Andrew Baines, 46, father of two and medical cannabis patient in the U.K., faced a terrible fate for also being a cannabis caregiver. Namely 15 years in prison.
Baines was arrested in April 2020 after police in Lincoln in the east Midlands, found a kilogram of cannabis (worth about $12,000) and thirty plants in his home. The police visited his house after postal workers became suspicious of one of his deliveries to a patient.
His network was vast. Baines personally supplied hundreds of patients with medical cannabis oil as part of an underground network—similar to ones everywhere in the world at the moment where cannabis remains out of reach for those who need it most.
That said, after his arrest, Baines commented that the police tried to avoid seeking a heavy prosecution against him. Hundreds of testimonials were written on his behalf by his grateful patients.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has now decided not to pursue charges as a result—instead, giving Baines a six-month community order—the lowest punishment.
During her ruling at Grimsby Magistrates Court, Geraldine Kelly, the deputy district judge commented that “If the law was different, Mr. Baines would have been applauded, not punished.”
Baines’s solicitor, Hannah Sampson, a part of the criminal defense team at Mackrell Solicitors, a prominent British law firm with a strong cannabis practice, was shocked.
“I have never seen a six-month community order imposed. If you steal a sandwich from Tesco, you get 12 months,” she said. Sampson also added that “Cases like this are fundamental in taking this back down to grassroots so the police and the prosecution are making the right decisions. This case, perhaps, earmarks a wind of change. This case, perhaps, means that finally, the law will catch up with the enormity of what cannabis can do to save lives.”
The court ruling comes one day after the British National Drugs Summit, which this year saw the government vow to crack down on “middle class drug use,” and policing and crime minister Kit Malthouse again vocally opposing mayor of London Sadiq Khan’s plan to loosen laws around cannabis consumption and possession.
Cannabis Reform in the U.K.
The U.K. is now in the uncomfortable, slippery slope that has faced every other legalizing country. Namely, where does one draw a line on criminal behavior since some reform has already taken place—but not enough to help the vast majority of potential patients.
After all, medical cannabis use, even of the high THC kind, is legal in the U.K. There are several trials underway where patients can obtain the drug legally and for a discount.
Beyond this, CBD is now a regulated industry.
The problem, as it is almost everywhere else, is that most doctors remain leery of prescribing the drug and the National Health Service, or NHS, is not reimbursing patients—including for use with chronic pain—the most widely cited reason for cannabis use.
There are burgeoning projects all around the U.K., some on the mainland and some just off the coast—notably the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, where medical cannabis cultivation and extraction is fully underway. In fact, on Guernsey, officials are even considering recreational use.
And of course, there are repeated calls, including from the mayor of London to at least decriminalize personal possession and use.
Patient Advocacy and Reform
In the U.K. it is very clear that patients have been the ones to move the needle of progress. At first it was the prospect of children with epilepsy dying and their parents going to jail for importing CBD oil from Canada and the E.U. that began to convince politicians that a change was needed.
It has just gone beyond that now. This latest case, which clearly involves both THC and adult users, may indeed prove to be an important bellwether case that changes the political debate.
From the perspective of the CPS at least, it may well be that this sea change is actually well underway.