CANNABIS CAMPAIGN: Why I risk arrest: an MS sufferer's agony

Thousands of patients would benefit from a change in the law on use of drugs. Graham Ball met one of them
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THE British Medical Association has thrown the weight of its opinion behind moves to decriminalise cannabis for medical purposes (see below). In a report to be published on Tuesday, it is to urge the Government to allow doctors to prescribe cannabis derivatives to patients suffering from a long list of ailments, including epilepsy, pain and hypertension. The report carries an 11-page index of moving personal accounts from patients who are forced to break the law to find relief from their symptoms.

One person who stands to gain by a relaxation in the law is Diane Lewis, 34, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in March 1991. On New Year's Eve that year she entered hospital. Within two weeks she had double vision, had become quadro- plegic and needed physiotherapy to breathe. A former clothes designer, she is now in a wheelchair, and can only walk with the aid of a trolley - a walking frame with wheels. She lives in Suffolk, and she married on Friday.

She argues here that the BMA decision, while welcome, is only a first step, and the process of changing the law could take too long for those who need cannabis as medicine now:

"The drugs I need are either too expensive or illegal. It could be worse: they could be both. What is a MS patient to do? Cannabis may work, but they won't prescribe it because it is illegal. Beta-interferon may work, but they won't prescribe it because it is too expensive.

I break the law with the full knowledge and acquiescence of my doctors because I owe my allegiance to a higher authority than that of the law. I owe it to myself to try and get better. I am a law-abiding citizen who takes cannabis for medical reasons. It helps me to control my bladder. Can you imagine how distressing it is to wet yourself in public?

I find it difficult to believe people are denying me the chance to help myself because others may be tempted by the drug's side-effects. That is not my problem. My problems are far more basic.

What makes people think they have the right to impose their moral values on me? I am unlikely to misuse a drug. I have been trusted to inject myself with betaferons, I have been drip-fed steroids, yet I am not allowed cannabis. I don't want to have to rely on the goodwill of friends to break the law for me.

What kind of a choice is it between committing a crime and being incapacitated? What is worse is having to ask others to join me in this moral dilemma. It is hard to score in a wheelchair in both senses of the word! The Establishment is encouraging us to break the law by withholding treatment. When it catches us helping ourselves, it fines us. I suppose it needs all the money it can get to pay for the ever-burgeoning drugs bill.

Why should MS patients be singled out, and doomed to a life without hope? I know pounds 10,000 a year is a high price to pay, but not for a life as you know it. Beta-interferon is always accompanied by the word "expensive". I am not denying that it is, but I think I am worth it. Society spends money educating me to degree level, and then writes me off. It makes me economically dependent. What's more, it punishes me for trying to help myself.

It amazes me that MS patients are not more angry. Why can we obtain beta- interferon in Suffolk but not in Cambridgeshire? Aids patients scream when they are discriminated against. Why don't we? Maybe because we scare people so. It is such a random, frightening disease, that we tend to withdraw into our families. Because so little is known about it, everybody feels at risk.

We are guilty in this respect. We should use the fact that we scare people so, to make them feel guilty, to make them part with their money for research. Instead, we take the easy option. We have polite, non-confrontational society to put our points of view across. When it does campaign with a hard-hitting poster, what happens? We complain. Instead of making people think, with a truthful, if somewhat unpalatable portrayal of us, we prefer to appeal to their better nature. I would rather hit them between the eyes or rather kick them where it hurts most!

The MS society shies away from giving us any advice about cannabis. It asks nicely for more research before it is legalised. We haven't the time for more research: our lives are passing us by. It is not as though cannabis hasn't been tested already.

What can we do? Shout about the injustices and hope that somebody with power listens? We can only hope for a high-profile sufferer, and I wouldn't wish that upon anyone. I would hate to think of someone enduring life in a wheelchair. Life isn't pleasant when your eye level is at everybody else's crutch level."