UK Cannabis Social Clubs Are Leading the Charge for Legalization

Photo by Justin Cannabis

“You’ve heard of wake and bake?” she asked me. “Well, this is rise and spline!”

I was sharing a small, hand-rolled doobie this morning with my new Welsh friend, Jan, who had the day before explained to me that what they call a “spliff” in England, they call a “spliner” in Wales. Upon finishing our spline, she informed that the past tense of having splined is “splunted.”

Jan is the secretary for the United Kingdom Cannabis Social Clubs (UKCSC). We were in the common area of the Product Earth UK Expo in Birmingham. I felt right at home as the rain clouds rolled in; it felt like a typical fall day in my home town of Portland, Oregon.

I’m here over the Labor Day Weekend to perform the final presentation of the day in the seminar zone, entitled “The Five-Year Impact of Legalization in the United States.” UKCSC is sponsoring the seminars, held alongside a typical vendor expo and an outdoor stage with reggae and hip-hop acts.

That I am here at all is a testament to the power of podcasting.

Nine years ago, I took over from Chris Goldstein as the host of the NORML Daily Audio Stash, the former podcast of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). Every weekday, I would sit in my home studio and record about an hour of content on the state of marijuana activism.

Of the thousands of listeners who would download that podcast, one day, a desperate lad in the United Kingdom heard his first episode. His name is Greg de Hoedt.

Greg was then 24 years old and suffering from Crohn’s disease. Pharmaceuticals and hospitals offered him little relief. He eventually found cannabis to be the medicine that best treated his condition. But cannabis is an illegal drug in his country. He didn’t know what to do about it but continue risking his freedom shopping on the underground market.

Then one day, he started searching the internet for information on cannabis activism. It was then he found my podcast.

“I used to listen to you an hour each day on my ride on the tube to work,” he told me. “There was nothing, no information here in the UK about cannabis reform.”

Greg’s been introducing me this weekend to all of his cannabis reform allies in the UK, telling them how he got himself educated listening to my show.

“Russ was the outreach coordinator for NORML,” he tells them, “and it was the chapter structure from NORML that I modeled the Cannabis Social Clubs on.”

Greg formed the UK Cannabis Social Clubs to create safe access to cannabis for its members. Here at the event, the UKCSC booth displays pop-up signs explaining that “Organized Crime Devastates Communities” and that “You Can’t Solve the Problems of Prohibition without Providing the Right to Grow, Share, and Consume Collectively.”

I first met Greg in person when, in 2011, he took a trip to the United States for a month each in California, Oregon, Washington and Colorado. It was a miraculous transformation to see his health improve with access to high-quality medical cannabis in the U.S. In those four months, Greg met and worked with some of the finest activists in the reform movement; folks, like me, who have grown ever-prouder to see how much our British friend has accomplished.

Since then, Greg’s gone on to foster the development of Cannabis Social Clubs all across the UK. He has become a frequent guest on the BBC as an expert on medical cannabis. He has helped to organize this Product Earth Expo and many other events to bring activism to the people.

The Social Clubs are somewhat like what exists in Spain. The clubs are members-only, and you can only join under the recommendation of a friend who is a member. It’s a decidedly non-commercial model based on collective cultivation and sharing among members.

I explained how in the States, pushback from our opponents in the rehab industry hinges on the idea of a “Big Marijuana” commercial behemoth pushing marijuana on the kids. Then, our opponents in law enforcement don’t want to see home growing, which they feel is just fueling the so-called “black market.”

Perhaps the social club model is the answer for some of the states where “Big Marijuana” and “black market” resonate most with voters. Wouldn’t it be something if activism from the States inspired activism in the UK that we end up copying in the States?

I couldn’t be prouder of Greg or more honored to get the opportunity to visit the cannabis community in the UK. I’m humbled that my obsessive talking about marijuana reform had some part in creating change an ocean away.

So, remember, when we’re talking about it, we’re winning.

You never know who your proud support of marijuana law reform may influence. Get out of that cannabis closet and help us change the world.

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