Friday, December 22, 2006

MS sufferers the losers in cannabis chocolate case

Published on 22/12/2006

Saviours? Mark and Lezley Gibson produced more than 20,000 bars at their Front Street home, sending them to MS sufferers who could provide medical proof of their condition

By Dave Gudgeon and Phil Coleman

THE collapse of a cannabis chocolate ‘industry’ following the prosecution of the Alston couple who ran it for people with multiple sclerosis has left many sufferers in distress, says a national charity.

Mark and Lezley Gibson produced more than 20,000 bars at their Front Street home, sending them to MS sufferers who could provide medical proof of their condition.

Production ceased shortly before the couple were convicted along with a friend at Carlisle Crown Court of conspiring to supply the class C drug.

The Gibsons, both 42, and Marcus Davies, 38, who lives in Camridgeshire, will be sentenced on January 26, though the judge has said they will not face immediate custody.

Mrs Gibson, who was diagnosed with MS 21 years ago, is adamant that using cannabis has saved her from a wheelchair.

All three had hoped to escape conviction because their motive was not to make money but to help MS sufferers ease symptoms.

Judge John Phillips told the jury that the law has to be applied as it is, and not as some say it ought to be and a recent Appeal Court ruling made it clear that can be no medical necessity defence.

He said: “It’s not lawful for unqualified individuals to assume the role of unqualified doctors by obtaining, prescribing, and supplying cannabis, whether in chocolate or otherwise. No doubt there’s a debate to be had on whether that should be the law.

“But the court is not the proper place in which that debate should take place.”

As the debate on the case continued, powerful evidence has emerged suggesting that the loss of the Canna-Biz bars has left many MS sufferers with no effective way to ease often crippling symptoms.

Helen Yates, of the national MS Resource Centre charity, said: “We’re getting calls from people who have been very distressed by this case.

“They’re distressed emotionally by the prosecution, and physically distressed in terms of the impact this case is now having on their symptoms. There are a significant number whose quality of life is being directly affected by this.”

She spoke of one 25-year-old for whom the chocolate was her only way of preventing incontinence, while another MS victim, aged 81, said the chocolate was the only thing that freed her from pain.

Ms Yates added: “We can’t condone law-breaking but in this case the law is wrong.”

Several Cumbrian MS sufferers also contacted The Cumberland News to speak of the impact on them.

They included Wigton woman Helen Wallage who said: “Because I walk badly, everything tenses up and I get burning sensations. The chocolate eases all that and makes those feelings disappear. It makes life bearable.

“There should be an exemption for people with MS who need to use cannabis. I feel so sorry for Mark and Lezley – they were only trying to help people like me.”

This week the THC4MS (Therapeutic Help from Cannabis for Multiple Sclerosis) website, set up by Marcus Davies, was displaying the following message: “We regrettably have to inform you that THC4MS, to comply with our judge’s ruling, have ceased manufacture and supply of Canna-Biz chocolate. THC4Ms has now reverted to a pressure group fighting for your right to use cannabis as medicine.”

During the trial Mark Gibson said he began making and supplying the cannabis chocolate about six years ago after a woman living in the Orkneys, became too ill to do it. Lezley helped out.

The jury heard that over the years about 36,000 bars were sent around the world to about 1,600 sufferers.

All had supplied medical notes to prove they has MS.

The service was funded by donations of cash and cannabis. The police took action after a package containing one of the Canna-Biz bars burst open at the Royal Mail sorting office in Junction Street, Carlisle.

After the verdict a spokesman for the Crown Prosecution Service said: “We prosecuted the case because it is an offence to possess or supply cannabis or to conspire to supply it.”