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CLEAR UK president Peter Reynolds discusses his journey in cannabis

President of cannabis campaign group CLEAR UK, Peter Reynolds, has seen the highs and lows of cannabis campaigning and reform in the UK. He tells Cannabis Wealth about his cannabis journey over the last 30 years.

Born in Newport in 1957, Reynolds is an expert in the science, medicine, law and politics of cannabis, and has been an avid advocate of cannabis policy reform in the UK. As the president of the UK campaign group Cannabis Law Reform UK (CLEAR UK), he has stood in elections when the organisation was a political party and has participated in every inquiry into drug reform in the country since 1983.  

Today, Reynolds works in the industry helping cannabis companies navigate the industry landscape.

“I was a cannabis consumer from the age of 14. I have always been an opinionated sort of person and I quickly got outraged at the fact that the law was trying to interfere with what I saw as my right to put what I wanted in my own body. It was clearly not as harmful as alcohol or some other things. So, I went on a march when I was probably about 20 when I was writing in newspapers. Then eventually, the first big first significant thing I did was in 1983. I learned that the Home Affairs Committee was doing an inquiry into dangerous drugs. One of the things it was going to consider was whether or not the cultivation of cannabis should be legalised. 

“So, I sat down and wrote a paper on this, which I called ‘An Unaffordable Prejudice’. If you read it now, it is uncanny how little most of the arguments have changed. The only real difference is that we have a lot more scientific backing now.”

Reynolds submitted the paper and, to his surprise, was called to the Houses of Parliament to give evidence.

“That really was the beginning, and ever since then I have contributed to every inquiry that has been held into cannabis.”

After a stint as a salesman, Reynolds found himself pivoting into copywriting and the advertising industry. Towards the end of the 80s, healthcare became Reynold’s expertise, providing work for pharmaceutical companies. 

“This was when there was talk about the reform of the NHS. So, I became quite an expert on healthcare and pharmaceuticals, and obviously, that had a relationship to my personal interest in cannabis. I eventually became the editor of a magazine for doctors in London called Capital Doctor. I was writing a lot of quite highly technical medical work, even ghostwriting some medical papers.

“More and more papers were coming across my desk about the scientific investigation into the endocannabinoid system. It became clear that all these things that we regarded as mythology about cannabis helping people with health problems had some scientific basis, and so, that’s where my attention was really gripped.”

Fast-forward to the 2000s, and Reynolds became more actively involved in the campaign for cannabis reform. After discovering the Legalise Cannabis Alliance was actively campaigning – Reynolds got involved and was quickly elected as leader. 

“I wanted to get things organised, and develop our messages in a professional way. We put together a programme for a new identity – a new name, which was Cannabis Law Reform, and that was just around the time when Facebook started. We went from nothing to three-quarters of a million followers on Facebook in 18 months and the campaign progressed in many ways. 

“About five or six years ago, it got to the point where I realised I was actually making most of my money legitimately in cannabis. Most of it was CBD in those days, we were very involved right in the beginning when people hadn’t even heard of CBD.

“I’ve always thought that the only sustainable route to legalisation is commercialisation. And we have seen that already. I mean, that is why cannabis has been legalised in the States. That is why the industry is progressing. I know if you smoke cannabis, you are supposed to be about freeing the weed and “Power to the people” –  but of course, that is all nonsense, and I have thought commercialisation is the way to go. Putting aside all the fighting and arguing – because politicians are politicians – the only thing that is eventually going to swing it in this country is money. 

“When I first became leader of CLEAR, my approach was radically different. Instead of marching down the street with a banner, I decided that we had to get some research. So, we commissioned the independent drug monitoring units, which have done work for the Home Office themselves, to produce a report for taxing the UK cannabis markets. It is still the most comprehensive analysis of a UK cannabis market, as, since then, the Government has stopped collecting data and the sources just don’t exist to do it again. 

“We showed essentially that there were about three million regular cannabis consumers in the UK, and that has been borne out by the latest YouGov survey done only a year or two ago showing 1.4 million. So, if you legalise and tax cannabis, it will produce a net gain on average of about £6.7bn. There have been other studies that have come out since with much lower figures, but generally speaking, they have approached it in a completely different way. Their figures have been based on VAT and income tax from people working in the industry. We based it on the same model as what existed in the US, where you actually have a cannabis tax. 

“It is definitely a multibillion-pound game – it is a lot of money. The only source of information out there in the UK is the British crime survey and it relies on people admitting they are committing a crime, so clearly, it is always going to be an underestimate.”

Since the advent of CLEAR there has been an explosion in organisations campaigning for cannabis reform, and since legalisation of medical cannabis in the UK in 2018 there are now medical organisations campaigning for better access to medical cannabis for patients. 

“A tremendous amount of progress has been made. We now have a cannabis industry. We still have huge problems with the Home Office. A large proportion of MPs still base opinions on the same evidence that has been around since the 1930s. It is still based on prejudice and misinformation generally, but that is changing, and money is doing a lot to change that.

“That is the main factor that is going to drive this is the industry – the awareness and insight into how ridiculous current drug policy is really does span all sections of society. People like Boris Johnson, it seems to me, are missing a golden opportunity. 

“In a few years from now, we will have a cannabis industry and simply the availability of it, medicinally, will also influence doctors – the fact that cannabis is now being produced here. I think that, in the end, that will have much more of an impact on actually achieving what we want to achieve than any demo outside the Houses of Parliament. 

“I am still a campaigner, but I am doing it in a more indirect way. I think, a more effective way. 

“I think something that a lot of people don’t understand is that the UK now has the most progressive and flexible system for prescribing cannabis anywhere in the world – there is nowhere else in the world where the doctors can prescribe cannabis in any form for any condition. I acknowledge, obviously, that the problem we have got is that NHS doctors aren’t prescribing. However, we have thousands of patients who have been prescribed by private clinics and I think that will continue to grow, particularly with prices going down. 

“And then, of course, the big factor will be whether or not Biden sticks to the promise to decriminalise federally. I think they probably will. I think that will put enormous pressure on the UK, particularly, as well, what is happening in Luxembourg, for example.

“I think decriminalisation is a dangerous halfway measure because, to me, the biggest problem about the criminal cannabis market is the fact that it is run by gangs and I do think it is what’s driving knife crime. And it is also what drives county lines – because the cannabis market is worth a lot more than all the rest of the drug markets put together.

“We run a campaign based on articles which says that the Government is on the same side as the gangs, and it is. Boris Johnson must understand this – he is not stupid.”

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