” he continues.
“They work in good jobs, they’ve got families, they pay mortgages. They are really good, upstanding citizens.
“The view that they are some horrendous criminal because of something they choose to do privately just never sat right with me at all.”
Michael remained involved with the legal proceedings against the Home Office from behind bars, then in 2018, Cannabliss was able to take a step back as Alfie Dingley received his licence and set the country on its path towards widening access and availability to legal cannabis.
“There was never any need to change the law to legalise cannabis. All it required is the Home Secretary to sign a piece of paper. And that’s exactly what happened in 2018 when Sajid Javid issued the first license. It was purely down to the discretion of the Home Secretary,” he says.
“As soon as that first licence was issued, the rest was history. We had basically achieved what we set out to achieve. Our litigation wound up because we didn’t need to pursue it any further.”
The original vision for Cannabliss was for it to become a licensed grower, producer and supplier of licensed, regulated cannabis products.
However, after Sajid Javid issued the nation’s first licence and NICE released its guidance on medical cannabis one year later, Michael made the decision to change direction.
Having experienced for himself both the benefits and risks of cannabis, he wanted to help people access the drug safely.
However, as it became clear that producing GMP-certified cannabis products would be outside the company’s budget, he decided to reposition Cannabliss as a specialist pharmacy for medicinal cannabis, launching its online service in 2019.
“As cannabis was now available on prescription, we saw that there was another way for the consumer to possess cannabis where they would no longer need a licence,” he explains.
“We realised that there was a better route for us to go down, which was to try and establish ourselves as a go-to provider for dispensing.
“I’ve gone from prison to pharmacy, so I’m actually now a licensed cannabis dealer.”
Despite the change of focus, he has not ruled out making a return to producing licensed cannabis later down the line.
“Personally, I would like to produce cannabis at some point in the future.” Michael adds.
“But now I’ve got to look at the bottom line in terms of what is most beneficial for us as a company and our patients.”
Horticulture is a passion that runs through his family. His parents both spent time working for the Ministry of Agriculture and his mother later worked for a firm that pioneered the process of micro-propagation, which has now become a buzzword in the cannabis sector.
“It’s always been something that I’ve been very interested in and when I started growing myself, I just fell in love with it – the application of technologies and all the different aspects of growing it – it became a passion of mine,” he says.
It was this passion that became the driving force behind Cannabliss and his experiences with the law that galvanised him into taking action.
Michael adds: “I already knew that there was provision for doing what we set out to do, I just never really had the compulsion to do it.”
As of February 2021, Cannabliss is now a registered pharmacy, providing cannabis prescriptions and over the counter CBD products.
The company is now opening its first brick and mortar site in Preston in April, where it will sell legal cannabis-based products and offer advice and guidance to patients who are seeking a medical cannabis prescription.
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